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Part of owning rabbits is being able to deal with any health issues that come up. Rabbits get sick very quickly and can go downhill very fast. If your rabbit gets sick on the weekend your vet most likely will not be available, additionally if your regular vet is not an exotic vet experienced with rabbits they may not know what needs to be done. You will have to learn how to be your own vet in most circumstances. Being able to judge a rabbit’s symptoms and respond accordingly can save you money and save the life of your bun. This is a very critical skill whether your rabbit is just a pet or you are a breeder.
Due to Copyright issues, I do not have example pictures for every illness but I have included links to examples and you can always use google images to find plenty of examples.
One of the most common causes of death in rabbits is bloat. Bloat is an emergency situation and needs to be treated immediately. Bloat can be caused by multiple factors such as stress or changing the feed too quickly. So what is Bloat? It is an unusual amount of gas that distends the stomach and causes excruciating pain. Signs and symptoms are bloated/distended stomach, not eating, teeth grinding, abnormal or lack of poop. You should Immediately remove all pellets and feed only hay and water, you should also give the rabbit baby gas drops (there are no dosage recommendations so use a little common sense). You can give the gas drops in a syringe or the flavored kind from a spoon if your rabbit will lick it up. The herb Fennel can also be given to help with bloat. If you can catch bloat early you can save your rabbit, but if bloat has progressed to the point that your rabbit looks like a balloon the kindest most humane thing you can do is to euthanize the rabbit. When bloat reaches that stage it is irreversible and incredibly painful. Trying to keep your rabbit alive at that point is incredibly cruel. Prevention is best when it comes to bloat. Always change feeds properly by slowly introducing the new feed and decreasing the old feed. If you do not have a baggie of old feed for your new rabbit feed only hay and slowly introduce the new feed.
GI stasis is a problem caused when your rabbit stops eating. Rabbits need to be eating regularly to keep their gut moving. GI stasis can be a sign of blockage and can be difficult to treat at home. People who own Angora rabbits should be especially watchful for GI stasis as Angoras can get hairballs that cause a blockage in the stomach. Remove all pellets and feed only hay and water. If your rabbit is not eating at all then you should syringe feed Critical Care to your rabbit every couple of hours until your rabbit is eating on its own again. When your rabbit shows interest in food again be sure you are only offering hay and no pellets. You can also offer very small amounts of blackberry (the leaves and the fruit) to stimulate appetite. Marigold and the stem of a pineapple will also help support good gut movement. Again prevention is key. Regularly feeding hay with your rabbit’s diet will help promote good gut health.
Ear mites is a common problem and easily spread to the rest of your rabbits. It shows up as scabbing in the ears. If you have or buy a rabbit with ear mites separate them from your other rabbits as it is contagious. Food grade oil such as olive or coconut oil is an easy treatment. Apply in the ears daily for at least 21 days. Your rabbit’s ear should clear up before the end of the 21 days but you must continue treatment. The oil will only smother adult bugs but will not kill the eggs. Since 21 days is the life cycle of an ear mite you must continue the treatment to be sure you also smother hatching eggs. If you have a particularly nasty case of ear mites you can also add 2-3 drops of tea tree essential oil into the olive oil before you apply to the rabbit’s ears.
Fur mites show up as flaky dry skin looking similar to dandruff. Separate your rabbit from your other rabbits as this is highly contagious. Treat with food grade diatomaceous earth applied on the fur every day until the skin appears normal again and lost fur has grown back. It is very important that you only use food grade DE as it is safe for the rabbit to consume while it is grooming itself.
Malocclusion is a condition in which the rabbit’s teeth are overgrown. This can have multiple causes such as injury or it can be a genetic issue. If malocclusion is a genetic issue you should not breed this rabbit as it can be passed down to future generations. You can clip the rabbit’s teeth with dog nail clippers. This sounds painful but rabbits have no nerve ending in their teeth and cannot feel it. You should be very careful when choosing this method so as not to split the tooth. Once the teeth are trimmed prevention is the best treatment. Provide your rabbit with sticks and branches to chew on to keep their teeth from growing too long again. If your rabbit has an overbite or an underbite their teeth will have to be trimmed regularly.
Sore hocks are wounds on the feet. A common misconception about sore hocks is that it is caused by wire flooring. It is actually caused by the rabbit sitting in an unusual position causing pressure on only one point of the foot rather than being spread over the whole foot. It is also caused by the rabbits sitting in filthy or wet conditions. To treat sore hocks you can use Blue-Kote or Vetericyn Wound spray. Be sure while the rabbit is healing that it has plenty of dry clean resting matts off of the wire. If your rabbit only potties in one corner of the cage you can cover the other part of the cage in hay. Be sure if you choose to do this you are checking the hay multiple times a day to be sure it is clean and dry. Prevention measures are easy and should always be followed. Making sure your cages are perfectly level is very important. Make sure to use a level when setting up your cages. Even if the cage is not level just a little bit it can cause your rabbit to sit abnormally to compensate. Cleaning your cages regularly can also prevent sore hocks as feces and urine or anything wet can cause sore hocks. Lastly always provide a resting matt or an area your rabbit can sit off of the wire if it chooses too.
Coccidiosis is a worm that attacks the liver in rabbits. When viewing the liver they appear like small white hard nodules in the liver. Signs and symptoms of cocci can be but are not limited to loss of appetite, rapid weight loss, and loose or abnormal stool. Treat with liquid Corid in the water following dosing recommendations for at least 5 days. To prevent cocci or any other worms in your rabbits you can give regular doses of GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) in the water along with a few raw pumpkin seeds. Treat wit GSE every 4 months using 5 drops per gallon of water for five days.
Rabbits are carriers of ringworm which despite the name is not a worm but instead is a fungus. When handling a rabbit with ringworm you should always wear gloves and wash your hands immediately as you can also catch it. Ringworm is very easy to treat just spray some Blue-Kote on the affected area as Blue-Kote is also fungicidal. Spray daily until the ringworm has completely healed.
Snuffles can be many things. It can be simple such as allergies or it can be very serious such as Pasteurella. Pasteurella is very contagious and has no cure. There is a vaccine for Pasteurella but it only causes the rabbit to become a silent carrier. Being a silent carrier means the rabbit will be in good health with no outward signs but will pass it on to every rabbit it comes into contact with. Signs and symptoms are sneezing with discolored snot, goopy eyes, and heavy labored breathing. If your rabbit is a pet you can choose to get the vaccine but be warned your rabbit can never be around other rabbits. You also have to be careful when visiting friends who own rabbits as you can carry the disease to your friends rabbit on your hair clothes and shoes. If your rabbit is not a pet then terminally cull immediately and decontaminate all living areas the rabbit has come into contact with. Separate any other rabbits who were in contact with the diseased rabbit and watch them closely. Prevention is key. There is no way that I know to prevent a rabbit from getting Pasteurella however you can protect your entire herd of rabbits by quarantining any new rabbits or any rabbits coming home after a show for at least 30-45 days. Since stress can bring out the symptoms during quarantine you want to handle them regularly and perform regular health checks paying special attention to the eyes and nose.
These are some of the most common health issues in rabbits. Following steps for prevention reduce the risk of infection but sometimes rabbits can still get sick. The best thing to do is come up with an emergency kit just for your rabbits and keep it well supplied. Doing this will help you have the supplies you need already on hand rather than rushing to the store only to find they don’t carry what you need.
Disclaimer, I am not a vet. I am just sharing with you things I have found through experience that have worked for me. Please judge your situation and act accordingly.
I hope you are having a great day,