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Potential Rabbit Health Challenges

A domestic rabbit standing and looking at the camera.
In order to keep rabbit residents healthy and safe, it’s important to be aware of what could potentially affect them! Photo credit: Edgar’s Mission

Animal Healthcare Disclaimer
This is not an exhaustive list of everything that can happen to a rabbit, but can help you get a sense of what challenges a rabbit under your care may face in their lifetime. If you believe a rabbit resident is facing a health issue, always discuss with a qualified veterinarian as soon as possible. Reading about health issues does not qualify you to diagnose your residents!

Potential Rabbit Health Challenges

As with any species, rabbits are susceptible to a variety of illnesses and diseases. Additionally, much like their wild counterparts, domesticated rabbits may show only subtle signs or illness or injury, as doing so in the wild would make them an easy target for predators. It is vital that care staff learn what is normal behavior for each resident and closely observe them for any subtle changes in behavior that might indicate a health issue. The following are some potential rabbit health challenges to watch out for:

Issues By Body System

Gastrointestinal: Antibiotic-Induced Toxicity, Coprophagy, Diarrhea, GI Stasis, Internal Parasites, Lead Toxicity, Dental Disease, Mucoid Enteropathy, Myxomatosis, Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (Rabbit Calicivirus), Hepatic Lipidosis “Fatty Liver Disease”

Metabolic: Bladder Sludge And StonesHepatic Lipidosis “Fatty Liver Disease”, Metabolic Bone Disease

Musculoskeletal System:  Injuries, Pododermatitis or “Sore Hocks”, Splayed Leg, Torticollis or “Head Tilt”

Neurological: Heat Stroke, Internal parasites, Lead Toxicity, Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (Rabbit Calicivirus), Torticollis or “Head Tilt”

Reproductive System: False Pregnancy, Myxomatosis, Pasteurellosis or “Snuffles”, Uterine Tumors

Respiratory: Myxomatosis, Pasteurellosis or “Snuffles”, Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (Rabbit Calicivirus)

Skin, Hair And Nails: Barbering, External Parasites, Fly Strike And Cuterebra, Matted Fur, Overgrown Nails, Pododermatitis or “Sore Hocks”, Ringworm

Renal System: Bladder Sludge And Stones

Ears, Nose, And/Or Eyes: Conjunctivitis, Ear Infections, Epiphora, External Parasites, Glaucoma, Internal Parasites, Myxomatosis, Pasteurellosis or “Snuffles”, Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (Rabbit Calicivirus), Torticollis or “Head Tilt

Teeth: Dental Disease

Antibiotic-Induced Toxicity

Rabbits are susceptible to illness from oral antibiotics. This is because a rabbit’s digestive tract is sensitive and many antibiotics surpass the “good” bacteria populating their gastrointestinal tract. This, in turn, allows “bad” bacteria to take over, producing toxins in the GI tract. Diarrhea ensues and toxins are released into the body. It is absolutely vital that you have a veterinarian that is experienced and knowledgeable in rabbit health. A well-meaning vet without rabbit experience may prescribe an antibiotic that could cause antibiotic-induced toxicity. If a resident is being treated and develops diarrhea, contact your veterinarian and stop giving the medication until you have spoken with the veterinarian. Common antibiotics that, if given orally, may cause toxicity in rabbits include amoxicillin, penicillin, lincomycin, erythromycin, ampicillin, cephalosporin, or clindamycin. Back To Top

Barbering

While this may bring to mind a successful rabbit barber shop, the actuality is much more concerning. Barbering is when a rabbit tears out patches of their own fur. This looks different from normal grooming. This is something seen in pregnant rabbits, as they will use their own fur to make a cozy nest for their babies. This can also happen during what is known as a false pregnancy, which can happen even when residents are spayed (you can read more below). If a resident is exhibiting barbering behavior but is not pregnant or experiencing a false pregnancy, this may be a coping mechanism turned compulsion due to stress. Steps should be taken to identify the stressors to this resident and address them in a thoughtful way to improve the resident’s quality of life. Back To Top

Bladder Sludge And Stones

Bladder sludge (or Hypercalciuria) happens when there is a build up of excess calcium in a rabbit’s bladder. Little calcium crystals remain in the bladder and combine to make a sort of paste-like sludge. These crystals can consolidate to form stones throughout the urinary tract. Rabbits often eat a diet high in calcium without issue, but if you suspect a resident has bladder sludge, it’s important to contact your veterinarian an discuss diagnosis and treatment plans. Making sure all residents have plenty of fresh drinking water available at all times, that they only eat a small portion of pellets, and that they get plenty of exercise, are all great ways to help protect rabbits who may be prone to this health issue. There are other muscular and neurological diseases that may prevent a resident from fully evacuating their bladder, which cause bladder sludge. While some residents may be asymptomatic, there are signs that can indicate an issue, such as urine scald, frequent urination, urinating outside of a litter box or in unusual places, cloudy urine, a hunched posture, and poor appetite. If you see any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately. Back To Top

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis presents as an irritated or inflamed part of the eye, the conjunctiva (the white part of the eye). Poor, unsanitary living conditions can cause this as can Chlamydia, and Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas bacteria. However, in rabbits, it is commonly caused by Pasteurella multocida and Streptococcus sp. Contact your veterinarian to determine the cause and proper treatment plan for the affected resident. Back To Top

Coprophagy

No one wants to see residents eating their own poop, right? Gross! However, this is a normal behavior for rabbits and a vital part of their digestive process. In fact, what rabbits are consuming is not actual feces, but something called cecotropes. Cecotropes (other names include “cecal droppings” or “night droppings”) are actually made in a different part of the digestive tract than feces. They are often smaller and softer and bunched together. They have a fermented scent and they provide important nutrients for the rabbit who made them! It is important to learn the difference between this and diarrhea, as these are not cause for alarm. You may not observe this behavior as it is often performed at night and the rabbit will eat them straight from their fuzzy behind! If you do witness this behavior, do not be alarmed or try to prevent them from this behavior. It is very important to the health and well-being of rabbit residents.

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Dental Disease

Dental Disease in rabbits is quite common. Did you know a rabbit’s teeth never stop growing? If not offered a fibrous diet and things to safely chew on, their teeth can become overgrown and even curl, called malocclusions. Malocclusions can make it difficult, if not impossible to eat. It is dangerous if a rabbit stops eating, so ensuring healthy teeth is vital to their well-being. Providing a diet high in hay and low in pellets will help prevent dental disease. However, dental disease can also be congenital with dwarf and lop-eared rabbits being at a higher risk.

In addition to overgrown teeth, rabbits can also develop spurs on their molars. These spurs can cut the tongue and cheeks, causing serious discomfort and distress. The good news is both malocclusions and molar spurs can be treated by a rabbit veterinarian. This may involve the filing down of or removal of the offending tooth.

Older rabbits are also at an increased risk of dental disease as they loose bone density. When this occurs, teeth may move around more while chewing, which may result in the uneven wearing of their teeth. Infections are possible at the base of the tooth as well. 

If you notice any rabbit residents drooling, approaching food but then not eating it, or only eating one type of food (which may be easier to chew), or if they have runny eyes, then consider having them checked out by a veterinarian experienced in rabbit dental issues. The vet can then file or remove any overgrown teeth, making eating much more comfortable for the resident.

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Diarrhea

If you provide care for rabbit residents, you are likely to eventually run into a case of diarrhea. It is not uncommon, and there are many possible causes. If a rabbit resident has diarrhea, you should ensure the resident is drinking enough water to prevent dehydration and further digestive issues, and then call your veterinarian. While there can be many causes for diarrhea, some are more serious than others.. Here are some causes of diarrhea:

  • Diet changes

  • Diet too high in carbohydrates (pellets)

  • Diet too low in fiber

  • Parasitic infections

  • Antibiotic toxicity

  • Bacterial infection

  • Viral infection

  • An underlying illness

  • Ingestion of toxins

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Ear Infections

Ear infections are a fairly common problem and can make a rabbit resident miserable. There are different parts of the ear which may become infected, the otitis externa (external part of the ear), the otitis media, or interns (the middle ear and internal ear). Certain residents may be more prone to ear infections due to the shape and size of their ears. Rabbits with ear canals that are closed off, like lop-eared rabbits, will be at an increased risk. Humans have bred them for that lop-eared look, which has unfortunately resulted in many of them having narrow or closed ear canals. This makes thorough cleaning of the ear a challenge and creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and wax to build up. 

On the other side of things, larger breeds with upright ears and Netherland dwarf rabbits are generally more resistant to ear infections, though care should still be taken to routinely clean their ears and observe them for any ear-related issues. It is important to observe residents to ensure they are also cleaning their own ears. Be mindful of those with physical limitations (including arthritis in older rabbits), as this can affect their ability to perform this behavior. You should also keep an eye out for bonded rabbits to clean each other’s ears. So helpful!

Some rabbits may not show any signs of discomfort, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an issue. This is why close observation and regular health checkups are important. Those that do show signs may exhibit:

  • Ear scratching
  • Losing interest in eating
  • Lethargy or appear quieter than usual
  • Recurrent issues with GI Stasis (read about this below)
  • Tilting their head or exhibiting facial asymmetry
  • Just not acting like themselves generally

If you suspect a resident may have an ear infection, call your veterinarian to work out a treatment plan for that individual. Back To Top

Epiphora

Epiphora is a condition of the eyes where there is an abnormal flow of tears. This often happens as the result of a blockage in the nasal and eye area of the tear ducts, or due to poor function of the eyelid, or eye inflammation. Rabbits only have one tear duct. It may surprise you to learn that their tear duct is actually located near their teeth and gums, so dental disease can actually cause eye problems too! However, respiratory illnesses can also lead to epiphora when nasal passages are blocked.

Signs to look out for include: 

  • Lethargy

  • Red eyes

  • Discharge

  • Bulging eyes

  • Dropping food while trying to eat

  • Having a hunched posture

  • Hair loss, matted hair, and crust on the face.

A call to your veterinarian should be your first move so they can confirm the diagnosis and start a treatment plan. Back To Top

External Parasites

Unfortunately for rabbit residents, they can be affected by a number of external parasites just like other residents. The most common of these are fleas and mites, but ticks and fly larvae can also be an issue. Observe residents for scratching behavior, as this can indicate the presence of parasites. Take a good look at their fur and skin, and be sure to check in those ears! Make this a part of a regular health exam and discuss treatment options with your veterinarian. For now, let’s take a closer look at some of these external parasites.

  • Fleas will bite and feed on the blood, often leaving behind an irritation or small bite mark. You can see evidence of fleas by looking through or coming through a resident’s hair and checking for small, black grainy bits called flea dirt (which is actually feces). If you find signs of fleas, call your veterinarian for the best treatment plan. While there are some flea and tick products for cats and dogs that have “off-label” use for rabbits, others can be toxic
  • Mites are highly contagious. There are 3 main types of mites you may run into while caring for rabbit residents. 
    • Ear mites: Psoroptes cuniculi is an unfortunately common occurrence in rabbits. Signs include head shaking, ear scratching, crust in the ear cavity, and sores. If one resident has ear mites, your veterinarian will likely suggest that other residents living alongside the symptomatic resident be treated as well. Because ear mites can cause pain and discomfort, it is best to have your veterinarian or a skilled rabbit health expert clean their ears.
    • Fur Mites: Also known as walking dandruff, Cheyletiella parasitovorax is perhaps the most common mite that affects rabbits. Many rabbits will not show the signs of discomfort that we described for ear mites. Afflicted rabbits may scratch at an untreated case. However, the easiest way to determine whether residents have this mite is to check their fur and skin. Those affected usually have dandruff concentrated between their shoulder blades and the rest of their back. Once confirmed, your veterinarian will provide you with the best treatment options for your residents.
    • Harvest Mites: Last, but certainly not least, harvest mites, also known as “chiggers” in some regions, are parasites that are at their worst in the autumn season, hence their name. While these parasites affect humans and other animals on various areas of their bodies, in rabbits, their ears are most likely to be affected by the mite. However, they can certainly affect other areas, so a thorough check is best. They are easily identifiable, as they are a bright orange or reddish color. They are most likely picked up when residents are outside. Discuss preventative options with your veterinarian as well as any possible treatment for the itchiness.

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False Pregnancy 

Even if residents are spayed (unless a veterinarian has determined that surgery is not feasible due to a health condition), female residents can experience a false pregnancy. False pregnancies may occur if the resident is stressed or if another resident has mounted them. When this happens, the resident will ovulate and experience a sense of being pregnant for around 18 days. During this time, you are likely to notice the resident eating an increasing amount of food in addition to changed behavior and levels of comfort when engaging with companions or care staff. They will also begin to build a nest. This will go away on its own after 18 days from ovulation. In the meantime, take care to provide a calm environment and respect the resident’s need for space.

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Fly Strike And Cuterebra 

Fly strike is a blowfly maggot infestation of an animal’s flesh. Rabbits, particularly those with extra furry back ends, are susceptible to this condition, because dirty fur is highly attractive to blowflies. Fly strike is most prevalent during sunny seasons and in tropical climates. Blowflies can also be attracted to open wounds, feces stuck to fur, and watery eyes. The best treatment includes trimming and cleaning the afflicted areas, making sure the rabbit’s fur is not dirty, and using medicated creams for affected skin. Rabbit-safe insecticides can be used to treat larger infestations. Talk to a veterinarian for evaluation and treatment options if you suspect fly strike. Rabbits in warm or tropical climates should be checked frequently for signs.

In addition to fly strike, Cuterebra can cause serious discomfort and issues for rabbits. While fly strike refers to many larvae infesting residents, cuterebra only appear as a single larva at a particular site. They will appear as a bump on a resident’s skin. You should be able to see a little hole in the bump in the surface of their resident’s skin. It is best to have a veterinarian remove them, as you risk illness and injury if done improperly by attempting to pull the larva from the hole in the skin. A veterinarian can surgically remove the larva. Back To Top

GI Stasis

It is normal for rabbits to ingest hair as they practice grooming behaviors. Unlike cats, rabbits are unable to vomit, so hair generally passes through the digestive tract with the help of their fibrous diets. If a resident rabbit stops eating and drinking as much for any number of reasons, their GI tract will slow down. This is a danger to them. Hairballs or impactions are not the cause of GI Stasis, but rather the result of it. If food movement through the GI tract slows and a rabbit becomes dehydrated, or their “good” gut bacteria changes, a resident can be in danger of impaction of the bowels. If you observe a rabbit resident presenting as lethargic and not interested in eating, contact your veterinarian immediately, as this generally signals something seriously wrong and immediate treatment is necessary. Additionally, rabbits may ingest foreign objects or materials (like carpet fibers or baseboards) that they aren’t able to digest, which can cause the perforation or obstruction of their digestive system.

Things that can trigger a slowdown in a rabbit’s food intake may include:

  • A new stressful change in the environment

  • A new, unpalatable diet

  • The loss of a companion

  • A diet high in concentrated pellets and low in fibrous hay and grasses

  • Painful dental issues

  • Lack of access to fresh water

  • Other underlying diseases

As always, contact your veterinarian for more information on how to properly handle GI stasis. Back To Top

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a condition in which there is too much pressure on the eye.  This eventually leads to blindness. Because there are few symptoms, it is vital that residents have their eyes checked annually. New Zealand White rabbits may be at an increased risk for developing the condition, though any breed can suffer from the condition. You may notice symptoms such as cloudiness on the eye, the loss of a resident’s sight. The sooner glaucoma is identified as a problem for a resident, the better. Back To Top

Heat Stroke

Rabbits struggle in high temperatures. (As little as 77 degrees can cause problems for a rabbit if they are not able to cool off.) Residents must be provided ways to cool themselves during hot weather. Large ceramic tiles can be cooled on the fridge for residents to lay one, frozen water bottles can be placed near them, lots of shade and fresh water (add a few ice cubes) should be offered. Signs of a heat stroke in rabbits to look out for include: lethargy, panting, weakness, lack of coordinations, and convulsions. Prevention is best. Ensure they have access to a cooler environment during times of high temperatures. However, if you suspect heat stroke, call your vet immediately and put a cool wet towel around the afflicted resident’s ears. Back To Top

Hepatic Lipidosis “Fatty Liver Disease”

Hepatic Lipidosis is often referred to as “Fatty liver Disease” because of an accumulation of fat in the liver. In rabbits, it is often triggered if they are anorexic (not eating). There are many reasons why a rabbit may stop eating and it is always imperative that this be taken seriously and treated immediately. If a rabbit isn’t eating, you need to call your veterinarian. In addition to whatever the underlying cause is, hepatic lipidosis can develop. This is life-threatening and must be addressed quickly. While any rabbit can develop fatty liver disease if they stop eating, residents whose weight interferes with them reaching and consuming their cecotropes are at an additional risk, as there is already more fat accumulated in the liver.  

Unfortunately, there are often no easy-to-spot early warning signs for this disease. But there are some things you can look out for that may indicate an increased risk:

  • Fewer droppings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy

The above symptoms could be related to a number of other underlying health issues. However, they can put a resident as risk for developing this serious disease and should be reported to your veterinarian for swift diagnosis and treatment. Back To Top

Injuries

Fractures may occur if resident rabbits are restrained improperly during procedures or general handling. This is why it’s critical to properly hold rabbit residents and ensure you secure both their front and back legs, as holding just their front or back legs can result in fractures if the rabbit resident becomes fearful and tries to jump or twist away. Spinal fractures are always serious, and may result in such a significant quality of life decline that euthanasia may be the most compassionate course of action for an afflicted individual. Due to their small size, it’s crucial that care staff are always aware of where every rabbit resident is when they enter and walk through a living space where residents are present. Care staff should also be vigilant when entering and exiting their living spaces to prevent residents from being caught in the door or getting out unsupervised. Back To Top

Internal parasites

Like other sanctuary residents, rabbits are also affected by a number of intestinal parasites, such as pinworms or threadworms, tapeworms, roundworms, coccidiosis, and e. cunniculi. Lets look a little closer at each of these:

  • Pinworms are quite common and fairly easy to spot. An inspection of an affected resident’s feces can reveal threadlike worms. They are transmitted through food and water that has been contaminated.
  • Roundworms are very different from pinworms. They can dangerously affect the health of a resident if left untreated. Roundworms can move through the body, infecting many organs. It is imperative that they are diagnosed and treated quickly to avoid ill effects. Affected residents may exhibit symptoms such as lethargy, tremors, head tilt, and difficulty walking. Roundworms are transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated feces. Raccoons and skunks are well known carriers. This is yet another reason why quarantine procedures are so important when bringing in a new resident.
  • Tapeworms aren’t as common as others, but it’s still helpful to know what to look for in residents. If a resident has contracted tapeworms, they may exhibit symptoms that include an enlarged abdomen, swelling under the skin, and anorexia. Tapeworms are transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food or grass. 
  • Coccidia are a different class of parasites. They are an unfortunately common, microscopic group of parasites that work their way through a rabbit’s GI tract. Some aren’t harmful, while others can lead to fatal illness. These include Toxoplasma, Cryptosporidium, and Eimeria, which can cause weight loss and anorexia, dehydration, and diarrhea. In serious infections, the parasite can spread to the liver. However, a resident may not show any symptoms, or only mild symptoms. These parasites are transmitted through the ingestion of water or food that has been contaminated or from the feces of other animals.
  • E.cuniculi (encephalitozoon cuniculi) is another parasite that can affect rabbits and cause disease. It is also a zoonosis, meaning that human care staff can potentially contract it and should follow good hygiene and safety protocols when working with an infected resident. After E. cuniculi has entered a rabbit’s body, it will catch a ride through the bloodstream to organ systems of the body like the liver, brain, and kidneys. Once there, it will cause the cells to rupture, which results in inflammation and other signs. Sadly, these signs present as neurological issues, eye disease, and kidney disease. A veterinarian can perform a blood test that will ascertain whether the rabbit has been exposed to the bacteria. There are treatments aimed at reducing inflammation in the body and a parasiticide to rid the rabbit of the parasites. Talk to your veterinarian about quarantine policies for new residents that can protect them and the other residents.

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Lead Toxicity In Rabbits

Because rabbits are curious and like to chew on any number of offered surfaces, they are at risk of lead poisoning. Be sure that residents do not have access to any metal containing lead or any surfaces containing lead-based paints and they can ingest particles and become extremely ill, sometimes fatally.

Watch out for:

  • Lead-based paint residues or paint chips

  • Cages that have been soldered or painted

  • Ceramic dishes that have been improperly glazed

Some signs of lead toxicity include:

  • Lethargy

  • Anorexia

  • Weight loss

  • Loss of muscle coordination

  • Seizures

  • GI Stasis

  • Anemia

If you suspect a resident has ingested lead-based material, call your veterinarian immediately.  Back To Top

Matted Fur

While rabbits are generally fastidious groomers, setting up a weekly brushing from care staff is a good idea. During shedding seasons, rabbit residents may need to be brushed daily to keep up with all the fluff. Occasionally, due to health or environment, an individual may struggle to perform self-grooming. Mats can form and pull on their skin, causing discomfort. Because a rabbit’s skin is so delicate, scissors should not be used to cut off mats. A fine mat rake or splitter is a better tool. Be sure to learn how to properly use these tools by an experienced compassionate rabbit care professional or veterinarian. Back To Top

Metabolic Bone Disease

This disease is similar to osteoporosis. Calcium, Vitamin D, and parathyroid hormone all come into play with Metabolic Bone Disease as they work to keep the right levels of calcium in the blood. Rabbit residents who live indoors fulltime are at risk for developing this disease if they aren’t able to get sunlight (vitamin D) and have diets low in calcium.  When there isn’t enough calcium, the body will pull it from the bones, weakening the skeletal system and causing dental disease as well. Back To Top

Mucoid Enteropathy

This diarrheal disease affects younger rabbits. It can be fatal, so it is imperative to contact your veterinarian if you suspect this disease. Diarrhea caused by mucoid enteropathy will have a gelatinous consistency and contain a lot of mucous. While a direct cause is difficult to ascertain, there are factors that predispose a young rabbit to developing this disease, including antibiotic treatment, stress, intestinal infections, dietary changes, and diets low in fiber. Back To Top

Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis is a virus that is transmitted by biting insects such as mosquitoes and fleas, or by close contact between an infected rabbit and a susceptible rabbit. The disease is recognized by swelling and discharge from a rabbit resident’s eyes, nose and genital region. A rabbit’s ears can also become covered in lumps. This is sadly a fatal disease in most cases. In North America, the west coast is especially affected, due to the presence of brush rabbits who are bitten by insects who then bite domestic rabbits, transmitting the virus. Sanctuaries with rabbit residents in Australia should be particularly vigilant.

Practice good quarantine and flea-prevention. If you live in an area where Myxomatosis is known to be an issue, consider constructing a larger, more dynamic indoor living space and minimizing time spent outside. There has been some work on a vaccination, but it is not widely available and may cause some health issues. Contact your veterinarian for more information.

If you suspect a resident has contracted this virus, call your veterinarian immediately. They may be able to suggest appropriate palliative care options and can confirm diagnosis. Back To Top

Overgrown Nails

Rabbit residents are likely to require a nail trim now and then. Left unchecked, nails can become overgrown and cause problems for your residents. If you have a resident with white nails, you can see their quick and easily avoid nicking it. It is more difficult to determine a quick’s length on residents with darker nails. Ask your veterinarian or an experienced compassionate rabbit care expert how to properly trim a rabbit resident’s nails. Back To Top

Pasteurellosis “Snuffles”

“Snuffles” is caused by the Pasteurella multocida bacterium, which can remain dormant in the nasal tract of rabbits. During periods of stress, the bacterium may become active and can be fairly easily passed between residents. As you may imagine, snuffles can cause sinus issues and affect the eyes or ears, or even cause abscesses in other areas of a rabbit’s body. It may also cause uterine infections. Ensuring your sanctuary adheres to safe quarantine policies and provides an environment that promotes calm, healthy rabbit behavior, can help prevent this from being an issue at your sanctuary. If you suspect snuffles is a possible concern in a rabbit resident, contact a qualified rabbit veterinarian to discuss treatment options. Back To Top

Pododermatitis or “Sore Hocks”

Sore hocks are often the result of unhygienic living conditions and improper flooring, specifically wire cage flooring. Other unclean, wet, or rough surfaces can cause the issue as well. Wire flooring is an unacceptable option for rabbit resident living spaces. Heavier rabbits are at an increased risk, as are those with lots of hair on the bottom of their feet, such as Rex rabbits. Minor cases can often be resolved by gently cleaning (do not attempt to ever bathe a rabbit resident, as rabbits can become over-stressed and injure themselves trying to get away, or simply panic from the stress and die), applying topical balms and wrapping their feet (fresh wraps are necessary daily) for a week or two. Sore hock infections can easily become extremely serious if the infection reaches their bone. If you suspect a serious case, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

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Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (Rabbit Calicivirus)

RHDV is highly contagious and often fatal. There are two strains, RHDV-1 and RHDV-2, with RHDV-2 now spreading in areas of North America in addition to many other regions. Symptoms may include fever, difficulty breathing, a bloody nose, lethargy, a lack of appetite, seizures, jaundice, and sudden death. Some rabbits may be subclinical, that is, they may carry the virus but not show symptoms. Those that survive can still shed the virus and be contagious for up to 2 months. This is a reportable disease. If you suspect a resident has RHDV, you must call your veterinarian immediately, both for palliative treatment options for your resident and so they can confirm the virus and notify the authorities of a potential outbreak in the area.

There are vaccinations, but availability is limited. Speak to your veterinarian to learn more about access in your area, and if you are able, consider discussing whether it is appropriate to vaccinate residents against this disease. Back To Top

Ringworm

This is a contagious fungal infection of the skin. It can be spread by both direct contact and indirect contact. Any rabbit residents with ringworm should be isolated until treated. Be sure to disinfect their living space and dispose of and replace bedding. Initially, you may notice raised tufts of hair, generally followed by the loss of that hair. Lesions often appear circular and may vary in size. If you suspect ringworm, call your vet to diagnose. To treat, clip the hair around the lesion, bathe the lesion in a rabbit-safe anti-fungal cleaning solution, and apply an anti-fungal dressing. Be sure to keep the lesion dry and open to the air. And remember to keep the environment clean and disinfect, disinfect, disinfect! Back To Top

Splayed Leg

This happens when a rabbit is unable to retract their leg(s). While it can be caused by an injury, it is more often a genetic condition with rabbits. The good news is they can still live a happy, healthy life. Depending on how and where this condition affects the rabbit, slings and other assistive devices may be an option. Be sure to discuss care options with a veterinarian knowledgeable in rabbit heath. Back To Top

Torticollis or “Head Tilt”

Torticollis, or more commonly used, “head tilt”, is actually a sign of another health issue with a resident rather than a disease. There are many possible underlying causes, including ear infections to parasites, and more serious possibilities such as strokes, abscesses, brain tumors, and even head trauma. It is important to work with your veterinarian to determine the cause so you can provide the correct treatment.

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Uterine Tumors

Intact female rabbits are at risk of developing cancerous uterine tumors. Spaying resident female rabbits can prevent the development and spread of this cancer. Unless another medical issue prevents the procedure, female rabbits should be spayed by a qualified veterinarian, as early as 4 to 6 months of age. Back To Top

Vaccinations For Rabbits

Depending where you live, your veterinarian may suggest vaccinations for RHVD-1, RHDV-2, and Myxomatosis for your rabbit residents. Back To Top

SOURCES

Common Health Issues In Rabbits | UC Davis

Chronic, Intermittent Diarrhea In Rabbits | Sawnee Animal Clinic

Health Problems In Rabbits | VCA Hospital 

Rabbit Ear Diseases | The Unusual Pet Vets

Fleas In Rabbits | VCA Hospitals

Rabbit Eye Health | Missouri House Rabbit Society

What’s Encephalitozoon Cuniculi, Or E. Cuniculi In Rabbits And How Is It Treated? | VetsNow

Lead Toxicity | Vetstream

Metabolic Bone Disease In Rabbits | Vet Times

Dental Disease In Rabbits: A Simple Overview | Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

Liver (Hepatic) Disease In Rabbits | House Rabbit Society

 

Updated on October 2, 2020

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