If you’ve noticed that your rabbit seems to be ill, you should identify and treat the problem as soon as possible. The following are some common rabbit diseases and advice for treating them.
Finding a Good Veterinarian
You will be capable of handling most health-related conditions, but some conditions require the skills of a veterinarian. Since not all veterinarians have had a lot of experience treating rabbits, find a person with the knowledge to provide the best veterinary care. Talk with other local rabbit owners for recommendations. As rabbits become more and more popular as pets, veterinarians have more opportunities to treat them and avoid common rabbit diseases. This trend has made it easier for rabbit owners to find good veterinary care for their animals.
Common Rabbit Diseases, Illnesses, & Ailments
An abscess is a collection of pus caused by infection. An abscess is the body’s way of getting infection out of the body. Sometimes a cut or scratch gets infected, and an abscess forms. Eventually, the pus drains out.
If an abscess forms on your rabbit, you will sometimes feel it before you see it. When you pat your rabbit, you may feel a bump. If you part the fur and look, you will see a raised area. If this area looks reddish and feels warm, it is probably an infection. Over time, an abscess gets larger and the skin covering the area opens to allow the built-up fluid, or pus, to escape.
If your rabbit has an abscess, call your veterinarian. If you can’t get professional help, ask a friend to help with the following treatment.
- One person should hold the rabbit while the other uses medicinal disinfectant to clean the area around the abscess. It may be easier to do this if you clip away some of the surrounding hair.
- Use a sharp, clean instrument such as a razor blade to make a small opening to let out the pus. Because the pus in the abscess has been pushing very hard against the rabbit’s skin, this small cut will probably not hurt your rabbit.
- Use clean cotton balls to help push out the pus.
- Wash out the wound and the surrounding area with medicinal disinfectant.
- Apply an antibiotic cream to the wound. (You can use an over-the-counter medication sold for human use.) Do not bandage the area; the rabbit will only chew it off!
- Throw away the cotton balls or swabs in a proper place and carefully wash your hands with soap and warm water.
- Check the wound daily, and apply more antibiotic cream until it has healed.
A parasite is a creature that uses a living animal as its food source. Sometimes you may notice a large bump that feels like an abscess and may even have some pus. It is not an abscess, however, if there is a hole near the top of the bump. If you look carefully, you may see a dark, wormlike shape inside the hole.
This wormlike shape is actually a parasite. In this case, a fly called a Cuterebra fly (not a common housefly) has laid an egg on your rabbit. The egg hatched and is now growing under your rabbit’s skin. In its larva stage, it looks more like a worm than a fly. If left alone, this parasite will use your rabbit as a food source to help it grow into an adult Cuterebra fly. Cuterebra larvae are harmful to your rabbit and need to be removed. Removal is usually no more difficult than treating an abscess, but it is best to seek the help of your veterinarian.
A rabbit may have diarrhea because it does not have enough fiber in its diet, or because it has a disease of the digestive system. One disease that causes diarrhea is coccidiosis (pronounced cock-side-O-sis). The disease is easy for rabbits to get and may cause any of the following symptoms:
- Soft droppings (diarrhea)
- Fur that looks rough, not smooth
- Animal not growing as well as you think it should
- A pot belly, yet rough over the backbone
Coccidiosis does not usually kill rabbits unless it goes untreated. It is often seen in young litters of rabbits. The little organisms (called protozoans) that cause this disease are present in droppings and in soiled feed and bedding.
Older rabbits living alone can also get coccidiosis. No matter what their age, rabbits kept in clean living conditions are much less likely to suffer from this disease.
If you need to treat your rabbits for coccidiosis, you should provide a two-part treatment:
- (1) clean housing.
- (2) medical care for the animals.
Coccidiosis Treatment: Housing
- Remove all soiled bedding and food.
- Scrape all built-up manure from the cage at least every 3 days.
- Clean cage with chlorine-bleach-and-water solution (1 part household bleach to 5 parts water). Let dry thoroughly.
- If the rabbits in the litter are old enough (5–6 weeks), separate them into smaller groups in additional cages.
Coccidiosis Treatment: Medical
The medicine used to treat coccidiosis is sulfaquinoxaline. It is available in most farm-supply stores, probably as a treatment for coccidiosis in calves, pigs, or chickens. Look for a label that lists sulfaquinoxaline as an ingredient. Although the label will probably not give directions for treating rabbits, you can use the dosage suggested for poultry or mink. If you purchase the medicine from a rabbitry supplier, it will include guidelines for rabbits.
Wash out a used milk container and label it with the name of the medicine you are using. Fill the container with water, then measure the proper amount of medicine into the water.
Provide the medicated water for 5 days, or as recommended on the label. This should be the only source of water you give to the animals being treated.
If a rabbit doesn’t like the taste of the treated water, add a bit of Jell-O powder to it (about 1 teaspoon [5 ml] to a gallon [3.8 l] of water). One suggested treatment plan is as follows:
- First 5 days, offer sulfa-treated water.
- Next 10 days, offer plain water.
- Last 5 days, offer sulfa-treated water.
- Repeat this sequence two to four times a year.
This schedule is very important. During the first few days of sulfa treatment, the original organisms that made your rabbit sick are killed, and your rabbit will seem to be much better.
Colds and Snuffles
When a rabbit has a cold, it shows some of the same symptoms as you do when you have a cold — such as sneezing and having a runny nose. Unfortunately, 90 percent of the rabbits that seem to have colds actually have a much more serious common rabbit diseases called Pasteurella multocid, or snuffles. Although a cold can be cured, snuffles cannot.
Your rabbit’s sneeze is usually the first sign of a cold or snuffles. Of course, lots of things can make a rabbit sneeze. If you hear sneezing, be sure to look for other signs of illness, too. If you see a white discharge from its nose, your rabbit probably has a cold or snuffles. Look at your rabbit’s front paws.
Although rabbits and people don’t give each other colds, rabbits can give colds to each other. If you suspect that a bunny has a cold or snuffles, move it away from your other rabbits.
Ear Canker Disease
This condition is caused by tiny mites that burrow inside the rabbit’s ear. A rabbit with ear mites will shake its head and scratch at its ears a lot. The inside of an unaffected rabbit’s ear is nice and clean; the inside of an ear with ear mites looks dark and crusty. If you find one rabbit with ear mites, check all your rabbits. Ear mites can move to other animals, so other rabbits may also be infected.
Mites can easily be treated with common household oils, such as olive oil, cooking oil, and mineral oil. Mites breathe through pores in their skin. If they come into contact with oil, it blocks these breathing pores and they soon die.
Keep Your Rabbit Ears Clean
Mites are more likely to appear in rabbits that live in dirty cages, so be sure to keep your cages clean.
- Use an eyedropper to put several drops of an oil that contains a miticide, or olive, cooking, or mineral oil into the rabbit’s ear. Gently massage the base of the ear to spread the oil around.
- Use cotton swabs to remove some of the loose, crusty material.
- Repeat this treatment daily for 3 days.
- Wait 10 days, then repeat the treatment for 3 more days.
- Wait another 10 days and repeat the treatment again for 3 days.
A rabbit’s teeth continue to grow, like your finger- and toenails — only faster, ½ to ¾ inch per month. In a normal rabbit, the top front teeth slightly overlap the two bottom teeth. The normal chewing that happens when the rabbit eats keeps its teeth at a proper length. If the rabbit’s teeth do not meet properly, then this normal wearing down doesn’t occur and the teeth can grow very long.
This condition is called malocclusion, or buck or wolf teeth. The top teeth may curl around and grow toward the back of the rabbit’s mouth, like a ram’s horns. The bottom teeth may grow out in front, instead of in back of, the top teeth.
These bottom teeth may grow so long that they stick out of the rabbit’s mouth, and can even grow into its nostrils. It may be hard for the rabbit to close its mouth.
When the rabbit tries to chew, these long teeth can stick into its skin, causing the rabbit pain; they also make it hard for the rabbit to pick up its food.
To help your rabbit regain its ability to comfortably eat its food, you will have to trim these overgrown teeth. It is easiest to have a helper for this job — one person to hold the rabbit securely and another to do the trimming.
Signs of Malocclusion
- Your rabbit is losing weight, but does not seem sick.
- Your rabbit drops its food or seems to have difficulty chewing.
The hock is the joint in a rabbit’s hind leg between the upper and lower leg bones. The rabbit carries most of its weight on its hind feet, so the area between the hock and the foot takes a lot of wear and tear. Although the rabbit has fur on this part of the leg, it is not always thick enough to protect it. Sometimes the fur wears away and the unprotected skin develops sores. A sore hock can cause a lot of discomfort.
You can suspect sore hocks if your rabbit shows signs of discomfort when it moves. Your rabbit will put down its foot and then quickly reposition it.
Causes of Sore Hocks
Some rabbits seem more likely than others to get sore hocks:
- Nervous rabbits that stamp their feet a lot may develop sore hocks more often than their calmer relatives.
- The soft, short fur of the Rex breed makes sore hocks more likely.
- Thinly furred foot pads may result in sore hocks.
- Some of the very large breeds seem to get sore hocks more often. These animals carry more weight, and therefore put more stress on their hock area.
- Animals whose feet are small compared to their body size are likely to get sore hocks.
You know how hot it can feel when the temperature rises into the 90s. Just think how this must feel if you are wearing a fur coat!
Hot weather can be very hard on rabbits; extremely high temperatures can kill them. During a hot spell, check your animals during the day. It is normal for a rabbit to stretch out in the coolest part of its cage when it’s hot, but if your rabbit is breathing heavily and its muzzle is dripping wet, it may be suffering from heat-stroke or sunstroke. You should act immediately in order to save the life from common rabbit diseases.
- Move the rabbit to a cool location. The cellar in your house is probably several degrees cooler than it is outside.
- Wipe the inside and outside of the rabbit’s ears with ice cubes. Because the blood vessels in a rabbit’s ears are closer to the surface than are those in other parts of its body, ice applied here will cool the animal faster than applying ice to any other spot. Wrap the ice in cloth so that you can hold it more easily.
Emergency Care from common rabbit diseases:
In advanced cases of sunstroke, the rabbit may be almost lifeless. In this situation, every second is important. To cool the rabbit as quickly as possible, gently place it in a container of water. Use water that is at room temperature, not cold water, so that you don’t give it a sudden shock. Do not let the rabbit’s head go under the water, just wet it up to its neck. Once it is wet, place the rabbit in a quiet, shaded area to recover.
If you start with a healthy rabbit and take good care of it, you should have very few health problems. If a problem does arise, early treatment will increase your rabbit’s chances for a full recovery and avoid common rabbit diseases. Having the necessary things on hand will help you start treatment as soon as a problem is noticed. The best advice is to assemble a first-aid kit; some of the supplies you may already have in your home.