TOP 7 Common Rabbit Diseases, Owners Need to Know

common rabbit diseases

Rabbits that are properly cared for (well fed and watered and kept clean and dry) will avoid most Common rabbit diseases. Diseases reduce the weight of the animals, resulting in the loss of meat and in deaths.

Curing rabbit diseases is very difficult if there is not a good veterinary officer in the locality; for example, it is difficult to force a rabbit to take any drugs. It is advisable, therefore, to wash the cages weekly with a strong disinfectant and, generally, to maintain strict standards of hygiene. Avoid insecticides because these preparations may be dangerous if ingested by the animals. There are some insecticides, such as Opigal 50 and Asuntol 50, which are known to be harmless to animals.

Nature has endowed most animals with the instinct to eat certain leaves that have curative properties. Some of the illnesses which afflict them can be cured if they eat the appropriate leaves. If the animals are allowed to move about freely they can cure themselves. Rabbits kept in hutches, however, are unable to do this. It is essential, therefore, that the breeder provides a variety of leaves for the rabbits so that a sick rabbit might, by chance, eat the particular leaf required to cure itself.

Rabbits that die from an unknown cause should be removed and burnt, and the cages they occupied should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Signs of sickness

A sick rabbit becomes dull and inactive. Its eyes turn pale, it loses weight and it sometimes produces a watery discharge from the anus, nose, and eyes.

The faeces of a rabbit can sometimes give a clue that the animal is sick. The drawings below give an indication of what to look for.

common rabbit diseases
  • a) Normal faeces consist of solid, round and tablet-like droppings. The fibre content can easily be seen. There is little odour unless the farmer brings the faeces close to his nose. A sick rabbit’s droppings can sometimes be smelt as one approaches the hutch.
  • b) A4-to 5-month old rabbit discharges small, tablet-like faeces, bound together in a long cluster; the length of the cluster varies from 2 to 5 em. The faeces are shiny and sticky and are believed to be a left-over of the edible discharge which the rabbit consumes at night. Bucks in their puberty stage and pregnant does some- times also discharge such faeces.
  • c) About 1 to 2 weeks before delivery, the doe discharges droppings similar in size to those in (a) but linked together. They may continue to discharge such droppings until 3-4 days after delivery.
  • d) The faeces of a sick rabbit are watery and sticky. They may contain worms (white and coiled). Watery discharges usually indicate that the rabbit has diarrhoea.

Common Rabbit Diseases


The most common rabbit diseases that farmer will come across is diarrhoea. This is usually caused by the rabbit consuming the wrong food, such as sweet potatoes or the larvae of certain species of butterfly. When
rabbits have diarrhoea, they become dull and begin to discharge watery green droppings. Some forms of diarrhoea can kill a rabbit within 24 hours. Diarrhoea can be prevented by providing the rabbits with freshly
cut and dried greens.


This is caused by the rabbit consuming tiny parasitic creatures that crawl around in feeding troughs and water bowls or on the hutch walls. It can result in diarrhoea. The affected rabbits will sit hunched up
and extend their hind legs forward. They will also lose weight. To prevent this disease, it is important to keep the cages very clean. If the disease persists for a long time, call in a veterinary doctor.

Ear canker

Small mites may burrow under the rabbit’s skin, especially in the ears. The scabs must be removed with warm water and palm oil or vaseline applied to the affected area. Also, pour some palm oil into the affected ear.


If dirt is allowed to build up in and around rabbit hutches, the rabbits might develop warbles. Warbles are the result of eggs being laid in the fur of the rabbit, usually on its legs or feet, on the nose, and around the eyes or on the fringes of the ear. When the eggs hatch, tiny maggots burrow under the skin to form a small tump under the fur of the rabbit.
The rabbit may scratch the spot and this, in turn, might cause infection. Warbles have developed on the nose of the rabbit in Figure 18. A knife may be used to open or remove the lump; then dilute a small quantity of Opigal 50 powder and apply it to the affected area, repeating this treatment after a week if necessary. Warbles may also be effectively treated with palm oil.


When a rabbit has a cold, it will sneeze and mucous will be discharged from its nostrils. Rabbits with colds should be isolated because the cold might develop into another illness that could spread to other rabbits and kill them.


Rabbits may have worms. These are white and sometimes coiled. To de-worm a rabbit, feed it paw paw if available; the paw paw plant is a natural de-wormer. The best remedy is to give the rabbit, every 4 weeks or so, dry paw paw leaves or a mixture of a few mashed dried paw paw seeds and grain. This will remove most of the worms.

Wry neck

Rabbits are sometimes afflicted by a disease known as wry neck. Their necks become twisted and they lose their sense of balance. Some farmers prescribe total destruction as the cure and to prevent the ailment from being transferred to other rabbits. Our experience, however, is that wryneck can be completely cured in about 6 weeks without the use of any medication and that the disease is not transferrable. One case reported to us is worth quoting here:

  • My rabbit had a terrible twist of the neck for more than 2 months. Friends advised me to destroy the animal but I decided to leave it alone to see what would happen without any treatment. At the end of the second month, the neck started turning to its original position, and 2 weeks later the animal was completely healed. The disease was not transferred to another rabbit although the affected rabbit was paired with a young buck in the same cage.

Head banging

A strong rabbit that shows no symptom of any disease or illness may, without warning, run at tremendous speed into any obstacle in front of it, banging its head in the process. It will continue doing this until it dies. It is not known what causes this, or what the cure might be. Usually, by the time a veterinary officer gets to the farm the rabbit will have died.

Common Rabbit Diseases and Pets


Dogs are the worst enemies of rabbits. If they get the slightest chance, they will, in a short space of time, kill all the rabbits found in any one place. Always safeguard rabbits from dogs by keeping the dogs indoors or away from the hutch area and making sure that the rabbit hutches are strong enough to give the animals the protection they need.


Wild cats and some domestic cats will molest rabbits. They will catch a young rabbit and eat only its nose, leaving the rest of the carcass in the coop. If properly made, hutches will keep cats out.

Mice and shrews

Some nursing does are unable to drive away mice and shrews which enter the hutches and kindling boxes and eat the young rabbits. If mice and shrews are not destroyed, they will eventually eat all the young
rabbits. To prevent this from happening, traps can be placed outside the- hutch. Alternatively, poison can be used (rat poison is effective), When poison is being used, the farmer must provide water; after consuming the poison and drinking water, the mice or shrews die before they reach the rabbits. Always keep poisons on the ground near the hutches.


It is always possible that dangerous snakes such as cobras and puff adders may approach the hutches. If there are young rabbits, they are likely to be visited by a black cobra every 3-4 days. The snakes may swallow the rabbits whole. There are several effective ways of dealing with snakes. The first is to kill them, using hard-boiled eggs as bait; the snake swallows the egg whole but its stomach cannot digest it, and the snake dies in the bush, away from the hutch. The second is to use 2 cm of wire mesh when constructing the hutches. The third is to grow shallots or onions around or close to the hutches; the scent of shallots or onions will keep all types of snakes away.

Fleas and Lice Diseases

Some of the fleas that infest rabbits are similar to those found on dogs. They jump quickly from one spot to another. They suck blood and cause rabbits to lose fur. Fleas should be destroyed with Opigal 50 or Asuntol 50, or similar drug powders. One tablespoonful of either of these solutions will destroy fleas and lice on rabbits within a few hours.

The rabbit is dipped into the solution or lightly washed with the liquid. There is no need to remove food when applying Opigal or Asuntol; any quantity ingested by the animal will not be harmful. The new Chinese ‘miraculous’ insecticide chalk is good to apply. Eamatox is also good for fighting fleas and lice.

If you are concerned about your rabbit about these common rabbit diseases and need advice on taking proactive measures to protect your pet, visit your vet as soon as possible.

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