Health Concerns

With proper care a rabbit can live 8-12 years. This care includes proper diet, spaying or neutering and an annual examination by a rabbit-knowledgeable veterinarian. Many medical conditions in rabbits are preventable if owners are knowledgeable about their rabbits' needs. Listed below are some of the more common medical concerns in rabbits.

Spaying and Neutering
Besides controlling population, spaying and neutering have other important benefits. The leading cause of death for female rabbits is uterine cancer. It has been shown that unspayed females above the age of two years have an 80% chance of developing this type of cancer. Spaying and neutering may also decrease unwanted aggressive behavior and spraying. This also makes it possible to keep a male and female together.

a. Ear mites are small parasites that produce itchy debris and inflammation that can be seen in the ear. If the parasite is left untreated the rabbit may inflict wounds to his ear due to scratching or shaking his head.
b. Fur mites (Cheyletiella) usually occur on the back between the shoulder blades and look like flaky dandruff. Some rabbits may harbor them for many years without signs. Severe cases may cause hair loss.
c. Fleas are not common on pet rabbits. A rabbit may get fleas from other household pets. Treatment consists of using a kitten-safe flea powder. A flea comb may be used to remove the adult fleas from your rabbit. The rabbit's environment should also be treated for fleas.
d. Coccidia are internal parasites that affect the liver or intestine. Usually only young or stressed rabbits are affected. Signs may include diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss or poor weight gain.

Malocclusion occurs when a rabbit's teeth do not align properly causing an overgrowth. When teeth grow too long they may cause your rabbit to drool or stop eating. A veterinarian can trim the teeth regularly or show you how. Occasionally a rabbit's teeth become abscessed. The most common signs of this condition are drooling, decreased appetite and anorexia. This can quickly become an emergency. Grinding of teeth loudly is the way a rabbit expresses pain. This should not be confused with the soft purr-like grinding a rabbit does when being gently petted by its owner.

Any time a rabbit stops eating is a medical emergency. Contact your rabbit-knowledgeable veterinarian immediately.

True diarrhea in a rabbit is not very common. Sudden diet change, low roughage diet, excessive sugar or antibiotics not suited to rabbits (Amoxicillin) can all induce diarrhea. If your rabbit has runny stool or stool caked to its fur it is recommended you consult your veterinarian. If diarrhea is left on your rabbit's fur, fly strike (maggots) may appear. Prolonged diarrhea can be fatal in rabbits.

The color of rabbit urine varies from yellow to red and from clear to cloudy. Some rabbits get what is known as urine sludge. This can be caused by too much calcium in the diet. This may cause straining and decreased urine output. If your rabbit strains or has thick urine you should consult your veterinarian.

With any wound or scratch consult your veterinarian before treating. Wounds left untreated may quickly turn into an abscess requiring surgery and antibiotic therapy.

Hairball (Trichobezoars)
Unlike a cat, rabbits are unable to vomit. Excessive hair intake can lead to a blockage. When your rabbit is molting (shedding) it is recommended to brush them daily to remove any excess hair. Some signs your rabbit may be blocked include anorexia, decreased or no stool output, and lethargy. Another indication of excessive hair consumption by your rabbit is fecal pellets strung together in a chain with hair. If you suspect your rabbit has a hairball consult your veterinarian. Feeding plenty of hay and brushing daily can significantly decrease the chance of a hairball in your rabbit.

This bacterium is common in the home environment. Cats can carry this bacterium in their mouths. The most common signs are respiratory problems, eye or nose discharge and head tilt. This is easily transmitted from one rabbit to another. Many rabbits are carriers of these bacteria and can live a full life span without complications. Some rabbits may show symptoms while under stress. Antibiotics may sometimes be necessary to control the bacteria. Many antibiotics are harmful to rabbits. Drugs such as penicillin may be fatal. Consult a rabbit-knowledgeable veterinarian for your rabbit's health care.

Important signs to look for are: lethargy, sitting hunched up, hiding in unusual places, anorexia, drooling, diarrhea, no stool, straining to urinate, sneezing or eye discharge, loud teeth grinding, the appearance of blood, pus or maggots. Many of these conditions can be life threatening. If your rabbit shows any of these signs please consult your veterinarian.