As soon as you get a bunny, you need to find a good rabbit vet. The first thing you will have to arrange is their vaccination, they will need a vaccination against Myxomatosis, VHD-1 and VHD-2. This should be arranged for about one week after you have brought your new bunny home.
It is very important to find the right vet to look after your pet rabbit in sickness and in health. Not all vets are experienced with rabbits, and you will find that some of the vets are more knowledgeable and interested in rabbits than others.
Ideally it is best to find an experienced rabbit vet. But sometimes it is acceptable to find a vet who is open minded about rabbits and willing to go away and find out information if they don't know the answer off hand.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has a directory where you can look for a recommended rabbit vet local to you. Here is the link:
The Rabbit Welfare Association is an extremely good website with plenty of useful information and advise
Diseases & Health Problems
It is important to know that rabbits tend to hide signs of ill health because they are prey animals. In the wild, sick animals are pinpointed by predators first. This self-preserving instinct to hide illness lives on in domesticated rabbits, so it is critical to continually monitor your rabbit for any changes in behavior.
This is caused by the myxoma virus and has been distributed to curtail the number of wild rabbits and try to reduce the damage done to farmers crops. Over the years a number of strains of the disease have developed as the animals become immune.
Vaccinating your rabbit will only cover some of the strains of myxomatosis, not all of them. So although it is advisable to vaccinate your rabbit it will not be a complete guarantee that your rabbit will not get the disease. The vaccine for this disease is included in the 3 in 1 vaccine along with RVHD-1 and RVHD-2. Annual boosters are required.
Myxomatosis is carried by fleas and mosquitos. The disease is passed into the blood stream when the insect bites the rabbit. Once bitten the rabbit will go through up to a week incubation period. The first signs of the disease will be sore, puffy eyes and conjunctivitis.
There are other precautions you can take in the general care of your rabbit. Insects are attracted to dirty, smelly areas so you should ensure you keep the hutch clean and regularly scoop out the dirty corners. If your hutch is in an area where there are a lot of insects such as near water, a fly screen on the front of the hutch is a good way of keeping the insects out.
Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD-1)
This is another disease introduced by man to curtail the number of wild rabbits, it was first reported in the UK in 1992. It is an incredibly nasty and fatal disease which causes liver damage and blood clotting. It is caused by a calcivirus and can cause death within 2 days. The symptoms will be loss of appetite and bleeding from the nose.
The virus is highly contagious and can be transmitted by direct contact with infected rabbits or other animals carrying the disease. It can also be caught through the atmosphere and it can survive for up to 100 days at room temperature. It can also be spread on clothing and footwear so indoor rabbits are still at risk and should be vaccinated.
The vaccine for this disease is included in the 3 in 1 vaccine along with Myxomatosis and RVHD-2. Annual boosters are required.
RVHD-2 is a variant form of the original RVHD-1 virus and differs in the following ways.
Rabbits infected with the RVHD-2 virus typically DO NOT show the symptoms that are common with RVHD-1 infection so it is far more difficult to diagnose from simple observations.
Death from RVHD-2 occurs suddenly and without warning: typically this is 3-9 days following infection and can last up to 5 days, infected rabbits show few clinical signs of illness but are suddenly found dead. If found before they die they are often collapsed and jaundiced.
The vaccine for this disease is included in the 3 in 1 vaccine along with Myxomatosis and RVHD-1. Annual boosters are required.
This is a condition caused by the infestation of flies laying their eggs on a dirty rabbit. Flies are attracted to dirt and smell and like to lay their eggs in damp warm places with a source of food. A dirty bottom with soft sticky droppings is usually caused by eating too many greens or something that does not agree with them.
If a rabbit lives in a dirty conditions and has a dirty bottom the flies will lay their eggs on the rear end of the rabbit and once they hatch the larvae begin to eat the flesh around them. This is an extremely painful and nasty death.
Therefore it is very important to check your rabbit on a daily basis to make sure he/she is clean. You must also ensure the hutch is kept clean so the flies are not attracted there in the first place, especially in the summer.
To help prevent your rabbit getting Fly Strike, in the Spring and Summer you can apply a prevention spray such as the 'Beaphar Fly Guard', around your rabbits' rear end.
Rabbits produce two kinds of faecal pellets, one is a hard round pellet seen lying around their hutch, the other is soft which you shouldn't see as it is usually produced at night and should be re-ingested by the rabbit.
When a rabbit eats its food it remains in the stomach for several hours before gradually being introduced into the small intestine. Particles that have not been broken down by enzymatic action pass into the caecum. These enter the colon where the particles become surrounded by mucus and form a soft pellet known as 'caecotrophes'.
If you see abnormal amounts of these soft pellets in your rabbit's hutch it is a sign that your rabbit is either being over fed or has eaten something that does not agree with them. It is important that a rabbit re-ingests these caecotrophes to maintain a balanced digestive system.
Loss of Balance/Head Tilt
You may notice your rabbit holding its head at a tilted angle, being unable to stand properly and circling in one direction.
This may be associated with bacterial infections of the middle and inner ear or infections of the brain with the protozoal parasite 'Encephalitozoon cuniculi'.
Rabbits affected by this condition should be kept as quiet as possible with dimmed lighting to avoid self injuries occurring. You should seek help from your vet as soon as possible.
Rabbits are herbivores and naturally obtain their nutrition from plants which can be very tough, therefore rabbits teeth have to be very hard to break down the plant fibres Similar to horses, rabbits in the wild have to graze many hours a day to obtain sufficient nutrients from plants. Because of this constant wear, rabbit teeth grow continuously throughout their entire life.
When rabbits are fed a diet deficient in tough, fibrous plant matter (like hay, grass and vegetables), their teeth are not worn down properly. The individual teeth wear down at different rates, so the teeth cannot meet normally, and the teeth grow in an even more abnormal pattern. Malocclusion is the term for teeth that do not meet normally.
Some rabbits are born with bad teeth; either an underbite, an overbite, or other malformation. Other rabbits are born with normal teeth, but they do not develop normally. Occasionally, malocclusion can be caused by trauma, but most frequently, malocclusions are the result of too little fibre in the diet.
Diagram of a normal rabbits teeth & jaw
Signs to look out for are a decreased appetite, weight loss, reluctance to eat hard food, smelly breath, uneven incisors which means there is a very good chance that the cheek teeth are abnormal as well.
If a problem is suspected it is best to seek advise from your vet. Sometimes it is possible to regularly clip the teeth or in some cases the vet can completely remove the teeth that are causing a problem.
Like all animals rabbits can get parasites and worms and need to receive regular preventative treatments.
Cheyletiella: Is a fur mite, it lives in your rabbits fur and usually causes severe dandruff. It can be very itchy and cause redness, scabs and infection.
The rabbit flea: Is not as common as the cat flea, but could be dangerous as they can carry myxomatosis.
Ear Mites: Are caused by Psoroptes cuniculi, which is highly contagious and painful, forming a crust inside the ear canal causing intense itching, such that the rabbit often develops secondary sores, scabs, and infections of the ear.
E. Cuniculi: Is caused by a microscopic parasite. It is widespread across the UK – 50 per cent of apparently healthy rabbits have been exposed to the parasite – and the and the disease is particularly nasty. It can cause head tilt, seizures, kidney disease, hind limb weakness, loss of vision and balance. The parasite is spread by infected urine or from mothers to babies and it can live in the environment for several weeks.
External parasite problems can be treated using special animal medicated shampoos, powders and prevented by giving regular applications of spot on treatments such as Beaphur anti-parasite or Zeno 450. We advise this should be given approximately every 6 weeks all year round.
Roundworms: These are white and coiled like a spring. They grow to approximately 100mm and you may see them in your rabbit’s faeces. Rabbits pick up roundworms by eating their larvae and the adult worm then develops inside the body with worms and eggs being passed out in faeces. These eggs then develop into larvae and the cycle starts again.
Tapeworms: These are white and resemble flat segments filled with moving eggs that look like grains of rice. You might see tapeworm segments in faeces or near your pet’s anus. Rabbits are infected with tapeworm by swallowing fleas while grooming. Once inside the rabbit’s gut, the worm larvae carried by the flea develops into an adult worm that can grow to 5 metres in length.
Internal parasites/worms can be treated using an effective wormer such as Panacur. They can be prevented from being infected by giving regular treatments 2-4 times a year.
There are many illnesses a rabbit can get but as long as you care for your pet and keep them healthy and happy you are doing the right thing. Rabbits are good at hiding illnesses so it is wise to be quite vigilant.
If you think your rabbit is ill, you MUST take it to a vet as soon as possible. Time is often vital when considering health issues in rabbits
There are a number of books you can purchase with guidance on caring for rabbits. One I highly recommend is the 'Rabbit Lopaedia - A complete Guide to Rabbit Care by Meg Brown and Virginia Richardson', which can be purchased from the Fur & Feather Magazine bookshop: http://www.furandfeather.co.uk/shop.htm
Floppy Bunny Syndrome
This is believed to be a neurological condition that usually presents with acute onset weakness to flaccid (floppy) paralysis of the skeletal muscles of the hind/front legs or both. Seriously affected rabbits may not be able to do anything but lie on their sides, and less severely affected animals may be able to sit up and eat, but not be able to hop around very much.
Varied symptoms can include:
No or little movement in front or back legs (or both)
Generalised weakness or paralysis
Not drinking/eating (or a deceased appetite)
Despite a lot of research being performed right across the world, the specific pathophysiology and cause of floppy bunny syndrome still remains unknown.
Various theories have been suggested including low blood calcium, low blood potassium, vitamin E and selenium deficiency, infection with the parasite Enecephalitozoon cuniculi and ingestion of plant or fungal toxins.
If you suspect your rabbit has this condition you should seek help from your vet as soon as possible. The majority of rabbits affected by floppy rabbit syndrome receiving intensive nursing care will recover within 2 to 7 days, and it appears that the severity of the condition does affect the length of recovery time.
A very serious, fairly common health issue pet rabbits face is gastrointestinal stasis. GI (or gut) stasis. It is a potentially deadly condition in which the digestive system slows down or stops completely.
This then causes bad bacteria to build up in the intestines and releases gas into the system, causing very painful bloating and further decreasing a rabbit’s motivation to eat or drink. This compounds the problem because the rabbit will become more dehydrated and starved of essential nutrients and roughage.
The contents of the digestive tract will become more compact, and the rabbit will have an even more difficult time passing it through. The bacteria can also release toxins into the system which overtax the liver and can cause the organ to ultimately fail.
If you notice any of these signs take your rabbit to a vet immediately:
Small and/or malformed fecal pellets
No fecal pellets
Loss of appetite
Lethargy / hunched posture
To help prevent the occurrence of GI stasis first ensure your rabbit is getting a proper, hay-based diet. See our 'Feeding your Rabbit' page for details and appropriate foods. A hay-based diet is essential not only because it provides the fiber necessary to keep the digestive system moving, it also helps wear down a rabbit’s teeth.
Gastric Dilation (Bloat)
Gastric bloat is a life-threatening emergency and can quickly lead to death. It can occur in any age, sex, or breed of rabbit and you must seek veterinary help as soon as you see symptoms.
Bloat is when the stomach fills up with gas and fluids and this can quickly lead to death. It can begin with symptoms of gastric stasis and progress to “bloat”. The onset is quick and within hours a perfectly healthy rabbit can go from being normal to not wanting to move due to the pain.
The problem is more common in rabbits than other species because they have a complicated digestive system and cannot vomit or burp, so any accumulation of fluid that cant leave the stomach ferments producing gas and dilation.
Bloating is mostly caused by an obstruction that prevents the food and fluids from leaving the stomach, this is commonly a hairball (combination of hair and food), but sometimes the cause is unexplained.
As the stomach enlarges, it becomes very painful, can cause breathing difficulties and reduces the blood supply to the stomach which can then lead to shock. Rabbits that are bloated and left untreated will die within 24 hours.
Decreased appetite and often stop eating
Decreased fecal production
Pain (rabbits often show hunched posture, grinding of teeth)
Decreased activity (often a sign of pain)