Signs of a sick rabbit
In the wild, rabbits have learnt to suffer in silence because they are bottom of the food chain. It is for this reason that the owner of the pet rabbit needs to be particularly attentive to subtle changes in behaviour or litterbox habits. Take note how your rabbit greets you in the morning. If he is lethargic, his food is untouched and there are no droppings in his litterbox, you have reason to suspect that your bun is very sick. Don’t wait for your rabbit to be sick, before you start looking for a good ‘rabbit’ vet. When looking for a vet, look on the bunnychow website, where there is a list of rabbit ‘savvy’ vets. If this still doesn’t help you, start phoning all the vets in your area. Ask if they treat rabbits and if so, how often. A good rabbit vet will have a working knowledge of rabbit anatomy and physiology, nutrition and the common diseases and syndromes of rabbits. If you find a good vet, email me the contact details and I will add it to my website.
The following information can be used as a guide to some rabbit illnesses.
Tooth Grinding – loud tooth grinding is a sign that your bun is in pain. This is not to be confused with tooth grinding “purring” that your rabbit will make when you are scratching his head.
Wet chin or drooling – this is a sure sign of teeth problems. My Marge had a very wet chin for a week, but was still eating. When the vet looked in her mouth, she had 2 very sharp molar spurs. We were amazed that she was still able to eat. If your bun hops up to his food, than backs off, his teeth are probably overgrown.
Body Heat – a rabbit’s ears are like thermostats. It is through their ears, that they regulate their body temperature. Ears that are too hot or too cold, along with another health issue, could mean a trip to the vet.
Discharge from the eyes or nose, heavy breathing or chronic sneezing – this is most likely an upper respiratory infection, blocked tear duct, or teeth problems.
Headtilt – this is usually caused from an inner ear infection. The first sign of this will be a bun that is having balance problems. A while back, I noticed that my Pillsbury was falling over every time he tried to throw his cat ball. The next day we got him onto an anti-biotic and within a week he was fine. If you notice your rabbit stumbling or rolling over uncontrollably, get him to the vet ASAP. Headtilt bunnies look like their heads have been attached to their bodies at the wrong angle. Recovery can take a while and depends on how quickly the rabbit is treated.
Excessive itching or scratching and head shaking – your bun is more than likely having a flea problem, or has mite infestation. NEVER use any cat flea preparation on your bun as they are not safe for rabbits (except for Advantage, Chat to your rabbit savvy vet first to find out the correct dosage) A daily comb with a flea comb should control the problem. If fleas are not the problem, let your vet check your rabbit for mites.
Sore Hocks – this is a condition where the rabbit’s heel of the foot becomes inflamed and raw. The main reason for this is the use of wire floors. It is very important to cover any wire floors with a soft comfortable bedding, so that your rabbit does not stand directly on the wire.
Different coloured urine – I have had so many phone calls from rabbit owners saying that their rabbits’ have blood in the urine. More often then not, the urine is stained red from something they have eaten. Rabbit urine can range from white to pale yellow to bright orange/red. This is all normal. Thick white urine is a sign that there is too much calcium in the diet. A rabbit that is straining to urinate and or has urine leaking down his legs, means that there is a chance of a urinary infection, or bladder stones. It is important to take him to the vet, if you suspect this.
Litterbox habits – A daily check of your rabbit’s litterbox habits will give you a whole lot of information. A healthy rabbit’s droppings should be large, dry and round. This means that your rabbit has the correct amount of fibre in his diet. Smaller droppings and or joined together with hair, resembling a string of pearls, tells you that you need to up his fibre intake and also give your bun a daily brush to remove loose hair.
An unusual lump – A new lump or bump needs to be attended to immediately by your vet. This could either be an abscess or a tumour.