There are many different health problems that rabbits face, but most can be avoided – either by regular vaccination or by good diet and a healthy lifestyle.
You can help to maintain your pets’ good health by learning to do some simple health checks every week. These will help you to spot any problems early so you can get treatment in good time – and this regular handling will strengthen the bond between you.
A vital part of the health check is getting to know your rabbits. Like people, they’re all different, so if you become familiar with the way yours move, react and feed, you will find it easier to spot when something is wrong.
Make sure your pets are relaxed, comfortable and willing to be handled when you carry out these checks – an Excel Nature Snack may help and if your rabbits are unwell, always contact your vet.
Ears – Gently look inside to see if they’re free from mites and fleas, which can carry diseases.
Eyes – They should be clear, shiny, not swollen and free from discharge. Dampness or dull or swollen eyes can be symptoms of illness which may lead to blindness.
Teeth – Check to see there is no excessive drooling. Be careful, rabbits may bite if they’re not comfortable with their mouths being examined.
Bottom – Make sure it’s clean and not sticky or wet, which can be a sign of poor diet or malnutrition. Any droppings attached to the fur should be washed off.
Feet – Make sure the feet haven’t been injured and check that their claws haven’t overgrown.
Fur – see that there are no bald patches, no signs of mites or fleas and no signs of injury.
There are two main vaccinations and some simple preventative measures to keep your pets free from infectious diseases. You should ask your vet for more details and always keep up to date with vaccinations. Here’s a brief guide to the four main infectious diseases. But if you are in any doubt whatsoever, it is vital that you consult your vet as soon as possible.
Myxomatosis – this disease spreads via blood-sucking insects, like fleas. Even house rabbits are not immune, because the disease can be spread by mosquitoes.
- Symptoms – Swellings around the head, face, ears, lips and anus.
- Effects – Blindness, swelling around the face, disorientation, death.
- Action – Rabbits must be vaccinated. See your vet for more details.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) – a very serious condition which causes internal bleeding and shut down of internal organs. This disease kills – and there is no cure.
- Symptoms – depression, collapse, difficulty in breathing, convulsions, high body temperature, lethargy, bleeding from the nose.
- Effects – death.
- Action – rabbits must be vaccinated. See your vet for more details.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi) – a microscopic parasite which affects many internal organs like the kidneys and brain.
- Symptoms – As the parasite acts internally, symptoms are manifestations of the internal organs being attacked. Increasing thirst and weight loss, convulsions, tremors, hind limb weakness, coma, loss of balance, urinary incontinence.
- Effects – Seizures, kidney disease, hind limb weakness, loss of vision and balance.
- Action – There are preventative treatments available. See your vet for more details.
Flystrike – a disease which occurs when flies lay their eggs around the rabbit’s anus.
- Symptoms – droppings stuck around the bottom (that attract flies), diarrhoea can also be a precursor, wounds around the bottom.
- Effects – The eggs hatch into maggots which mature and burrow under the skin making the rabbit extremely ill. Can be fatal. Pets most at risk at are those suffering from obesity, dental disease, diarrhoea, arthritis and skin wounds and those living in dirty hutches. The majority of cases are due to flies being attracted to droppings or diarrhoea stuck to the rabbits bottom caused by poor diet.
- Action – There are preventative treatments available. See your vet for more details. However, a good diet of Excel Herbage and Tasty Nuggets taken according to The Excel Feeding Plan, can help to prevent obesity, dental disease and diarrhoea and guard against fly strike. Good hygiene is also vital.
Problems caused by poor diet
There are two major problem areas which can be avoided with a good diet, plenty of exercise and regular health checks.
Dental problems –Problems like these generally develop because rabbits aren’t eating enough hay, which is a fibre-rich food that helps to wear down the teeth.
- Symptoms – Excessive drooling and loss of appetite.
- Effects A rabbit’s teeth will continue to grow around 10-12cm a year all its life. Vets say that three-quarters of the rabbits they see have problems with their teeth – the most common problem being overgrown molars and spurs which can cause extreme pain.
- Action – Check your pets’ teeth on a weekly basis but you must visit the vet for a dental check every six month as you will be unable to check their back teeth.
Obesity – Rabbits kept as pets are much less active than those which live in the wild, so being overweight is always a risk.
- Symptoms – Sticky droppings (caecotrophs) that haven’t been eaten, dirty bottoms, ‘bed sores’ on hind legs
- Effects – Obesity puts pressure on the heart and joints, can create ‘bed sores’ on the hind legs and may shorten your rabbit’s life. Some obese animals find it hard to clean themselves, which can lead to flystrike. If they can’t reach their bottoms they can’t re-ingest caecotrophs – the sticky droppings they need to eat as an essential aid to survival.
- Action – Prevention is better than cure, so ask your vet about your rabbits’ ideal weight. Weigh them regularly to make sure they fall into their target weight. All rabbits, but especially those which spend most of their time in hutches, should have as much exercise as possible.