(c) Gryph- if you repost this article, please post with a link back to my website.
There is no substitute for good husbandry practices. Providing clean cages, feed, and water at all times will go a long way toward preventing disease. Practice good sanitation procedures and don’t just shift rabbits from cage to cage without cleaning it in between with bleach. Assign each water bottle to a rabbit and move the bottle with the rabbit. Ideally, your rabbits need to be raised in a safe, quiet, clean and well-ventilated environment to do well. Keep the area under your cages and hutches clean. Some companies sell trays that can be put under cages to collect manure and urine, and they are easy to empty and clean. Cages, nest boxes, feeders, waterers, resting mats and anything else the rabbit used should be sanitized and cleaned after each use, and the hair should be burned off the wire (a weed dragon torch works great for this). Raising worms under rabbit hutches can work well. Worms consume the manure and any spilled feed, which can help eliminate some of the odor, waste and labor associated with manure management, along with providing another source of income. A small rabbitry is quiet and should not stink. If you have a problem with odor from urine in the ground, you can apply lime in the ground to absorb the smell. Be sure to clean up poop at least once a week.
Common rabbit diseases and ailments include snuffles, weepy eye, enteritis, coccidiosis, mastitis, sore hocks, wry neck, fly strike and malocclusion. Breeders in areas with mosquitoes should also watch for myxomatosis. It’s beyond the scope of this workshop to discuss rabbit diseases and ailments in any detail, but we can cover some of the basics. Unfortunately, most of the time the best course of action with a sick rabbit is to cull and dispose of it. Most of the time, the disease is incurable or can compromise the rabbit’s performance. The removal of one rabbit can save the rest of your herd, since rabbit diseases are usually very contagious. A lot of the time, the rabbit may still be eaten since most rabbit diseases cannot be transmitted to humans.
Drug and medication use should be kept at a minimum and only used on an ‘as needed’ basis to prevent drug-resistance among the organisms and germs that can make a rabbit sick. There are very few drugs that have been approved for use in rabbits, so information on how to use many of the commonly accessible drugs is off-label. It’s better to breed for resistance and healthy immune systems along with correct body confirmation. It’s better to have healthy animals that have been exposed to common diseases then ‘healthy’ rabbits that drop like flies when exposed to something new. Even if you don’t show, you may have someone come into your rabbitry who carries germs or bacteria that can make your rabbits sick.
Rabbits, like many mammals, can get fleas. Advantage, Program, and Revolution are all safe to use on rabbits. Rabbits can also get fur and ear mites. Revolution will take care of fur mites, and so will injectible ivomec (just apply a few drops to the back of the neck). If your rabbit gets dirty or crusty ears, odds are good you are dealing with ear mites. They are easily treatable with a few drops of injectible ivomec in each ear, then an application of oil (olive, baby, coconut, etc) to smother the mites. It’s important to thoroughly clean your rabbit’s cage or hutch after treatment to prevent reinfestation.
The pads of a rabbit’s feet can get worn down, especially in Rex rabbits with their shorter fur, exposing inflamed or callused skin. Providing a resting pad can help prevent and treat this. Torn toenails are one of the most common injuries seen in rabbits. The nail may catch on something and be ripped out at the base. This usually accompanied by bleeding and an upset rabbit. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to treat. If the nail is completely ripped off, apply gentle pressure to the area for a few minutes to stop the bleeding. If any of the nail remains, use styptic power or flour to stop the bleeding. Keeping your rabbits nail trimmed can help prevent torn toenails.
Surface wounds may be cleaned with a small amount of witch hazel or saline (avoid using peroxide on penetrating wounds). Penetrating wounds and bites are far more dangerous. The skin of your rabbit contains bacteria that can cause problems if a penetrating object transfers those bacteria to deeper tissues. Rabbits are sensitive to many antibiotics, so it’s better to prevent penetrating wounds whenever necessary. Check your rabbit’s cage or hutch for any sharp wires or objects that could cause injury.
Back and leg fractures are very common in rabbits and are often caused from improper handling. Practice handling your rabbits correctly. Rabbits have very powerful hind leg muscles and a single kick can result in a back or leg fracture. The most common cause of sudden paralysis of the hind legs of a rabbit is a back fracture. The most humane and financially sound decision in both cases is to cull the rabbit. Prevent fractures by not leaving your rabbit unattended on any surface that it can jump or fall off of. Be careful not to drop your rabbit or let it jump from your arms.
Rabbits are extremely sensitive to heat stroke and heat stress when exposed to environmental temperatures close to and above 85°F. Signs of heat stroke are weakness, depression, drooling, bloody nose, convulsions and coma. Offer frozen water bottles or frozen tiles to keep your rabbits cool.
Urine scald is created by urine and fecal scalding around the trail. Exposed skin that becomes urine burned or broken is likely to get infected. Take care that your rabbit doesn’t sit in soiled corners of its cages or on wet soiled hay. Urinary infections or older rabbits may not be able to project urine away from their bodies, which can saturate the fur around the hindquarters. You can shave the fur (carefully), rinse the area daily and dust with corn starch. Matted and wet areas can attract flies. Fly strike (myiasis) is a condition that can result when flies lay eggs on the skin and the larvae or maggots hatch.
Some of the most killer diseases are gut stasis, bloat, and mucoid enteritis. GI stasis develops slowly and usually several days pass before you even suspect there’s a problem, but if discovered early enough the condition can be treatable. Bloat, however, happens suddenly and without warning and the prognosis is very poor, although bloat can develop as a complication of GI stasis. Mucoid enteropathy (ME) is a mucus-like inflammation of the intestinal tract caused by either viral or bacterial infection, also called bloat. It isn’t contagious, and can sometimes be attributed to stress such as the sudden change of diet and environment as well as inadequate diet, coccidiosis, and conditions causing the rabbit to stop eating such as pain from an injury or dental disease. Overcrowding, antibiotics, change in temperature, showing, traveling, and being bullied can all cause stress that can lead to ME. It can also be caused by a genetic predisposition to gut dysfunction. The onset of symptoms is usually very sudden, with loss of appetite, few or no droppings being passed, lying stretched out or huddled in a corner with obvious abdominal pain, loss of balance, head tilted back, bloated stomach (sometimes you can head sloshing and gurgling in the stomach when you pick the rabbit up), constipation and/or small amounts of diarrhea, grinding their teeth in pain, and behaving in an abnormally quiet or withdrawn manner. The diarrhea will have gel globs in the droppings and mucus covered soft droppings. There may be gel on their bottom. ME can affect both young and old rabbits, especially those with weakened immune systems. It is often fatal and there are no recognized sure-fire treatments. It’s best to put a rabbit with these symptoms down so that it is not in pain. To prevent ME, keep rabbit cages and hutches clean and as sanitary as possible; provide plenty of hay to help keep their guts moving. Avoid overcrowding and reduce stress on kits.
Coccidia are microscopic parasites. They are found in the intestines and liver of rabbits. The oocysts (eggs of coccidia) are passed in the feces (droppings). There are two forms of cocci, one that affects the digestive system and one that affects the liver. It is often digested from contaminated food or water, or made prevalent by stress from showing, a change in food, a lack of fiber in the diet, or weaning. It can be brought about by unbalanced microbiotics in the gut or genetic abnormalities as well. Contrary to popular belief, not all rabbit victims of cocci live in squalor. It is relatively common in show rabbits due to the fact that they are often exposed to possible carriers and are usually stressed. Young rabbits are also often victims. Symptoms include diarrhea, sudden shyness or hanging in the back of the cage, lethargy, weakness and a very strong odor. They may be blood or green mucus in your rabbit’s droppings. Cocci can very swiftly be fatal if not treated. Cocci can sometimes be treated with sulfa quinoxoline or amprolium (liquid corid). It’s also a good idea to offer probiotics and electrolytes in your rabbit’s water during treatment. Take away pellets and offer oats (even old fashioned oats work) and unlimited hay. Rabbits with cocci usually rapidly lose weight even with treatment. During and after treatment, be sure to disinfect everything- cage, waterer, feed dishes, resting mats, etc to prevent spreading this disease.
A rabbit can contract a number of respiratory diseases. Respiratory infections in rabbits are commonly referred to as “snuffles.” Snuffles is characterized by runny eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. Many types of bacteria can cause a respiratory disease in your rabbit. The two most common respiratory infections include bordetella and pasteurella. Both infections have relatively similar symptoms and causes.
The bacteria that cause pasteurella can also be responsible for genital infections. Such infections cause inflammation of a rabbit’s reproductive tract. The only visible sign of a genital infection is a thick yellowish-gray discharge around the vagina of a doe or the urethra in a buck. These infections are most common in adult female rabbits. Pasteurella can easily be spread during breeding, so rabbits that are infected with the bacteria should not be bred. The hutches of infected rabbits should also be thoroughly disinfected to prevent further exposure.
Watery eyes can be a symptom of something serious. Snotty noses or incessant sneezing may be an indication that you have a seriously sick rabbit. Immediately quarantine the sneezing or snotty rabbit and either cull or test it. Unfortunately, most rabbit respiratory ailments are lethal and very contagious. It’s best to have your rabbit tested if it has a snotty nose or sneezes constantly. You can contact PavLab to order testing cultures and for directions. Culture swaps run about $5 each, and the tests run $30 per rabbit. Pan American Veterinary Laboratories (PavLab) 166 Brushy Creek Trail, Hutto, TX 78634 800-856-9655 firstname.lastname@example.org http://pavlab.com/
Rabbit syphilis (also called vent disease) is a disease caused by bacteria. It can be transmitted sexually, but has also been seen in rabbits that were living singly, having had no contact with other rabbits, and in rabbits that were sharing space with unaffected rabbits. It is believed that the disease was transmitted to these rabbits at birth or via the mother's milk while nursing. In some rabbits the bacterium may remain dormant for long periods of time, even years, and the affected rabbit will show no clinical signs until a stressful event occurs, causing the infection to erupt. The typical form of syphilis affects the genitals, the anus, and/or the face- mainly around and on the eyelids and the nose. Lesions develop slowly and the skin becomes crusty and ulcerated. Secretions and bleeding can occur. Vent disease is very contagious, so be sure to quarantine the affected animals, all the rabbits that have been exposed to them, AND all their offspring which could reasonably be suspected of having been exposed to the disease. It’s important that if you run into vent disease that you do not breed infected rabbits. Besides the danger of spreading this infection throughout the herd, the kits themselves become infected by the infected does at kindling. It is very dangerous to treat infected rabbits with penicillin. The bacterial balance in their intestines is still tenuous; a dose of antibiotics could very easily trigger fatal diarrhea. If at all possible, it is safest to postpone treatment of youngsters until much closer to adulthood. The treatment of choice for vent disease is penicillin. Be very careful which penicillin is chosen, as some penicillin will wipe out the rabbit’s intestinal flora resulting in death. Giving antibiotics by mouth is NOT recommended. Deep cleaning and disinfection of hutches, cages, and the rabbitry is important to prevent a possible re-infection of one or more animals with rabbit syphilis. With effective treatment, rabbits can be expected to return to excellent health.
This is just a quick explanation of the some of the common rabbit diseases. Most of the time, treatment for the more severe diseases is to cull. Unfortunately, because rabbits are considered ‘exotics’ by most vets, it’s usually far less expensive to simply cull a sick or injured rabbit and replace it rather than running up hundreds of dollars in vet bills.