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Health Concerns For Your Rabbit

It is very important for all rabbits to get annual health checks. Older rabbits, compromised rabbits and those with on-going health issues may need to see their vets more frequently.

NOT ALL VETS are qualified to care for rabbits [considered "exotics"]. It is advisable to locate a good vet before a problem arises so that you have an established relationship and so that you are not frantically trying to find good vet care during an emergency situation. . Click here for a list of local rabbit vets. Click here for a list of tips and questions to use when interviewing potential vets.

We cannot stress enough the importance of talking to your vet and asking questions about your rabbit’s health. YOU are the bunny-parent. YOU know your pet. Only you can let your vet know of any changes in behavior or habits---any information that may help your vet make a more clear diagnosis. Familiarity with your rabbit’s’ habits and daily routines can be a critical part of good overall health evaluation. This is just another reason why it is so important that all rabbits be kept as House pets.

RABBIT TEMPERATURE
It is important to have a rectal thermometer and to know how to use it. The normal rabbit temperature should be 101 – 103If your rabbit’s temperature rises above 103 or below 101 – contact your rabbit vet immediately.

Following is very basic overview of some common rabbit health concerns.

GASTROINTESTINAL STASIS
IF THE GI TRACT (gut) SHUTS DOWN, bunny stops eating/drinking and will eventually starve to death and die. G.I. stasis is responsible for a high percentage of problems and deaths in pet rabbits, but it can be prevented in almost all cases with a high fiber, low fat, low protein diet

How do I know if there is a problem? Rabbits normally eat frequently throughout the day. If your rabbit does not eat for 4-6 hours - if there is ANY change in your rabbit’s normal eating habits - contact your vet immediately. Always check bunny droppings when cleaning the cage or litter box. Droppings are usually of uniform size and consistent in shape. If droppings suddenly get smaller, misshapen, or strung together with thick strands of hair (some hair is normal, it means it is getting through), or if there are no droppings at all – call your rabbit vet immediately.
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How can I prevent this? FIBER!! GROOMING! EXERCISE! Learn more about your rabbit’s diet and nutrition. Rabbits must have timothy, oat or other grass hay available to them 24 hours a day, as well as plenty of fresh water. Like the rabbit in the wild who eats long dry weeds and grass, your bunny needs to chew and digest this long form of fiber in order to help hair pass through his system [as well as helping proper gut function]. This doesn't mean you don't have to groom your bunny; brushing your bunny several times a week will help eliminate all those loose hairs before she gets a chance to ingest them (while self-grooming). Plus, bunnies need at least 3-5 hours of out-of-enclosure exercise every day in order to keep the gut functioning properly.

More about GI Stasis:
Nursing Your Rabbit Through GI Stasis, by Alexandra Logsdon
Gastrointestinal Stasis, The Silent Killer, by Dana Krempels, Ph.D
IIleus In Pet Rabbits, by Dana Krempels, Mary Cotter and Gil Stanzione

PARASITES
Caution: Not all flea and mite products are safe for rabbits. Flea or mite dips and shampoos can be fatal to rabbits and they are not necessary. Advantage for kittens is safe for rabbits and works well for fleas; Revolution for puppies/kittens works well for common fur mites, as does Ivermectin (oral or injectable).
DO NOT USE FRONTLINE ON YOUR RABBIT. RABBIT DEATHS HAVE OCCURRED FROM THIS PRODUCT
NOTE: Zooh Corner does not advise the use of ANY chemicals in yards where rabbits are allowed to play. There are a few eco-safe, natural products on the market which are non-toxic to pets: contact your vet for more information.

More info on mites.

Coccidia: This is an internal parasite which generally infects the small intestine. Symptoms can be loss of appetite, diarrhea, bloating, loss of hair; occasionally no symptoms. While coccidia can generally be diagnosed by a simple fecal ‘float’ test and treated by your vet, it is possible to get a false negative result; for this reason, if coccidian parasite is suspected, you may need to do a second fecal float, or, if your vet feels enough evidence is present (and other diagnoses have been ruled out) it may be useful to treat the rabbit anyway. Coccidia spreads quickly through oral/anal contact, so infected rabbits must be quarantined until given the okay by your vet, and all ‘contact rabbits’ should be treated prophylactically.

Coccidia is generally contracted by outside rabbits from damp dirt/grass, where bacteria and parasites tend to hide and can be prevented by bring bunnies inside to live.

TEETH
Dental Problems in Rabbits, by Dr. Sari Kanfer
Rabbit Dental Health, by Dr. Sari Kanfer and Alexandra Logsdon

UPPER RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS (URI’s)
Rabbits do not get “colds.” If you notice your rabbit sneezing frequently, if s/he has discharge coming from the nose or eyes, or if your bunny sounds like s/he is congested or having trouble breathing, call your rabbit vet immediately.

HEAD TILT
If you notice your rabbit’s head is tilting to one side or the other, or if your rabbit appears to be having balance problems – or if your rabbit’s eyes are rolling and s/he cannot gain balance, call your rabbit vet immediately or go to the nearest emergency hospital that has someone who deals with rabbits. Inner ear infections can be the cause of this, but there are other things such as e. cuniculi or pasteurella(etc.) that could also be the cause.

Treatment Varies: Generally, the entire rabbit including the ears is examined, and blood is drawn for testing (titer, culture & sensitivity, CBC) to determine the cause. Often the rabbit vet will also prescribe a general rabbit antibiotic for your pet until the tests come back and full diagnosis can be made and a treatment plan worked out.

SIGNS OF ALARM – GET TO THE VET IMEDIATELY

  • Not eating, not drinking, not urinating, not defecating
  • Listlessness
  • Straining to urinate; blood in the urine
  • Drinking or urinating too frequently.
  • NOT eating or drinking at all
  • Not defecating
  • Loss of coordination, head tilt, unable to move properly
  • Grinding the teeth (often accompanied by dull eyes and a tight uncomfortable posture) is a sign that your rabbit is in great distress or pain.

ALL of these situations warrant immediate veterinary attention! Do not wait a few minutes; do not “wait until Monday when the regular vet is in” – go to the vet NOW.

DRUGS
DO NOT ALLOW your vet to administer oral Amoxicillin or other oral penicillins to your rabbit. It can be fatal (it is often a bright pink liquid that smells like bubble gum). All drugs in the oral penicillin family can be dangerous for rabbits. They kill the good bacteria in the intestines, allowing bad bacteria to flourish. If you are unsure of a new vet, ASK if s/he is aware that this family of drugs can be fatal to rabbits. A good rabbit vet will know this. There are many good, rabbit-safe antibiotics, such as Baytril and Bactrim.

If bunny gets diarrhea or stops eating on any drug or for any reason it is cause for immediate alarm. Talk to your vet or get a second opinion, you may have to try a different drug.

URINE
Rabbit urine can vary in color from clear to yellow to brown to red, generally due to dietary variants.

When Is There Cause For Alarm? If you are in doubt, especially about red urine, contact your vet to have the bunny seen and/or urine tested. Milky urine --occasionally--- is normal, but if this occurs frequently, for long periods of time, or if urine is thick and sludgy, vet intervention is warranted. This is generally a sign that there is too much calcium in your rabbit’s diet, but before making any changes it is important to consult your rabbit vet.

DISABLED RABBITS
A rabbit can live life just fine with many disabling problems, such as varying degrees of arthritis, loss of an eye, kidney disease...even as an amputee! Many partially *paralyzed rabbits live long and happy lives due to the dedicated care and love of their people. Your rabbit may need a little help now and then---up and down from the couch, in/out of cage, proper grooming---but it can be preferable choice to euthanasia. Bunnies can scoot along just fine on three legs, and who says bunny ears must be long and/or perfectly matched?

*Paraplegic rabbits: Not everyone has the time and/or energy to care for the special needs of a paraplegic bunny, but it very well may be the preferable choice to euthanasia. With certain accommodations, it is possible for a paraplegic bunny to live out his life very happily! You may even consider adopting an older or very calm rabbit as a companion, for affection, mental stimulation and help grooming. Contact Zooh Corner for more information on how to deal with this situation. We have had a lot of experience with older, ailing, compromised and partially paralyzed rabbits and it has been very gratifying.

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