Why Is My Rabbit Dragging Its Back Legs?

Why Is My Rabbit Dragging Its Back Legs
Why Is My Rabbit Dragging Its Back Legs

When a rabbit drags its legs, it’s serious. If you see your rabbit drag one or both legs, don’t wait, take it to the vet right away. In fact, people ask me all the time what causes a rabbit to do this.  So, why does a rabbit drag its back legs?

Rabbits drag their legs because of illness, cancer, trauma, spinal injury, aging, bacteria infection or parasitic organism. Rabbits


What’s Wrong With My Rabbit’s Legs?

Rabbits are prone to hind leg weakness and paralysis. It’s caused by different things. Without the ability to move its hind legs, rabbits can’t eat their cecotropes which gives them essential nutrition. They can’t exercise which may cause them to gain weight. Hind leg paralysis is when your rabbit can’t use its back legs. Your rabbit can live without moving their hind legs, but you would need to adjust its environment. Here are the symptoms of weak hind legs or paralysis:

  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Doesn’t want to exercise
  • Pain in spine
  • Shuffling, not hopping
  • Weakness in one or both legs

What Causes Rabbits To Drag Their Legs?

Certain diseases or illness cause hind leg weakness or paralysis in a rabbit. Here are some potential causes:

  • Bacterial infection-Bacterial infections sometimes located in the spine
  • Cancer-Cancer can attack the spinal cord causing a rabbit to drag his hind legs
  • Parasitic infection-One of the most well known parasitic infections is Encephalitozoon cuniculi or e.cuniculi.
  • Age related weakness- Arthritis can cause rabbits to be weak in the legs.
  • Spinal injury-Rabbits can get frightened so badly that they jump wildly and land in such a way that they break their back.
  • Vitamin deficiency-An insufficient diet causes a rabbit hind or spinal problems.
  • Trauma-Trauma is caused if your rabbit is dropped or picked up wrong.
  • Toxins-Toxin paralysis are caused by different toxins, natural and man-made.

What Is E Cuniculi?

Encephalitozoon cuniculi is a parasite that affects rabbits. It can cause cataracts, kidney disease, or effect a rabbit’s nervous system causing paralysis or head tilt. Vets aren’t entirely sure how it infects rabbits. Some researchers say that as much as 40-80% domestic rabbits test positive for this parasite.

How Does A Rabbit Get Cuniculi?

Rabbits get this organism through breathing or eating a spore from the protozoa. A protozoa are microscopic, one celled organisms that are parasitic in nature. The protozoa travels through the bloodstream to the rabbit’s organs-eyes, kidneys or brain. If the protozoa goes into the rabbit’s kidney, it turns into an infection that causes pitting and scarring in the kidney. If there’s enough damage in the rabbit’s kidney, he’ll begin to show signs of kidney failure. If the protozoa gets into a rabbit’s eyes, it can cause cataracts. It attacks the rabbit’s brain, it can cause damage to the nervous system resulting in tumors, cysts, paralysis, tremors or convulsions.

Even though the percentage of rabbits that have e.cuniculi are high, most infected rabbits have the protozoa in non-harmful parts of his body so they don’t destroy enough tissue to cause illness. The infected rabbit is contagious during the protozoa’s life cycle of 3 to 5 weeks when it travels to the rabbit’s kidney and is released in the rabbit’s urine.

The protozoa live for up to one month in the rabbit’s environment. Rabbits with a poor immune system or under stress are more apt to have symptoms of e. Cuniculi once exposed. A healthy rabbit may have a protozoa lying dormant in its brain, or muscle tissue for years. These rabbits may appear clinically healthy but as they age, or experience stress over time, their immune system becomes suppressed or compromised. The rabbit starts to show clinical signs of disease. This is usually what happens when a rabbit owner is surprised that their rabbit has suddenly developed an illness from e.Cuniculi.

How Does A Vet Treat E. Cuniculi?

Vets treat e. Cuniculi with an anti-parasite drug such as fenbendazole for about a month. She may also recommend dietary changes and other care such as eye drops, ointments, drugs to control dizziness. Sometimes you’ll need to create comfort, easy to get around type house for your rabbit with hind legs paralysis. The best way to prevent e.cuniculi is by disinfecting or removing infected rabbits from other rabbits.

Can A Rabbit Recover From Paralysis?

If your rabbit is exhibiting any kind of hind leg weakness, take it to the vet immediately for a checkup. Rabbits can recover from some kinds of paralysis, but it’s important that they get help early on for the best chance of recovery. Your vet will diagnose the cause of weakness or paralysis. If it’s from a dislocation or a spinal cord injury, your rabbit might need therapy. Anti-inflammatory drugs and rest is sometimes prescribed for rabbits.

How Do You Tell If A Rabbit’s Back Is Broken?

Rabbits are prone to spinal injuries. Their back legs are so powerful that they can break their own backs from kicking out if frightened. If someone handles them wrong, they’ll feel insecure and kick their legs in a way that they can break their spine

Here are some things to look for if you think your rabbit may have broken its back.

  • Dragging his legs
  • Unable to sit or stand upright
  • Less movement in its legs and tail
  • Weird way of standing
  • Can’t hop
  • Paralysis of limbs
  • Acts like its in pain
  • Lethargy or depressed looking
  • Seems guarded, scared
  • Incontinent
  • Increased strength in front legs, less in back legs

What causes a rabbit to have a spinal injury or to break its back?Here are some common injuries that cause a rabbit to break its back:

  • Poor handling- The most common cause of rabbit back trauma is when the rabbit kicks out suddenly or twists while being restrained. The more forceful the restraint is, the more likely it is that a spinal injury occur. You need to restrain their hind legs and front legs, holding only one of them can cause dislocation or fractures. If you hold your rabbit incorrectly, he’ll feel insecure and want to jump out of your arms.
  • Being startled-Rabbits don’t like loud noises, surprises can startle them. When startled, rabbits will jerk suddenly which can cause dislocation or vertebral fractures.
  • Trauma-If your rabbit tries to jump away during a medical procedure or falls off a table while being examined, it can get a spinal injury. Always restrain your rabbit while it’s at the vet. A rabbit owner reported that recently, his pet rabbit was being examined by a vet tech when the rabbit jumped off the table, paralyzing him. He had to be put down after this. It’s a real danger. It’s also reported that some vets are unfamiliar with the special restraints that are used especially for rabbits during their examination. Many vets don’t have these at their practice. So, it’s worth checking to see if your vet is aware of these special restraints and would consider using them for your rabbit.

Does My Rabbit Have Arthritis?

As rabbits age, they sometimes develop arthritis. The disease makes it painful for a rabbit to move around. Arthritis causes inflammation of the joints in a rabbit’s legs. Certain things can make your rabbit predisposed to arthritis such as:

  • Diet
  • Injury to the joints
  • Breed
  • overweight

Symptoms for arthritis in your rabbit are difficult to spot. As rabbits age, they slow down, but arthritis causes profound swelling and stiffness which makes it difficult for your rabbit to move. Sometimes, he’ll even drag a limb that’s especially painful. He might not want to play or hop around like he did. Here are some symptoms if your rabbit has arthritis:

Movement problems-Difficulty with moving and hopping. Hard to hop in and out of litter box or bed.

Abnormal way of walking-Off balanced way of walking

Can’t climb ramp into cage or hutch

Poor grooming- Your rabbit can’t reach around to groom himself properly, dirty fur because it can’t clean itself.

Aggressive-Your rabbit refuses to let you hold him because of  arthritis pain

Two Types Of Arthritis:

There are two types of arthritis your rabbit may get.

Osteoarthritis-This is a degenerative form of the disease that causes the cartilage to deteriorate as your rabbit ages. Strain on joints, being overweight, or large breed rabbits tend to be more prone to this type of arthritis.

Septic arthritis- This type is caused by an injury to a joint that allows bacteria into the joint area. This type of arthritis affects rabbits of all ages and breeds. If your rabbit gets an infection because of trauma, dental disease or infection, it’s more prone to this type of arthritis.