Rabbits are great and robust pets. However, like all pets, they are prone to some specific diseases and illnesses. Knowing what kinds of health issues your bunnies can face will go a long way in helping you keep your rabbits from suffering.
What common rabbit diseases? Some common rabbit diseases include hairballs, uterine tumors, myxomatosis, and overgrown teeth.
While those four health issues are common in wild and domestic rabbits, there are still more you should be aware of. Read on to find out about common rabbit diseases and illnesses and some tips on treating or preventing them.
Rabbits Can Get Hairballs
Many rabbit owners are surprised to learn that rabbits can get hairballs. Usually, we think of hairballs as a strictly cat health issue, but any mammal that grooms itself is prone to this problem. Unfortunately for rabbits, hairballs aren’t as simple as they are for cats.
Cats can vomit up a hairball and go on about their day. Rabbits, unfortunately, aren’t physically capable of throwing up. That means their swallowed fur simply sits in their gut, growing bigger and bigger over time.
Many rabbits can pass their swallowed hair in their feces, but not always. Rabbits that have swallowed a significant amount of hair but haven’t been able to pass it in their bowel movements will need medical intervention.
Symptoms of Hairballs in Rabbits
A rabbit with large hairballs will often stop eating. They may stop drinking, too. They begin to lose interest in playing with toys or grooming behaviors. Sometimes, rabbits with hairballs may scream if you touch their bellies, which is startling for you and painful for them.
Prevention and Remedies for Rabbit Hairballs
Prevention is the best medicine for rabbit hairballs. Since rabbits can’t vomit, it’s imperative that they have enough high-quality fiber in their diet to encourage steady and smooth bowel functions. Without adequate fiber, rabbits can fall into gut stasis. That’s fancy medical jargon for a gastrointestinal tract that won’t move.
Usually, gut stasis is a death sentence, so it’s best to avoid it.
You can reduce the amount of hair your rabbits swallow. Simply brush your rabbit daily and remove excess hair for them.
If your rabbit has swallowed too much fur and cannot pass it, it’s time for a trip to the vet. Surgery may be necessary, but they can often kickstart your rabbit’s gut with medications first.
Great for pet rabbits! If you can get your rabbit to pass the hairballs on his own, there’s no problem. If your vet can stimulate his bowels, that’s good, too. Surgery is the last resort and comes with a lot of danger.
It’s unknown how many wild rabbits die from hairballs, but it’s not a contagious health issue.
Female Rabbits Can Get Uterine Tumors
We’ve said many times on this site that spaying and neutering your rabbits is the best choice for a long and happy life. We’re not just saying that to help reduce the unwanted rabbit population. Female rabbits can get deadly uterine tumors if they’re not spayed early on. Worse yet, the tumors often spread to other parts of her body.
Symptoms of Uterine Tumors in Rabbits
Uterine adenocarcinoma is the technical term for uterine tumors in rabbits. This common health issue can cause otherwise docile and sweet rabbits to become extremely aggressive. As the tumors grow, your rabbit may become agitated and bite or scratch you because she’s in pain and her hormones are out of whack.
She may have unusual bloody vaginal discharge and painful mammary gland cysts. Often, these sick rabbits become lethargic and limp. She may refuse food and water, become withdrawn, and prefer to hide.
Prevention and Remedies for Uterine Tumors
The only surefire way to prevent uterine tumors from affecting your female rabbits is to have them spayed. The best time to do so is around 4 to 6 months of age.
Untreated, uterine tumors can spread through the rabbit’s entire body.
Not good. Wild rabbits die of this frequently; it’s not contagious, but it is sad. If your pet rabbit wasn’t spayed and she ends up with uterine tumors, it’s not likely she’ll survive. They are hard to diagnose early on. By the time they are diagnosed, treatments can be costly and ineffective. Since this cancer spreads rapidly, euthanasia is a likely outcome.
Myxomatosis in Rabbits
This unsavory virus is transmitted by way of mosquitoes, fleas, mites, and through close contact with infected rabbits. This is one disease easily passed between wild and captive rabbits since they don’t even need to be near one another thanks to mosquitoes, mites, and fleas.
Symptoms of Myxomatosis
This disease usually first presents itself through swelling of the eyes. Your rabbit will start to produce discharge from the eyes, the nose, and the anogenital area. It also causes loss of appetite, respiratory problems, and can lead to blindness.
Rabbits sick with this virus will slowly lose their appetites, become listless and unbalanced, and often simply lay in one position.
Prevention and Remedies for Myxomatosis in Rabbits
To prevent the spread of this virus, be sure your rabbits never come in contact with any sick rabbits. Wash your hands after handling sick rabbits before touching your healthy ones. Be sure your bunnies are protected from mosquitoes and fleas that may be carrying the virus.
If you live in an area where a vaccine is available, opt to get it as soon as possible. Not all countries or local areas have the vaccine though, so be sure to call around.
Sadly, there is no cure for this terrible disease. If your rabbit contracts myxomatosis, the only thing you can do is provide supportive care until he passes. Rabbits that have been vaccinated may still contract the disease, but they often recover with help from a veterinarian.
Wild rabbits will almost certainly die if infected.
Overgrown Teeth in Rabbits
Every rabbit needs to chew. It’s not just an adorable trait that makes our hearts melt, chewing is a rabbit’s way of keeping his teeth the right length. Rabbit teeth never stop growing. If they don’t have enough things to chew on, their teeth can grow so long that they cause a host of health issues.
Symptoms of Overgrown Teeth in Rabbits
Overgrown teeth can cause tooth decay, gum infections, and sores from the teeth rubbing where they shouldn’t. When the molars grow too long, they can end up with sharp spikey parts that can cut your rabbit’s tongue and cheeks.
In addition to unsightly long or jagged teeth, your rabbit may stop eating, chewing, or drinking.
Prevention and Remedies for Overgrown Teeth
Prevention will be key. Provide a lot of high-quality fiber for your rabbit to chew on. Include treats that can help grind teeth down. Also be sure to provide lots of fun toys and other chewable objects to keep your rabbit busy.
Treatment of overgrown teeth in rabbits is expensive and painful. Your rabbit will need to be put under anesthesia. Once he is asleep, his teeth will be treated with a dental burr and file.
Good! This is a health problem predominantly in domestic rabbits. Wild rabbits chew to stay alive, so they usually do just fine on their own. Pet rabbits will need vet care to trim their teeth down, but once the procedure is complete, there are usually no additional issues.
Rarely, pet rabbits can end up with infections or cracked teeth after the procedure.
Head Tilt in Rabbits
Healthy rabbits will hold their heads upright and alert. If your rabbit seems to be lopsided and lethargic, she may have head tilt. This is caused by infections in the middle ear, though it can also happen in the inner ear.
Head tilt can also be caused by stroke, cancer, severe trauma such as from dropping your rabbit, and even intoxication.
Symptoms of Head Tilt
This one is easy; it’s all in the name. If your rabbit is suddenly tilting her head, wobbling, and walking sort of funny, she has head tilt. The real issue is figuring out what’s causing it. Most likely it’s an ear infection or other bacteria affecting her balance, but only your vet can tell you for sure.
Prevention and Remedies for Head Tilt
You can prevent bacterial infections from occurring in your rabbit’s ears by keeping her cage clean. Remove any old leafy greens from her enclosure when she’s done eating. Keep her dry and brush her often. Make sure to swap out her ears during regular grooming.
As far as the other causes of head tilt, just be careful with your rabbit. Reduce any chances of traumatic injuries and take her in for regular vet exams.
Treatment for this problem will depend on the cause of the head tilt. For infections, your vet will prescribe medications. For trauma, cancer, or other serious diseases, you may have to decide between expensive treatments or euthanasia.
This will depend on the cause of the head tilt. Simple bacterial infections in pet rabbits have a high rate of survivability. For cancers, trauma, or other serious illnesses, prognosis depends on severity, vet abilities, and cost.
Head tilt in wild rabbits is almost always a death sentence. With balance thrown off and hearing and eyesight compromised, wild rabbits with head tilt become easy prey.
Ear Mites in Rabbits
Ear mites are incredibly common in rabbits. This is one health issue that can quickly be passed from wild rabbits to domestic ones. They don’t even need to be in contact with one another. A wild rabbit sitting in your garden may leave mites behind. If you then put your rabbit down for a stroll in the garden, the mites will transfer to him.
Symptoms of Ear Mites in Rabbits
Ear mites are tiny and hard to see unless you know what to look for. Without a magnifying glass, your best bet to finding them is to look for scales around the outside of the ear canal. Sometimes, the scales are deeper in the ear so you may need a flashlight to do a thorough exam.
Long-term ear mites cause larger and larger scales to form over time. They can crack open, creating lesions. These are painful and may ooze. You rabbit will be in pain and likely be scratching his ears a lot.
Prevention and Remedies for Ear Mites
Keeping your rabbit’s cage clean is the first step in preventing ear mites. You’ll want to scrub the cage at least monthly with rabbit-safe cleansers meant to kill fleas, mites, and other parasites. If you can, weekly scrubbing is even better in mite-infested locations.
Brushing and good grooming habits can help prevent ear mites as well. Sterilize grooming accessories between grooming sessions, just in case.
Keeping wild rabbits out of your yard is the best way to prevent mites in the first place.
Treatment for ear mites is simple and can be obtained from your vet. Likely, they will use a topical medication to kill the mites and heal the lesions. Rarely, rabbits will develop infections that will require antibiotics.
Great! Pet rabbits can easily be treated with medications and better sanitation. They rarely suffer any lasting effects. Wild rabbits will likely remain infested with ear mites. This can lead to infections, but it’s usually not deadly in otherwise healthy wild rabbits.
Rabbits Can Get Heat Stroke
A large portion of new rabbit owners have no idea that rabbits can suffer from heat stroke. This is a potentially life-threatening condition, so be prepared to identify heat stroke in rabbits and be ready to treat right away. Since rabbits are naturally well-insulated, they are prime targets for overheating, even if you’re not feeling particularly warm yourself.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Rabbits
Lethargy is the top symptom of heat stroke for rabbits. It’s the most obvious sign that things are going badly for her. She will likely lay on her side and breathe heavily and rapidly. She may refuse water and food at this stage.
Rabbit’s suffering from heat stroke will often tremble. It’s not the same as shivering from cold, so don’t mistake this symptom!
Prevention and Remedies for Heat Stroke
Once again, prevention is key here. Give your rabbits frozen water bottles to lean against on very hot days. Provide plenty of shade. Make sure they have clean, cool water available at all times.
Treatment includes rapid cooling with damp, cool towels. Don’t submerge your rabbit in cold water. Just use the towels to gently rub her fur. Bring her to a cool and dark location. She needs to rest. Offer her cool water, but avoid ice water or ice cubes.
If you can’t get your rabbit to perk up after a few minutes. It’s time to head to the vet. Heat stroke can kill a rabbit in under an hour, so this is no time to lollygag.
It depends. For wild rabbits, heat stroke is deadly since there is nobody there to care for them. They become an easy target for predators or they can simply die on their own.
Pet rabbits have a better chance of survival, but it greatly depends on their humans. Help your bunny fast enough and she’ll be fine. Take too long and she could die.
Rabbits are hearty animals built to survive. Even so, they are susceptible to a few common health issues. Now that you know what those issues are, you can keep an eye out for them and treat as necessary.
Better yet, find ways to prevent each of these health problems. It’ll keep your rabbit happier and cost you a lot less money down the road.