Hopefully, most of the time your rabbits will be the picture of health. However, every now and then things can and do go wrong. To limit the risk to your pets, we advise that you give them a thorough health check a few times a week, as well as a brief check once a day (more often in summer when flystrike is a real threat).
Thankfully, getting to know how your pets look normally will enable you to spot when things are going wrong. Whilst you will not be able to diagnose all rabbit problems yourself, this list does give you a good idea of some of the most important problems to look out for. Whilst it isn’t an exhaustive list of rabbit diseases, it is a good place to start.
Prevention is key when it comes to rabbit diseases. Keeping them clean, feeding them a proper diet, and checking them regularly will really help your pets stay in good condition. It’s good to know that there are a few big diseases that you should vaccinate your rabbits against, such as myxomatosis - ask your veterinarian for more information.
Abscesses are swellings caused by bacteria. They are filled with pus, and may be quite warm. If you notice that your rabbit has developed an abscess, a trip to the vet is warranted - they will be able to lance it and then drain it and dress it safely.
If your rabbit has runny eyes and a runny nose, and sneezes periodically, then they may be allergic to something in their hutch. Try swapping the types of bedding your are using and monitor the situation. If this does not help, take a trip to the vet - there may be an underlying problem, or else your vet may be able to prescribe some medication.
If your rabbit’s stomach is firm, and your pet is not moving around as normal then they could have the extremely dangerous condition known as bloat. This condition is caused by a problem in the gut that causes your rabbit’s innards to fill up with gas. This needs to be treated immediately, so you’ll need urgent veterinary attention.
Some rabbit illnesses can come on very quickly, so it's wise to keep a close eye on them
If there is blood in your pet’s wee, they squeak as they urinate, or if they aren’t urinating at all then you will need to get your pet to the vet as quickly as possible, as they could have bladder stones (or, in female rabbits, womb cancer also causes the first symptom).
Like humans, rabbits can develop cataracts: problems with the eye that hinder eyesight. If your rabbit’s eye develops a white patch, it is likely that this is a cataract. There isn’t much need to operate, as it’s a natural part of rabbits getting older.
Cellulitis is a bacterial infection, which manifests as a hot swelling. Often the neck will become very warm and inflamed. You will need to visit a vet for treatment and pain medication.
Coccidiosis is a condition caused by a liver parasite, which, if left untreated, can prove fatal. Symptoms include diarrhoea, weight loss, a swollen stomach, lethargy, a lack of appetite, and jaundice. This is very infectious, so you will need to act quickly and quarantine your pet.
If your rabbit has watery, non-pellet stools that don’t clear up after feeding them just hay and water for a day, then a trip to the vets is necessary. If the diarrhoea is more severe and is accompanied by your rabbit looking out-of-sorts, then a vet trip is required sooner. There are dozens of potential causes - you need a vet to identify the problem.
Flystrike occurs in the summer and is potentially lethal. If the rabbit's rear-end and house isn't kept clean, the rabbit’s fur can become soiled with droppings. The droppings make an ideal place for flies to lay their eggs. Within 24 hours the eggs will have turned into larvae and started to burrow into the rabbit. This is extremely painful and unpleasant for the rabbit, and sadly it will have to be put to sleep by a vet. You can reduce the chance of flystrike by keeping the hutch clean and making sure that your rabbit's diet isn't too rich.
During the summer months it’s advisable to check your rabbit’s behind twice a day for buildups.
Watch out for flystrike, particularly in the summer
Hair loss has a number of causes, from over-grooming to mites. Have a good look at the bald patches, and at the rest of your rabbit’s coat. Is there any brown or white material? Does your rabbit scratch a lot? If this is the case, your rabbit may have mites.
Another potential cause is overzealous grooming by their cage mate. Keep a close eye on the situation and see if this is the case.
If your rabbit is lying down and hyperventilating, and it’s very warm, then it may be suffering from heatstroke. Mild cases can be treated by wiping your pet with a cool (but not freezing cold) towel, and by moving it out of direct sunlight. Severe cases my need a vet.
Some injuries can be treated at home. Small cuts and nicks, for example. However, larger injuries will require veterinary treatment.
What is myxomatosis (also known as Myxi pronounced Micksi")? If you have ever come across a rabbit in the wild that has swollen eyes and doesn't run away from you, chances are it has myxomatosis. It is a virus that was introduced by humans in Australia as a way to control the number of rabbits breeding there. It came to Britain after being introduced in France, again deliberately.
It is spread by insects, and potentially through contact with another carrier, so the disease can travel long distances without easy detection. As the disease is spread by insects, this is another reason to keep your rabbit's house as clean and unattractive to insects as possible.
Myxomatosis can't be cured, so you should have your rabbit vaccinated against it. Vaccination is quick and costs around £20. If your rabbit hasn't been vaccinated and contracts Myxi the kindest thing is to have them put to sleep by a vet.
One of the key symptoms of overgrown teeth is that your rabbit will stop eating. They may also dribble and have sores around their mouth and on their body where the teeth have cut them. They will need to be taken to a vet to have their teeth worn down.
There are a number of parasites that can infect your poor pets. See our Parasites page for more information.
Be mindful of internal problems as well as those that can be clearly seen
Pneumonia is caused by your rabbit getting too cold or too damp. Symptoms include uneven, heavy breathing, a hunched posture, sitting in a corner, and a runny nose. It is unlikely that they will be eating much. Pneumonia is very serious and requires a vet.
Snuffles is used to describe a variety of symptoms your rabbit may have, such as a snotty nose, runny eyes, sneezing and wheezing. Whatever the symptoms, the conditions is likely to be caused by a bacterial infection. Your vet can give an antibiotic to try to alleviate symptoms. However, sometimes the symptoms will just be masked by the antibiotic and may re-appear at times of stress or if the rabbit is unwell with another illness. If your rabbit has any of these symptoms a prescription of flu-strength carrots won't be enough - you should take it to the vet for a check up!
Sticky Bottom Syndrome
Sticky Bottom Syndrome occurs when the rabbit is producing too many caecotrophs (a particular type of dropping that rabbits re-digest). Caecotrophs are dark, look moist and are sticky so they can easily get stuck on the hairs around a rabbit's bottom, leaving it permanently dirty. The most likely cause is that the diet is too rich. The solution is to cut down on pellets or rabbit mix and increase the amount of hay (fibre) in the diet.
This condition could also occur if your rabbit has become overweight and it is unable to reach round to clean its fur. If you suspect this you should start to exercise your rabbit and adjust its diet. It's probably best to speak to a vet about this.
As soon as there is any sign of a sticky bottom, try to solve the problem as it can start to attract flies. This can not only make your rabbit's life unpleasant, but can ultimately prove fatal if flystrike occurs.
VHD (Viral Haemorrhage Disease)
This is another disease that was introduced into wild rabbits as a way of controlling their numbers. It only appeared in Britain in 1992 and is just as nasty as Myxomatosis. Annual vaccination is the best weapon against this disease. VHD is an incredibly quick disease; if your rabbit does contract it there will probably not even be enough time to take it to a vet.
Worms can set up home in your rabbit - you may notice them in your rabbit’s droppings, or around it’s anus. A rabbit-friendly wormer will rid your pet of them.
Womb cancer is extremely prevalent in female rabbits who are over the age of four or five. This is one of the many reasons that most owners choose to get their rabbit neutered. If your pet’s wee has blood in it, this could be a symptom of womb cancer, amongst many other health problems. It’s best to take your pet to the vet.