Rabbits, like any house pet, are prone to certain diseases. You can avoid most of these rabbit health issues by taking the proper precautions. Feeding your bunny the correct food, keeping their living quarters clean, and taking them to the vet for regular checkups can go a long way in safeguarding your pet’s health.
This list includes the most common rabbit diseases and ailments, and health problems, as well as how to treat them. Remember, if you want to know how to care for a sick rabbit, always contact your vet for advice if you aren’t sure what to do.
Common Diseases of Pet Rabbits
Ear mites are tiny arachnids that are attracted to the oils and wax in your rabbit’s ears. They’re fairly easy to catch but also easy to treat. Even rabbits living in clean conditions can contract ear mites from being outside, being in contact with other rabbits, or from their owner handling an infected rabbit just before touching them. It’s good to get into the habit of checking your bunny’s ears almost daily to ensure there are no mites.
You’ll notice your rabbit itching, scratching, or shaking their head if they have mites. To treat ear mites, you need a dropper or squirt bottle and some oil (vegetable oil works well). Apply some oil to the rabbit’s ear, which will coat the mites and kill them off. Don’t try to scrap out the scabs on your rabbit’s ears, let them heal naturally.
Rabbits are prone to overheating, especially in the summer months. If your rabbit is outside, it should be in the shade at all times, and if you notice your rabbit getting lethargic while outside, you need to act quickly to cool it down.
A rabbit with heat stroke needs to be sprayed with cool water and taken to the vet for IV fluids. The best way to treat heat stroke in rabbits, however, is to avoid it altogether. If it’s a warm day, give your bunny a frozen water bottle to lay down next to.
GI stasis is also known as Ileus, it occurs when your rabbit’s intestines stop working properly. Since food can’t move through your rabbit’s digestive system, gas builds up. As a result, infected rabbits stop eating and defecating.
Ileus is life threatening and rabbits need treatment within 48-72 hours or they’ll die. You can start syringe-feeding your rabbit some green vegetable baby food, then take it to the vet immediately.
The rabbit’s hock is the heel of its foot and when a rabbit sits on a cage with dirty flooring, it will develop sores on its hocks. Wire floors with no bedding also cause sore hocks.
To treat sore hocks, you must clean the sore with an antibacterial medication and provide soft bedding for the rabbit to sit on so it can heal. Sore hocks are painful for your rabbit, but also preventable. Keep the bunny’s cage as clean as possible and make sure you always have soft, clean bedding down as well. Larger rabbits may be more prone to sore hocks, so keeping their cage tidy is especially important.
It’s not normal for a rabbit to have a cold, so when you notice nasal discharge, sneezing, matted paws, and watery eyes, then you’ll need to take action. Snuffles, or Pasteurellosis is caused by bacteria that transfers from one rabbit to another.
Rabbits can get snuffles when their immune systems are under stress, so prevention involves keeping them on a healthy diet with nutrients that fortify their natural defenses.
Female rabbits that have not been spayed can develop uterine cancer. If your female rabbit becomes sick, always check for uterine tumors. Other symptoms may include vaginal discharge stained with blood, aggression, cysts on mammary glands, and lethargy.
Uterine tumors are lethal and the best way to prevent them is by spaying your female rabbit once she reaches sexual maturity (between four and six months old).
Coccidiosis is a disease caused by parasites that settle in your rabbit’s gut. It’s usually fatal and more common in kits (young rabbits) four to six weeks old. Clinical signs of coccidiosis are diarrhea, lack of appetite, weakness, and bloated stomach.
It’s easier to prevent this disease than treat it. Rabbits need sanitary conditions that eliminate the possibility of food or food dishes being contaminated with feces. Clean your rabbit’s food dish and clean up feces often to help prevent the onset of coccidiosis.
Rabbits with calicivirus usually die within 12-18 hours of contracting it. The disease causes respiratory and heart failure. The disease is spread by mosquitoes and flies, so rabbits should live either inside or in mosquito-proof hutches outside.
There’s no known treatment for rabbit calicivirus, but there is a vaccine available. Your vet should vaccinate your rabbit when it’s 10-12 weeks old.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi) is caused by a protozoan, transmitted by urine. Rabbits with E. cuniculi may never show signs of it, or it can damage internal organs and neural tissues, causing seizures and chronic head tilt.
Rabbits can be treated for E. cuniculi but sometimes the treatment doesn’t work and pet owners must manage the rabbit’s lifelong head tilt. Some medications used to treat this illness can cause life-threatening neurological symptoms as well.
Myxomatosis is a viral disease spread by fleas and mosquitoes. Direct contact with another rabbit who has the virus can also cause transmission. Signs of myxomatosis include fever as well as swelling in the lips, eyelids, ears, and genitalia. Ears may even be swollen shut with discharge.
There’s no treatment for this disease and it’s fatal. Most vets recommend euthanasia when a rabbit has myxomatosis. Prevention methods include good insect control, making outdoor hutches mosquito- or insect-proof, and keeping house rabbits away from wild rabbits who may have the disease.
Abscesses are pockets of pus that develop on a rabbit’s skin or internal organs. They can be difficult to treat, depending on which bacteria caused them. The best way to handle abscesses is with antibiotics, pain medication, and cleaning out the abscess if you can locate it.
Flystrike occurs when a fly lays eggs in the moist areas of a rabbit’s skin (usually near their hind quarters). Once the eggs hatch, they will live under your rabbit’s skin and poison your rabbit. Flystrike is usually fatal.
The best way to prevent flystrike is keeping your rabbit’s cage and hind quarters clean. Rabbits usually clean themselves, but if your bunny has trouble, as overweight or female rabbits with a dewlap might have, then you’ll need to do the cleaning.
A head tilt, or wry neck, is when your rabbit’s head tilts to the side involuntarily and consistently, usually with their eyes moving from side to side rapidly as well. Head tilt may be caused by several diseases, and you’ll almost always need a vet to diagnose it.
Common causes of head tilt may be from a blow to the neck, a tumor growing around the head or neck, stroke, or middle/inner ear infection. Since the reason for head tilt varies, there’s no standard treatment for this rabbit health problem.
If your rabbit’s urine is red, it’s likely not a serious health issue. Typically, red urine (which is reddish, pinkish, or brownish in color) just means your rabbit has been eating too much of something that causes that color. Too many carrots may cause red urine, for instance.
When your rabbit has red urine, take a look at their diet and see if you need to make changes. You can always contact your vet for recommendations as well. If your rabbit’s urine is still discolored after you’ve corrected its diet, then it might be the sign of a more serious problem and you should get in touch with your vet.
Hairballs, also known as trichobezoars, form in your bunny’s stomach after it’s swallowed hair during grooming. If the hair doesn’t pass through the intestinal tract, it can stop up the stomach. Since rabbits can’t vomit, treatment involves injecting drugs that get your bunny’s GI tract moving again and fluids.
As with most rabbit diseases, prevention is more effective than treatment. Give your rabbit plenty of hay to eat since hay helps their digestive tract stay in good shape. You should also brush off excess hair on your bunny so it doesn’t risk swallowing it during grooming.
Pet rabbits can get parasites just like dogs and cats can. You should never treat your rabbit with a flea, tick, or parasite medicine approved for dogs and cats, however. At your bunny’s yearly checkup, your vet should check droppings for signs of parasites.
Rabbits’ front teeth never stop growing. It’s not a disease and won’t become a health issue if you maintain their incisors properly. Your bunny needs something to chew on constantly, such as food or wood blocks. This chewing will help keep their front teeth filed down.
When your rabbit’s teeth are too long, it can’t eat correctly. A vet usually must file overgrown teeth while the rabbit is under anesthesia. Don’t try to clip the teeth yourself, as this can cause infection.
Are Rabbits Prone to Illness?
Rabbits have delicate respiratory and digestive systems that can cause many health issues if they don’t function properly. Other than these two systems, however, rabbits aren’t any more prone to illness than other pets. Most diseases and health issues can be mitigated with preventive measures and careful attention to your rabbit. As you can see from the diseases listed above, cleanliness is a big part of preventing rabbit illnesses.
As a rabbit owner, you should pay attention to your rabbit’s health and take your vet’s advice for keeping your bunny in the best shape possible. Remember, a health bunny is a happy bunny, and your pet will thank you for keeping disease away!