Observe your rabbit’s behaviour closely everyday and you will be able to tell when your rabbit is not well. The earlier you spot any illness signs the better, as rabbits are prey animals and will hide their illnesses. Always check they are eating their food and hay everyday. Always seek advice from your vet immediately, if you are unsure what to do. Carrying out regular health checks will also keep your rabbit happy and healthy.
In this section…
- Signs something is seriously wrong
- Other signs all is not well
- Common illnesses and what to do
- Syringe feeding
- MOT health check
- Importance of spaying/neutering
- About your vet
- Keeping bunny cool in summer
- Keeping bunny warm in winter
- Your rabbit is limp, floppy and cold
- Difficulty breathing
- Flystrike – maggots visible on back end
- Severe diarrhoea
- Grinding teeth loudly
- Loss of weight
See your vet immediately, as an emergency, if your rabbit has any of the above symptoms.
- Difference in behaviour
- Doesn’t come to greet you
- Not interested in food
- Hunched up
- Hiding/sitting in a corner
- Not drinking/Drinking too much
- Sitting in same place all day
- Laying down and getting up again quickly
- No droppings in tray
- Lets you pick them up when usually they don’t
- Watery/creamy eyes
- Wet nose/discharge/sneezing.
It is extremely important to monitor your rabbit closely.
When to seek advice from your vet depends on you and your expertise & also down to how well you know your rabbit and your rabbits health history.
If you are unsure what to do, contact your vet asap.
The first few hours are crucial! Rabbits can go down hill very quickly, especially if they are not eating!
Loss of appetite
If they are not eating then you will need to try and encourage them to eat. Fresh Parsley, grass or dandelions are a favourite food to encourage a sick rabbit to eat again. Gently wave some food or hay in front of your rabbit’s face and keep doing it. Follow them when they turn away also. They will eventually get a little irritated and mad with you and go to bite at what you are waving at them and this is when they may start eating it. Keep trying and just watch your fingers!
Look for signs that may help you figure out what the problem could be. The first 24 hours are crucial, as their stomach will shut down and there is the chance that they could go into shock quite quickly. If they have not eaten anything for a good few hours then contact your vet. Also check for any droppings, as your vet will check for a blockage and to know if they have produced any droppings recently will really help your vet.
- No droppings or diarrhoea
- Hunched up
- Hiding in a corner
- Grating teeth
- Not eating or drinking.
You will need to get your rabbit to your vet asap if you suspect they are showing signs of GI Stasis.
More on GI Stasis and how to treat:
- GI Stasis is common in rabbits and can be deadly
- It is a condition and not an illness and is always secondary to some other issue. Diets high in starch and low in fibre can be the cause too
- The rabbits gut will slow down and eventually stop working completely. This is when they will get dehydrated and go into shock and it can happen very quickly.
- Syringe 1ml of Infacol asap (Colic relief drops for babies that contains Simeticone).
- Once your rabbit has been checked by your vet & they confirm no blockages are present, you can syringe feed your rabbit some food. As well as the medication you are given, you can also syringe feed your rabbit some mashed up pellets & critical care. Feed them every 2 to 3 hours and through the night too, until they start to eat on their own again.
GI Stasis tips
- As soon as you see a difference in behaviour, act quickly .
- Beware excess cardboard/paper eating, this all contributes towards GI Stasis
- Dandelions, parsley and freshly picked grass help stimulate feeding
- Syringe feed Infacol – 1ml per hour for first 3 hours and then 1ml every 3–8 hours after.
- Massage their stomachs. Keep your bunny on the floor, facing you and place your hand underneath, place the other hand behind them to support them and then gently massage their belly by moving your hand forward and backwards quite quickly.
- Lift their back end up gently and slowly, so their back legs stretch out full length. Make sure their head and back are supported. This helps relieve gas and helps get the stomach moving.
- Make them run about a bit too as this helps get their stomach working.
- Willow leaves are a good idea to feed your rabbit, as they contain asprin
- Bramble leaves and dandelions & plantain help settle stomachs
- Profibre pellets are excellent for their digestive system and if they won’t eat them, try mixing in hot (not boiling) water to reduce to a paste and syringe feed it instead. You can add some of their normal pellets also. Never use boiling water as it will reduce its nutrient content, use hot water only and allow to cool.
- Listen for gurgling sounds in the stomach as this is a good sign the stomach is working.
PLEASE NOTE: Recovery from GI Stasis is gradual. It may be days or weeks before droppings are back to normal again.
Bloat or gas
Symptoms to look out for:
- Are they laying down and getting up again quickly.
- Are they trying to stretch out a lot.
- Have they stopped pooping?
- Does their stomach feel larger than normal and does it feel quite hard.
If yes to any of the above:
- Give your rabbit 1ml of Infacol asap.
- Pineapple juice can also help, but it needs to be pure pineapple juice and to put a few drops in water is best as it is very sugary and can upset the lining of the gut.
- Massage their belly. Keep your bunny on the floor, facing you and place your hand underneath, place the other hand behind them to support them and then gently massage their belly by moving your hand forward and backwards quite quickly. You could even use something like an electric toothbrush wrapped in a tea towel. Sit them on top of this and keep them reassured, as they will naturally wonder what it is at first.
- Encourage them to run about to get their stomach moving.
Keep monitoring your rabbit closely and if there is no change, then seek advice from your vet asap. PLEASE NOTE: If your rabbit is really lethargic or grinding their teeth loudly, contact your vet urgently.
Symptoms to look out for:
- Are they interested in the food, but not actually eating it?
- Are they trying to eat it and opening their mouth a bit funny when chewing?
- Are they putting a paw up to their mouth?
- Look for wet fur at the side of their mouth, like they have been dribbling.
- Are they all of a sudden gnawing at the furniture, carpet or something in their accommodation, that they don’t usually bother with?
If your rabbit has any of the symptoms above or if you are unsure in anyway you will need to get them to a vet asap. It is likely your rabbit will need to be admitted for a dental at your vets. If your vet confirms this is what is needed, you will usually take your rabbit in the next day. In the meantime you could try grating some vegetables for your rabbit to try & eat.
If they are no longer eating on their own, but are still producing droppings, you could syringe feed them some mashed up pellets. Just be gentle with them as their mouths may be very sore.
See syringe feeding, below.
Day of dental
Your rabbit will usually spend the day at your vets.
Never starve your rabbit before their dental and always make sure they have eaten something the night before and the morning of the dental.
TOP TIP: Take a little pack lunch of your rabbit’s favourite food & hay to help your vets encourage your rabbit to eat, when they come round from the anaesthetic.
Mega colon or Cowpile syndrome or Mucoid enteritis
This is a condition that causes blockages.
- Picking at food
- Soft large droppings with visible mucus.
- Once your rabbit has been checked by your vet & they confirm no blockages are present, you can syringe feed your rabbit some food. As well as the medication you are given, you can also syringe feed your rabbit some mashed up pellets & also some Pro fibre pellets. Feed them every 2 to 3 hours and through the night too, until they start to eat on their own again
- Massage their stomachs regularly
- Feed fibreplex for 4-5 days.
- Raspberry & bramble leaves and Apple twigs/leaves and dandelions all help
- Dried herbs such as plantain & dandelion also help. See Food – Hay & dried herbs
- Herbal slippery Elm or/and charcoal sprinkled into water and syringe fed also help.
- Avoid feeding cabbage and broccoli
- Encourage them to run about
- Provide plenty of hay and encourage them to eat as much as possible
This is a worm/parasite that can cause great health problems to your rabbit.
- Head tilt
- Loss of litter training
- Increased drinking/urinating.
Treatment & prevention:
- Some recommend a 9 day treatment of Panacur to be given 2 to 4 times a year, but do please seek further advice from your rabbit savvy vet on this
- Good hygiene helps to prevent E Cuniculi.
- If your rabbit is showing symptoms of EC, then your vet is highly likely to provide medication to treat them over 28 days or even up to 6 weeks. 28 days is how long the parasite stays in the environment, and 6 weeks to add extra protection to rid the parasite completely from the environment.
Abscesses are lumps filled with pus and are usually caused by a bacterial infection. They are not always visible to us, as they can sit under the skin too. If left, the abscess may burst and if it gets into the blood stream of your rabbit this can prove to be fatal.
- Constantly itching or scratching at a certain area
- A lump above or under the skin, which feels hotter than the rest of the skin
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of weight.
If you think your rabbit may have an abscess, seek advice from your vet asap. The earlier they are treated the better.
Always check for abscesses when carrying out a health check on your rabbit. Feel all over their body, around the bottom of the ears and head and along the jaw line too. The abscesses will feel quite firm and are usually about the size of a small grape, but the sizes can vary. Look for parts of the skin that look redder and feel hotter than the rest of the body.
Flystrike is something every rabbit owner should dread and work hard at avoiding. Flystrike is when flies will lay their eggs on the soiled, back end of a rabbit. The eggs then hatch into maggots and the maggots will slowly eat your rabbit alive.
Check, check and check again your rabbit’s behind, especially through the summer months, but all year round too. People think this can only happen when the weather is warm, but it can happen in colder weather too.
- Make sure your rabbits bottom is always clean and that includes the scent glands too. Flies can lay the eggs deep into folds of skin, so always check very thoroughly.
- There are quite a few sprays to help prevent this, but its better to purchase the stronger ones from your vet, than buy ones available from pet shops. Speak to your vet for more information on the sprays available and how to use them.
- Flies do not like the scent of lavender, rosemary and citronella, so place these around or near your rabbit’s accommodation to help deter flies. You can also use these scents in pure essential oils, but only dot the oil in places your rabbit cannot reach
Never delay in getting your rabbit to a vet if you do suspect flystrike.
Rabbits can suffer from a hairball in their stomach and if they are not able to pass it, then it can lead to a blockage and this could be fatal. Rabbits cannot vomit, so they cannot pass hairballs like cats can.
- A change in eating habits
- Weight loss
- Smaller droppings than usual
- Teeth grinding
- Staying hunched up in the corner of their accommodation.
If you think your rabbit is suffering from a hairball, then seek advice from your vet asap.
In the meantime you can:
- Massage your rabbits stomach
- Encourage them to run around to help get their stomach moving
- Give your rabbit 1ml of Infacol
- During moulting season you can help your rabbit by feeding them small bits of fresh or dried Papaya. These help break up hairballs.
- Also help your rabbit by grooming them regularly, especially when moulting.
- Always make sure your rabbit is drinking water, as dehydration adds to the build up of hair in the stomach.
- Add a few drops of pure pineapple juice to their water.
- A build up of hair in the stomach may suggest your rabbit is not getting enough fibre in their diets, so increase their hay amounts & encourage them to eat more hay.
Excessive cecals (cecotropes)
Present with bunnies that have sensitive stomachs. Bunnies produce two types of droppings: Familiar droppings which are round and dry. Cecotropes which are like a small bunch of grapes and your rabbit should eat these, to get their vitamins. If you see these droppings laying around, then your rabbit is producing excessive cecals.
- Feed limited vegetable to your rabbit, like parsley & spring greens and don’t swap to other vegetables
- Encourage them to eat a lot more hay
- Reducing your rabbit’s pellets a little, can really help encourage them to eat more hay
- Supply unlimited amounts of meadow hay & sprinkle in a little dried plantain or dandelions daily too
- At night add a scoop of Pro fibre pellets to their pellets
- Keep a diary each day to work out what foods suit them best
- It takes time to see a difference, sometimes days, sometimes months, so be patient when working out what diet is best suited for your rabbit
- Rich hays like grass and alfalfa & hay can contribute to the problem, so avoid them & stick to Meadow & Timothy hay.
- Check their bottoms are clean every day & take extra precautions against flystrike
When to syringe feed and what to feed?
- If your rabbit is not eating at all, but you are 100% sure they do not have a blockage and are still producing droppings, you can start to syringe feed them, to help stop the stomach from shutting down.
- Never syringe feed your rabbit any food, if you are unsure about them having a blockage. Have your vet check your rabbit first
- Don’t just give them medications, when they are not eating. Mash some of their pellets up and add this also to things like critical care mixtures. It’s more palatable to them and you may find they will take it more willingly. Add some hot water (not boiling) to the pellets and mash them so it resembles baby food. You may need to add more water as you go as the pellets will soak it up and make the mixture thick. Gently poke a fork prong into the top of the syringe to widen it and this will help the mixture go into the syringe easier.
- Make your rabbit a vegetable soup! Boil 2 or 3 vegetables (chopped into small pieces) like a small piece of carrot, cabbage & celery in a little water for about 10 mins. Liquidise the vegetables with the water they cooked in, allow to cool and then syringe feed to your rabbit. This is so much more palatable to your rabbit, than giving them just their medications and it will help them that little bit more to get their appetite back.
- Always syringe feed every 2 to 3 hours and through the night too, if your rabbit is not eating at all and you know there is no blockage.
Tips on how to syringe feed
- Carry out in an unfamiliar place. Your rabbit won’t feel as confident and will be unlikely to struggle as much.
- Never syringe feed your rabbit when they are laid backwards, like a baby. Always feed with them upright.
- One way to feed them is for you to kneel on the floor and place your rabbit between your legs, with his back end nearest to you. Bend forwards and use your other hand to secure them at the front to avoid them running forwards.
- You can wrap your rabbit in a towel, to keep them from struggling whilst you do this. Wrap the towel diagonally from their shoulder to their hip.
- If you are not very flexible, then you can place your rabbit on a table/counter. Lean towards them and place your free arm around their body and place your hand to the front on their chest, to secure them. Or you can wrap them in a towel, to stop them struggling.
- Make sure they can’t jump off the table/counter and injure themselves. Place a chair nearby for them to jump on, if you think they will jump, or better still have a friend/partner help you out.
- You could try syringe feeding them on your lap or place them on a chair and kneel down to them.
- Always place the syringe in the side of the mouth, into the cheek and at a slight angle. Never syringe feed from the front and straight down the throat.
- Feed slowly, to allow time to swallow. They may keep the food/liquid in their mouth longer than usual. If you feed them too quickly, there is a chance it could end up in their lungs.
- If they tend to spit food/liquid out, the minute you let them go or as soon as you are not looking – keep hold of them longer and place a finger under their chin and gently tickle, to encourage them to swallow. Never use force.
Medicine cabinet at home
The following items are very helpful to have to hand at home, for when your rabbit is not well.
- Pro fibre – High fibre pellet to encourage normal digestion – can be used daily.
- Pro C probiotic – Pro biotic to help restore natural gut movement. This formula can be used daily.
- Avi pro plus – Same as Pro C probiotic, but much stronger and to be used only in times of stress or illness and when rabbits are on antibiotics also
- Critical care sachets – For when your rabbit is not eating, due to illness or surgery. Mix with water and syringe feed.
- Supreme recovery – A food to syringe feed to your rabbit when they are sick or recovering from surgery.
- Fibreplex – Helps restore movement to stomach for when rabbits show little or no appetite.
- Bio Lapis – A Pre & Probiotic to help rehydrate rabbits
- Infacol – To help with bloat/gas & Gi Stasis.
- Dried Papaya – To help breakdown hairballs
- Some rabbits are more comfortable being examined on the floor
- Wrap a towel around them if you need to and wrap it diagonally from the shoulder to the hip.
- Make sure you have not covered their face and keep checking this throughout the health check
- If your rabbit gets stressed – sing a little song to them or rub their noses or ears, generally make a fuss and calm them down before you continue
Regular health checks
Carry out health checks on your rabbit every other day in the summer and once a week in the winter. By carrying out the health check in a room your rabbit is not familiar with, will help if your rabbit is always struggling to get away.
It all depends on how well behaved your rabbit is and how confident you are at handling your rabbit, as to the best way to groom or health check your bunny. If you are not confident placing them on a work top or table, or if your rabbit is likely to jump, then kneeling on the floor with your bunny between your legs is a safe way.
- Check nose is clean and dry
- Eyes clean and bright
- Ears clean and dry
- Skin/fur is even and shiny
- Tail & bottom is clean and dry.
More thorough health check
- Trim their nails, if they are longer than their fur (This doesn’t apply to breeds like the rex, where their fur is very short).
- Check for any bumps.
- Brush out any matted fur, never cut away matted fur, as there is a good chance you could accidentally cut their skin too
- If you have a long haired rabbit, check their mouth area for matted fur, especially if they drink out of a bowl. Trim any hair around their rear end, if it is quite long. This will help keep them cleaner, but be extremely careful & take them to your vets for a nurse to help you, if you are not confident to do this yourself.
You may feel guilty putting your rabbit through health checks and worry about losing their trust. This is very common in rabbit owners, but it is very important to still carry out regular health checks, as you will feel much worse if your rabbit becomes sick from something you could of easily spotted or prevented happening.
- Always remember to praise your rabbit after you have completed the health check and give them one of their treats. They will soon forgive you and you as a rabbit owner, will feel much better, knowing you are keeping them in tip top condition.
Cleaning their bottoms
Never plunge a rabbit into water, as they can die of shock. Rabbits should not be bathed, unless in extreme cases advised by your rabbit savvy vet. All you need to do is use either damp cotton wool or tissues or sensitive baby wipes and clean the effected area only. Trimming long hair around this area, helps to keep it clean. Vaseline & sudocrem help with preventing urine stained skin becoming inflamed and infected. A wire comb is also very helpful for removing soiled fur.
You also need to clean their scent glands. To do this use a damp cotton bud, to gently clean out the glands.
Handy health check items to have
- Mite spot on
- Wipes (non perfumed)
- Curved scissors
- Metal comb
- Claw clippers (for small animals)
- Kwik stop or Trimmex Powder to stop bleeding claws
- Kitchen roll
- Cotton buds
PLEASE NOTE: It all depends on what country you live in, as to what vaccinations are needed for your rabbit. Speak to your vet to find out what is needed for your rabbit.
The most common vaccinations are…
- Myxomatosis and VHD. They are combined into one injection and needed once a year.
- VHD2. Needed once a year
Vaccinations can be bought forward, so you don’t have to wait the full year, before you go to have your rabbits vaccinated again. If there are lots of reports of Myxi near you or VHD, then its a good idea to go before the due date.
Neutering/Spaying has lots of health and behavioural benefits & is very important for the following reasons:
- Obviously it stops unwanted litters. Did you know? Rabbits can get pregnant again 1 hour after giving birth
- Around 4-6 months old rabbits reach sexual maturity & you may see a difference in behaviour.
- Uncastrated rabbits will fight & cause stress to other rabbits if kept in groups/pairs. They can also become aggressive towards you
- After being neutered or spayed they become calmer & happier and healthier
- They can live longer, when neutered/spayed, as the risk of many illnesses is reduced
- It will help your rabbit stop spraying urine
- It helps make litter training easier
- It reduces aggression. Female rabbits can be spayed at 4-6 months old. Male rabbits can be neutered around 3.5 to 4 months old. Talk to your vet about spaying/neutering your rabbit.
Finding a good rabbit savvy vet is essential. Rabbits are classed as exotic pets, so look for a vet that specialises in exotic animals. A good Vet should ideally check your rabbits heart rate, teeth, ears, eyes, bottom area, stomach and weight on every visit. With a sick rabbit, your vet will ask you questions like:
- When did they last eat?
- When did they last poop/ What did it look like?
- What are the symptoms that have alerted you?
- What difference in behaviour have you seen?
- Fill plastic bottles, like 2 litre pop bottles with water and freeze. Place in a cotton pillow case and place in your rabbits enclosure. You can keep the pillow case in the freezer too. You can stretch out the pillow case for them to lay on. Spray a little water on the pillowcase, to make it even cooler.
- If possible add a fan to the enclosure, but make sure the wires are out of reach and that the fan is also out of your rabbit’s reach. Do not aim a fan directly on your rabbit constantly. Point it in a direction that your rabbit can have a choice of laying in the breeze or move away from the breeze
- Buy a plant water spray bottle and set to ‘Mist’ spray. Gently spray the mist from a height over your rabbit. Allow them to move away, if they don’t like it, or when they have had enough. Never soak your rabbit and never spray close up or with it set to jet spray.
- Lay concrete slabs in the enclosure or large floor tiles, so they have something cool to stretch out on.
- Wet a kitchen roll tissue with cold water, squeeze out any excess water and then wipe this gently over your rabbit’s ears. Do this often, during hot sunny days
- If you have a house bunny, keep curtains pulled, if the sun hits the window to their room. This will keep the temperature down. Never keep a rabbit in a conservatory in the summer
- If your outside bunny’s enclosure doesn’t escape the sunlight for long periods, make sure they have a shaded area to retreat too. If you have a nest box, you can raise it off the ground by placing securely on slabs or blocks and they can then lay underneath it.
- Place car reflector sunscreens on top of enclosure roofs.
- Place patio umbrellas in front of enclosures, to keep the sun off.
- Never, ever plunge a rabbit into cold water to cool them down, as this could kill them. PLEASE NOTE: If you suspect your rabbit has heat stroke, wipe a wet tissue over their ears and call your vet asap.
Rabbits need sunlight to get their source of vitamin D. This helps to keep their bones & teeth healthy. Always makes sure in the summer months, your rabbit is not stuck in direct sunlight. They should always have a shaded area to retreat to when the have had enough sun. Allow them to soak up sunshine through winter too.
- Always provide nice, snug places for them to retreat too. A nest box or pet carrier are a good idea to place into their accommodation through winter.
- Place cardboard around the inside of their sleeping areas or nest boxes to help insulate. Provide a cardboard box in their sleeping area for them to snuggle up in.
- Pack their accommodation with generous amounts of straw and hay.
- Straw is warmer than hay, but never provide straw only. Always provide hay too, for feeding
- Use a sheet of bubble wrap or clear plastic, such as a market stall cover, to place in front of the accommodation to keep out cold winds and rain.
- If you cover the front of the accommodation with blankets or other heavy covers, make sure you leave a air pocket.
- If their enclosure has lots of concrete slabs. Place some grass mats or machine washable mats without the rubber edging, in their enclosure, to cover the cold concrete.
- Always provide dry straw/hay everyday as old bedding will get damp quickly.
- Provide snuggle safes, when its really cold and place amongst the straw and hay, in their sleeping areas.