Typical Diseases in Rabbits

Rabbits hide illnesses as well as possible. Our list of typical rabbit diseases, their causes, symptoms, and treatment options will help you to identify signs of the disease quickly and reliably.

The best protection against rabbit diseases is species-appropriate accommodation and nutrition, as well as good hygiene. If these husbandry criteria are met, rabbits can live to be eight to twelve years old. However, your rabbits can get sick or injure themselves.

In this case, it is crucial that you recognize the first symptoms of the disease at an early stage. Here are some of the signs that will tell you that your rabbit is sick:

  • The rabbit becomes emaciated suddenly or gradually.
  • The rabbit no longer eats.
  • The rabbit lies apathetically in the cage.
  • In addition, there are other symptoms that are typical of the respective disease. To help you quickly understand what your rabbit is suffering from and how you can help, we have listed the most common rabbit diseases with information on symptoms and treatment.

Rabbit diseases overview

The following diseases are more common in rabbits:

  • abscesses
  • Rabbit sniffles and other respiratory diseases
  • eye diseases
  • bladder and kidney diseases
  • E. cuniculi/encephalitozoonosis in rabbits
  • Coat and skin changes
  • Gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea and constipation
  • myxomatosis
  • Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD)
  • Tumors, especially in the uterus
  • Problems with the teeth such as misaligned molars and incisors

Poor nutrition and poor care and hygiene of rabbits are common causes of diseases. Symptoms are not easy to spot in all cases. Only a regular health check of the rabbits can ensure that rabbit diseases are detected in good time.

Also, have your rabbits checked regularly by the vet. He presents a professional diagnosis and treatment.

Abscesses in rabbits

Abscesses can form under the skin of rabbits, which you can identify and feel as a thickening. Causes of abscesses in rabbits include:

  • Minor injuries (e.g. due to ranking fights)
  • Surgical scars that have been invaded by bacteria

The bacteria cause purulent inflammation and pus-filled capsules form. Abscesses are common in rabbits in the neck and jaw area. Jaw abscesses are usually caused by misaligned teeth. Excessively long molars first cause injuries and inflammation in the pharynx and finally abscesses.

Your vet can surgically remove or split an abscess. During the split, the abscess is cut open and the pus is removed by squeezing it out. The abscess cavity is then irrigated daily until the abscess has healed completely from the inside out. A parallel treatment with an antibiotic is carried out in consultation with your veterinarian.

Abscesses are very painful. You can recognize pain in rabbits by a hunched posture or pain sounds that the animals make (e.g. grinding their teeth).

Rabbit flu and other respiratory diseases

The first signs of a disease of the respiratory tract in rabbits such as e.g. rabbit cold include:

  • frequent sneezing
  • ​nasal discharge
  • refusal of food
  • strong flank breathing
  • shortness of breath

Only your veterinarian can tell whether it is rabbit cold, a cold, or pneumonia. Antibiotic treatment is usually necessary for rabbits to recover.

Common triggers of rabbit cold and other respiratory diseases are:

  • Infection through direct contact with a sick fellow animal (e.g. a new partner animal)
  • Draft (e.g. the enclosure is in a draft or right next to the window)
  • Stress (e.g. due to transport, an enclosure that is too small, restlessness within the rabbit group, frequent “forced cuddles” by the owner, etc.)
  • dry heating air
  • poor hygiene in the cage

Eye diseases in rabbits

Injuries to the eye (the cornea, the eyeball, and the eyelid) are not uncommon in rabbits. This can be caused by fights over hierarchy with conspecifics and impaling straw/hay.

Common eye diseases in rabbits include:

  • Inflammation of the tear duct (as a result of colds and dental problems)
  • Abscesses behind the eyeball (caused by dental problems)
  • Cloudiness of the eye (e.g. caused by diabetes mellitus or infection with E. cuniculi)

Signs of eye inflammation include:

  • milky-watery discharge
  • and adhesions of the fur in the eye area
  • protrusion or swelling of the eye

If it is an infectious change in the eye, the rabbit is treated with an antibiotic in the form of drops or an ointment or gel.

Bladder and Kidney Diseases in Rabbits

Possible bladder and kidney diseases are, for example, a bacterial infection of the bladder and/or kidneys and bladder stones.

Early signs of bladder and kidney disease in rabbits include:

  • heavier and more frequent urination
  • Pain when urinating (the rabbit hunches over or makes noises of pain such as grinding its teeth)
  • foul-smelling urine
  • more frequent licking/cleaning of the anogenital area

Bladder stones are usually caused by an oversupply of calcium (e.g. too much dry food or fresh food with a high calcium content) and usually have to be surgically removed. In the event of an infection, the sick rabbit is treated with antibiotics and a painkiller; it should be kept warm and drink plenty of fluids.

E. cuniculi / encephalitozoonosis in rabbits

In encephalitozoonosis, the rabbit has become infected with the pathogen Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi). This pathogen damages the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), the kidneys (a disease associated with kidney failure and changes in kidney tissue in the form of chronic inflammation), and the lens capsule of the eye.

With encephalitozoonosis, rabbits show the following symptoms:

  • head tilt
  • loss of balance
  • hind leg paralysis

The E. cuniculi pathogen can be detected by means of a blood test. However, about half of all rabbits kept as pets have antibodies to E. cuniculi, and only a proportion of these will develop the disease. Since the pathogens are excreted in the feces and urine, healthy rabbits can become infected through contaminated bedding and feed. A cure is not possible.

With early veterinary treatment, however, the acute illness can be suppressed to such an extent that the rabbits can live a symptom-free life. However, some rabbits retain a slightly crooked posture for life.

Coat and skin changes in rabbits

Pathological coat and skin changes in rabbits are mainly caused by parasites such as mites, fungi, lice, and fleas.

The first symptoms of the disease affecting the skin and coat are:

  • fur loss
  • Matting and discoloration of the fur
  • redness of the skin
  • Formation of scales or crusts
  • itching

Ensure good hygiene in the enclosure. Poor hygiene is the main cause of skin diseases in rabbits and other small animals.

Gastrointestinal diseases in rabbits

Rabbits often suffer from disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. Common causes of gastrointestinal disease in rabbits include:

  • Incorrect feeding, i.e. a diet low in raw fibre, too rich in fat or carbohydrates
  • quick feed changes
  • dental problems
  • viral infections
  • Bacteria or parasites (coccidia, worm infestation)

If a rabbit is constipated, it will only defecate in small balls or not at all. It no longer eats and shows pain. You can recognize diarrhea in rabbits from pasty/liquid feces and a feces-sticky anogenital region.

Myxomatosis for rabbits

Myxomatosis is caused by a leporipox virus that is transmitted by:

  • other already infected rabbits
  • contaminated green fodder
  • Insects (mosquitoes, rabbit fleas)

Disease occurs from spring to fall. Symptoms of myxomatosis are swelling in the head area with difficulty in swallowing and breathing.

Targeted treatment of myxomatosis is not (or only in individual cases) possible. Since the chances of survival are low, sick rabbits have to be euthanized for reasons of animal welfare. Only vaccination protects rabbits from myxomotosis.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

RHD (Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease) is a viral infectious disease. RHD is transmitted by:

  • Contact with rabbits who are already sick
  • contaminated green fodder
  • stinging insects
  • Contaminated items (shoes, clothing, etc.)

Typical symptoms of RHD are:

  • sudden apathy
  • inappetence
  • shortness of breath
  • bloody nasal discharge
  • bloody urine

RHD usually progresses so quickly that the owner does not notice any symptoms. As a rule, the diseased rabbits die of severe internal bleeding without showing any external changes.

It is not possible to treat rabbits against RHD. RHD is always fatal. For this reason, it is highly advisable to regularly vaccinate your rabbits against RHD.

Uterine tumor and other tumor diseases in rabbits

It is not always immediately apparent whether a rabbit has a tumor. Striking indications of tumor diseases in rabbits are an increase in the size of the head and/or neck, stomach, uterus, anogenital area, etc. However, an increase in size can also be an abscess.

Especially the uterine tumor is common in rabbits. A tumorous enlargement of the uterus can be observed in female rabbits from the age of about four years. But younger females also develop uterine tumors. You should therefore have your rabbits checked (by palpation, ultrasound and/or x-rays of the uterus) every time you visit the vet (e.g. for vaccinations).

As a prophylaxis, some veterinarians now advise female rabbits to be neutered at an early stage. However, neutering a female rabbit should only be performed by an experienced veterinarian.

Dental disease in rabbits

The first signs of dental problems in rabbits can be:

  • preferably soft food is ingested
  • Food intake is completely stopped
  • excessive salivation when eating
  • tears of the eyes
  • general signs of discomfort and pain (e.g. apathy)

Misaligned incisors and/or molars in rabbits are not uncommon. For example, if the upper jaw is slightly shortened, the lower incisors are in front of the upper incisors. With this tooth position, no abrasion of the teeth is possible, so that the teeth continue to grow. If the molars are misaligned, sharp points develop, which lead to injuries in the mouth. Missing teeth and tips can be trimmed and ground down by a veterinarian.

Tooth anomalies are often hereditary. But incorrect feeding can also promote dental problems in rabbits. In order to prevent dental diseases, you should offer your animals a lot of feed rich in crude fiber (hay freely available and structured green fodder) as well as fresh feed and little dry feed.

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