Part of bunny-ownership entails making sure your rabbits are healthy. The first part is finding a rabbit-savy veterinarian, since most vets will not see rabbits. Check out our Recommended Vets.
Problems can arise quickly, so it is important to interact with your bunnies daily. If your normally-sociable rabbit hides and doesn't want to come out to eat, you will know you have an issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
Currently, there is no FDA-approved vaccinations for rabbits in the United States, and so there are no yearly vaccinations to be administered. An annual check-up, especially for those bunnies over the age of 7-years may be beneficial.
Spay and Neuter:
Spaying and neutering your rabbits is one of the most important things you can do to ensure a long life for your bunnies. Approximately 85% of unspayed females will die before the age of 5 from uterine cancer.
Males can also develop testicular cancers, although they do not tend to have as high a rate of occurrence of cancer as unspayed females. Along with preventing unwanted pregnancies and eliminating territorial-behavior, spaying and neutering is an essential part of owning bunnies.
Common Health Concerns
The following is a list of the most common rabbit ailments. Some may be easily handled with a quick trip to the vet, while others need surgery and several months of post-op treatment. Issues, such as stasis, can be treated without veterinarian assistance. To find out more, check out our Events page, and sign up for our next First-Aid class.
Gastrointestinal hypomotility ("stasis"): This is the most common of bunny digestive issues. The bunny stops eating and pooping, and looks uncomfortable. There might be a variety of reasons why a rabbit stops eating. It can be as simple as bad diet, or it may be a result of something else - infection, teeth issues, etc. If your rabbit hasn't eaten or passed feces in 12 hours, this requires veterinarian care. If you feel the bunny's stomach, and it is hard (like a rock or a water balloon), there is a blockage somewhere in the digestive track. This is bloat, and it can kill your rabbit in 6-12 hours. Bloat requires immediate veterinarian action!!
Malocclusion: Rabbits have 28 continually growing teeth. Normally the teeth wear themselves down through food or chewing other objects. However, if the jaw is misaligned, the teeth do not line up and cannot wear each other down. The teeth continue to grow, and can grow into the lip, nose, cheek or tongue of the bunny. This situation requires veterinarian care, so the vet can safely trim the teeth or remove them entirely, if necessary.
Abscesses: Abscesses are pockets of pus, and they can occur anywhere in the body. The cause may be obvious - the result of bad teeth, a bite wound, etc., and other times not so much. A bunny with an abscess needs to undergo surgery to have the abscess removed. Afterwards, the bunny needs to undergo extensive antibiotic treatment to ensure the abscess does not return.
Fleas and mites: Fleas are not common in house rabbits, unless the home also has other pets which go outside (dogs and/or cats). Mites are found in the ear and/or fur, and they will usually present themselves when a bunny's immune system is compromised. Ear mites can start in the inside base of the ear and work itself up, forming crusts which bleed when scrapped. Fur mites are usually found at the back of the neck or around the rear. It can look like dandruff, and if left untreated, can leave bald patches on the bunny. Both form of mites can be treated with a prescription of Revolution, found at your vet.
Urine scald: Bunnies urinate by pushing back their hips, lifting their tail and urinating away from their body. Sometimes this does not happen, and the urine ends up being soaked up by the fur surrounding the groin area and burning the skin underneath. This may be the result of an infection, obesity, or - if the bunny happens to be older - arthritis. A vet can determine the cause and decide on the appropriate treatment.
Coccidiosis: This is a protozoan infection which can cause severe diarrhea. This is a particular concern for very young rabbits, as they can become quickly dehydrated and die. A simple fecal float can determine whether a bunny is infected and needs to be treated.
Pasteurellosis: This is a bacterial infection, which normally affects the upper respiratory area. Symptoms can include thick, white or yellow discharge from the nose and/or eyes, sneezing, difficulty breathing and coughing. The bacteria can travel to other parts of the body and cause pneumonia and abscesses. Infections in the ear can cause head tilt - a situation where the head is bent as much as 90 degrees. Severe infections require veterinarian treatment, however, it is difficult to eliminate the bacteria completely and the infections frequently return. There are numerous strains of Pasteurella and they can be easily spread. In fact most rabbits in the United States already have the bacteria, although many may never show symptoms.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. cuniculi): This is a protozoal parasite extremely common in domestic rabbits. Many rabbits are born with it - infected by their mothers - and may live out their lives never showing any symptoms. Others may not be so lucky. This parasite affects the nervous system, and may cause the following: head tilt (this may be caused by BOTH Pasteurella and E. cuniculi - you need to treat for both), rear-end paralysis, incontinence, and rupture of the lens of the eye (creating cataracts). Lesions are deposited in the brain, kidneys and sometimes the liver. A bunny experiencing symptoms needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Despite such situations as head-tilt or rear-end paralysis, a bunny can learn to adapt to his new situation and still live a happy life.
Rabbits undergo a heavy shed approximately 3-4 times a year with a light shed in between. However, some owners might think that their bunny goes through a heavy shed all year around.
Bunnies should have their coats combed out every 8-weeks (more often if they're going through their heavy shed). They should also have their nails trimmed at this time. This is important because bunnies can tear their nails on carpet, their pen, or on other objects, which can be painful.
Another important area is the scent glands, located on either side of the genitals. The glands secret a waxy substance, which eventually hardens and sticks to the delicate skin.
Long-haired rabbits, such as Angoras, Jersey Woolies and certain types of Lionheads need to be brushed daily to prevent matting.
Bunnies should never be bathed, as this can be very stressful for a rabbit.
Afraid to trim your bunny's nails? Check out our Events page to learn how to groom your rabbit, or contact us to make a grooming appointment and have one of our expert staff take care of your bun.