I am a rabbit owner who has learned along the way that bunnies are a real joy. Sometimes, however, they get sick.
If you are a vigilant pet owner you will instantly know when your rabbit is feeling unwell. They won't be able to tell you but you will be able to know that something is wrong because of their behaviour and their body language.
As soon you suspect that something is wrong with your rabbit then you need to take immediate action. Waiting even a few hours can be very dangerous as something that is treatable could end up becoming very dangerous if it isn't treated as soon as possible.
Owning any pet will be a challenge. Rabbit unlike cats and dogs do not make any verbal noises. So they cannot express how much pain that they are in. If your bunny rabbit becomes withdrawn or subdued then you need to figure out why. It might be a diet change that is required or they might need to visit the veterinarian for some kind of illness.
If you have never owned a rabbit before, then you need be aware that they are a silent animal. If they are sick or in pain they cannot verbally express how much. Keeping a close watch on their body language and their behaviour are two key ways to know that something is up.
Once you are aware that there is an issue the next step is to identify what is the actual problem.
Some possible cause of an illness in your rabbit could be mites, ear infection, kidney infection, dental problems, hairballs, digestive problems, heatstroke, GI stasis, obesity, snuffles, sore hocks, paralysis, fleas and lice.
Myxomatois and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease
There are a lot of owners who can be apprehensive of giving their rabbit the vaccines for Myxomatosis and the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD).
While swelling near the area of the injection can be one of the side effect most rabbits are reported to recover well. But some owners might notice that their rabbits become lethargic or they might see a change in their normal behaviour for a few days post injection.
Veterinarians will always advise you to get the injections but always be aware that you rabbit should be in the best of health before they get any type of vaccinations.
The Rabbit Haemorrhagic Diseases is a very dangerous injection to be administered so some veterinarians might not carry that one. But the Myxomatois injection should be given if possible to your rabbit. But the ultimate decision is with the owner of the rabbit on whether they decide to vaccinate their pet or not.
If you live in the countryside and you know that wild rabbits visit your property then it is important that your rabbit is vaccinated.
Protect Your Rabbit from Viruses
Rabbits need to be protected from these diseases:
- Myxomatois: There is a vaccine against this disease that is given to rabbits in Europe at age 12 weeks.
- Viral Haemorrhagic Disease: This disease can lead to painful death.
There are a few other things to be aware of if you own a rabbit. They are just like other animals in that they can get health problems as well. Some can be minor problems and others not so minor. Here are things you need to look out for if you have a rabbit who doesn't seem to be behaving normally.
Even a Healthy Rabbit Gets Sick Sometimes
The majority of bunny rabbit owners will never have a sick pet. If your rabbit is fed a good diet and given the best of care then they might be extremely healthy for the rest of their life.
In fact it is very rare that you will experience any problems with your rabbit unless you house your rabbits outside, then things might be different as you cannot control this variable.
Certain conditions can impact bunny rabbit/s and every rabbit owner needs to be aware of how these can affect the rabbit.
As a bunny rabbit owner, you might never have to experience any of these things with your pet. In fact, my rabbit only had to visit the vet once outside his yearly check-up for a lump that mysteriously appeared on his chin overnight. Thankfully this was not serious and antibiotics cleared it up but it is always wise to be aware of these things.
Do a Physical on Your Rabbit
It is also advisable to do a physical on your pet as often as you can. If you often pet your rabbit then all you need to do is get them used to you checking inside their ears, their mouth and occasionally giving them a rub down along the length of their body. You are doing a physical check as well as a visual check to see if there is anything present on their body that shouldn't be.
14 Reasons Why Your Bunny Might Be Sick
- Ear infection
- Kidney infection
- Dental problems
- Digestive problems
- GI stasis
- Sore hocks
Type One: Ear Mites
Ear mites (Psoroptes cuniculi), are an irritating creatures that can be found on the inside of the rabbit’s ear close to the pinnae. These are not commonly seen in domesticated rabbits, but that doesn't mean that your rabbit can't get them. You could easily bring them in on your shoes or clothes and pass them on to your pet. The signs of ear infestation are as follows:
- Excess shaking of rabbits head
- Constant scratching of ears
- Hair loss at back of ears
- Crusty Inflamed inner ear
Type Two: Fur Mites
These types of ear mites (Cheyletiella parasitovorax and listrophorus gibbus) are usually out around spring time. The main area that these mites target will be the rabbit’s neck and back. You will notice a white type of dust laying on the surface of your rabbit’s body. But these are the actual culprits. If you notice that your rabbit is constantly scratching around this area of their body, then they could be infected with these.
Type Three: Burrowing Mites
Burrowing mites (Sarcoptes scabiei and Notodetres cati) are not quite as common. These types of mites won't be as common in European rabbits and rabbits in the United States. You might be lucky to never see them on your rabbit. But unfortunately some rabbits can be unlucky and get an infection.
The female mite will dig into the rabbit's skin and leave her eggs there. They hatch and live their life on the rabbit. They have a life cycle of laying 5 eggs up to 5 times. This all happens quite fast and can occur within 2-3 weeks. Again the only main symptoms you might notice is white dust on the fur of the rabbit that is an indication that your rabbit has an infestation of mites.
If you suspect that your rabbit has any of these mites, then you need to get them to a veterinarian for treatment as soon as possible.
2. Ear Infection
Any animal can get an ear infection. They can be treated but if you catch them as soon as they occur, they will be treated a lot quicker. Rabbits can get an ear infection due to either:
- Ear mites
- Build-up of wax in the inner ear
Some things that you might notice prior to a diagnosis could be:
- Excessive head shaking
- Lots of scratching inside of the ear with the paw
- Your rabbit might be a bit disgruntled with you if you try to touch this area on their head.
So if you see your rabbit doing any of this then get it checked out because something is wrong.
Don't ignore any suspected case of head shaking it your rabbit. If it is ear mites then they need to be treated as soon as possible. This is the same with excessive ear wax.
3. Kidney Infection
Rabbits are also prone to kidney disease and bladder stones just like other pets. If you notice a change in your rabbit’s normal bathroom routine this could be an indicator of a kidney infection.
For example, if your rabbit leaves no poo dropping in their litter tray when they go to the toilet, then this is dangerous. It might be a simple case of needing more fibre i.e hay. But is could also be a much more serious sign that something is wrong with your rabbit.
When a rabbit pees in a litter tray, it will do so in the one spot. If your rabbit uses a litter tray and you don't see patches of wet urine in their toilet area then something is wrong. Rabbit also poo a few times a day and will also do so in the same area.
If your rabbit is neither peeing nor pooing then something isn't right.
A rabbit's normal urine could look clear, yellow, brown, or bright red. If your rabbit stops eating and you are worried about it then bring it to the vet. The worst case scenario could be that there is blood in their urine.
Your vet will take an X-ray of your rabbit's kidneys to see if there is a blockage or something else at play. They will also take a blood sample to determine if anything else is causing the problem.
4. Dental Problems (Malocclusion)
Rabbits have four large incisors in the front of their mouth. Behind those, they have two tiny ones called peg teeth. Then on the lower side of each cheek they have six upper and five lower teeth.
The front teeth cut the food and the back teeth grind the food.
When you bring your rabbit to the vet, they usually will check the mouth and cheeks to make sure that no teeth are out of line in the rabbit's jaw. The reason that they do this is that a rabbit’s teeth grow 4 to 5 inches each year.
It is important that you give a rabbit wood sticks (available in pet stores) to chew on every day. This helps wear down their teeth and it will stop them from becoming overgrown.
Also when your rabbit grinds hay in his/her mouth this is also helping them to wear their teeth down.
If a rabbit’s teeth are not worn down they will become overgrown. This is called malocclusion. When this happens your vet will need to trim the rabbit's teeth and most likely it will be a constant thing for the rest of the rabbit's life.
Diagram of a Normal Rabbit Jaw
Just like cats, rabbits can get hairballs. If they are severe, then the rabbit can die because unlike cats, they cannot vomit up the hairballs.
Since most rabbits moult (shed their coat) a few times a year (depending on the breed) you are likely to have some of their hair flying around. You need to remove this from their living area.
To avoid hairballs, make sure your rabbit has a supply of hay—alfalfa or Timothy. This will keep their digestive tract clear.
5 Ways on How to Prevent Hairballs in Rabbits
- Groom your rabbit a few times a week.
- Feed them a diet of high fibre pellets.
- Give them plenty of water.
- Clean out any loose hair from their bedding area especially during the moulting season.
- Let them have a room to run around in or if you have a garden put out an enclosure that they can get plenty of exercise in.
6. Digestive Problems
If you feed your rabbit the right food then you can reduce the risk of them having any digestive issues later on in life.
High Fibre Pellet
When you are buying food for your rabbit it is important that you buy rabbit food with a high fibre content but one that has as a low sugar content. Any type of muesli rabbit food is going to be full of sugar and fruit which can be bad in the long term for your rabbit. High fibre rabbit food will help to keep your rabbit's intestines in good working order. Also it will fill them up quicker and chewing the pellets will help to wear down their teeth.
You need to give your rabbit a fresh supply of hay each day. Give them an amount of hay that is half the size of their body. Hay does two things. Firstly it helps them wear down their teeth and secondly it helps to keep everything moving along in their bowels.
Only give your rabbit fruit or vegetable sparingly. Do not feed your rabbit these things every day.
If possible never feed your rabbit commercial rabbit treats. They are full of sugar and they only become addicted to them and some can cause diarrhoea. You are better of giving them some pieces of carrot.
If a rabbit does get diarrhoea, bring him to the vet immediately because it could be fatal. You need to watch the dropping to see if they are not normal.
Normal rabbit dropping are small, brown balls, or they could be soft and lumpy. It’s when their poo is smelly or runny that you should be concerned.
Also, if your rabbit stops eating, this is another sign that all is not okay.
During the summer months you might usually have your rabbit out in your garden in his/her pen. You need to be aware that you should have a shaded area for your rabbit to go when it gets too hot.
Signs of Rabbit Heatstroke
- Red ears
How to Avoid Heatstroke
- Place ice in a water bowl nearby.
- Place a bottle of ice-cold water in their pen/cage so they can lie against it to cool down.
- Keep them out of direct sun/heat and place in a cool shaded area.
- Mist their ears with a spray bottle containing water because heat leaves the rabbit through their ears.
- Place a damp towel over the pen/cage.
If you suspect your rabbit is suffering from heatstroke then bring them to the veterinarian straight away.
8. GI Stasis (Gastrointestina stasis)
This occurs when the food ingested by the rabbit is passed through the digestive tract at a slower than normal pace or stops altogether. If your rabbit is not feeling well, he will not eat or drink which can make the situation worst.
Why GI Stasis Might Occur
- Hair ingestion
- Low-fibre diet
- Eating human food
- Depression caused by the death of another rabbit in the pack
Also, if you check their droppings, you might notice hair in it. Your rabbit might also develop diarrhea.
If your rabbit is suffering from this, they need to be brought to the vet for an X-ray. This will help decide the best treatment for your rabbit.
It is up to you as a pet owner to monitor what you are feeding your rabbit. If you look at the feeding guide on the packaging of the rabbit food it will state how much pellets you give to the weight of your rabbit. Same with hay.
So you need to get your vet to weight your rabbit and let you know if he is the correct weight for his breed. Usually when you give hay, you give them the amount to the size of their body. But since hay is good for their digestive system you really can never give them too much.
10. Snuffles (Pasteuella)
Many a time you will hear your rabbit give a sneeze; this may simply be the result of inhaling dust around your house. This is not a problem.
Symptoms That Are Cause for Concern
- Watery nasal discharge
- Sneezing accompanied by a thick white or yellow nasal discharge
- Loud snuffling or snoring sound (excess fluid in nasal tract)
- Discharge on forepaws if cleaning their face (might spread to the eyes and ear causing conjunctivitis and ear infections)
If you notice any of these symptoms, bring your rabbit to the vet straight away because the earlier it is treated with antibiotics the better chance of survival for your rabbit.
11. Sore Hocks
If you don’t have sufficient bedding in your rabbit hutch, this is how sore hock occurs. It’s the wire which hurts their feet. Also, if you don’t change their bedding regularly this would also be a factor. You need to either add more bedding hay to the hutch or add a blanket or towel.
Signs of Sore Hocks
- Missing hair on the back legs near the bend
- Redness on the back legs near the bend
How to Make Your Rabbit More Comfortable
- Wash their legs
- Gently trim loose fur in that area
- Relieve irritation with Bag Balm or calamine lotion
If there are any open wounds, I suggest you head to the vet, as they can prescribe antibiotics and give you some good advice on what else is needed.
This will occur if you do not handle your rabbit with care. When picking up a rabbit you need to support their backside and their tummy. Bring them into your chest and have them lying flat. When you pick up your rabbit the first thing they will try to do is kick out with their back legs. Some rabbits don’t like been picked up, but most owners like to pick them up and move them from point A to B.
If your rabbit fell from a height, there is a good chance they could break a leg or even their spine. In turn they could suffer paralysis. If severe, your rabbit might need to be put down. So please be extremely careful when handling rabbits.
If your rabbit gets infected by fleas you can get a cure from your vet. Again if you own one rabbit, you're very likely not to have an infestation. But if you have a cat, they might pass fleas on to the rabbit, but according to my vet it is very uncommon.
Unless you have the two living in the same area, they should not spread from one to another. Usually it occurs when a person had a few rabbits. There are two common fleas: Ctenocephalides Canis and Felis.
You will notice fleas on your rabbit because either they might jump onto your hand when petting them or your rabbit will be constantly scratching them self. Also, you might notice they are missing clumps of hair from their body. So bring your rabbit to the vet for advice and cure.
Lice (Cheyleteilla parasitovorax) can sometimes come in on your clothes, or if your rabbit is living in a dirty environment/hutch that is not cleaned weekly, fleas can just appear. You will notice these creatures on your pet. They live on the surface of the skin and will look like dandruff. If you think your rabbit is infected, bring him/her to the vet for treatment.
These are just some common problems that can happen to a rabbit. If you suspect your rabbit has any of the above problems, bring him to a vet that specializes in rabbit care.
I'm not an expert in this area but I have had my own rabbit for over three years. So far he has had only one minor health problem in his life. He recently had an ear infection.
Beware to keep an eye on your pet. Make sure you feed him a good diet, keep his living area clean, and bring them to the vet yearly for his injections and regular check-up. If there is a problem, the earlier they are diagnosed, the sooner they will get better.
What Are The Main Things That The Injection Vaccinates Rabbits Against? (2019) Scardales Vets, https://www.scarsdalevets.com/article/rabbit-vaccination-guide-faqs
Matted Hair and Hairballs in the Stomach in Rabbits (2010) PETMD https://www.petmd.com/rabbit/conditions/digestive/c_rb_trichobezoars
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My bunny is not active at all nowadays. He used come running whenever he sees I'm coming inside the room with food. He used to run all over the place, wake me up every morning and most active in the night time. But now it's been 3 days and he's not eating properly and not doing anything except for laying down all day and night. What should I do? What's wrong with him I don't get it.
Answer: I would bring him to a veterinarian to see if there is an issue. If he isn't eating well then this could mess up his system and cause internal issues. He also might not like the brand of food or he could be bored and need more toys in his cage to help keep him entertained. First, get him checked out and then from there look at his environment.
Question: I have 4 baby rabbits and they were very active and healthy. At 2 months old I was giving them baths and they looked great after it. Today they are nearly 2 1/2 months old and I gave them a bath because they have dirty fur. Everything was fine but one of the babies is not good. It's not active like the remaining three. It's sitting in silence not eating & not moving and it makes a sound while I am touching its nose. Is it a serious problems? Please help me. I want my baby bunny to be happy??
Answer: I'm sorry to hear about your bunny. Hopefully, it isn't anything serious and just something mild. Maybe it doesn't want to be touched or it could be sick. If this behaviour continues, I would bring it to a pet clinic to get it checked out. Also, rabbits will clean their own fur and if rabbits are in pairs they usually groom and clean each other. If it stops eating, drinking & pooping then this will be dangerous and you will need to seek medical attention for it.
Question: I found a wild baby bunny after its mother was ran over. Now a few days after having it, it's not standing on its own. But it will kick it's legs and try to run. What does that mean? Did it have a stroke? I mean it's only been outside once and it was sixty something degrees with no humidity.
Answer: That is a bit worrying. If it is kicking the legs out, there might be some feeling and sensation there. Just like humans, all animals including rabbits can hurt their joints when they do a maneuver that might cause something to move out of place. To determine if it was a joint issues, it would need an x-ray. Then depending on the situation, it would be confined to a small play area to allow the issue to heal. Very little movement or jumping would be allowed to ensure it healed. You would also be given some pain killers.
However if it was heat stroke which is dangerous if not treated, I think you would have seen things worsen very quickly. Could it have been a tick or something?
Since it is a wild rabbit maybe there is a rescue centre who might help you for a small donation or a veterinarian who deals with small animals. Choose a vet with expertise in this area as some general vets might not be able to treat the issue.
Question: My bunny has been acting different lately and his stomach is gurgling. I am getting worried because he is eating and drinking a lot more than usual and today he just had a weird mild type of urine. I brought him to the vet for the stomach issue but he said it was something he swallowed. But three weeks later his stomach is still gurgling and he's acting a bit different. What is wrong with my rabbit?
Answer: I have heard the gurgling sounds from my bunny rabbits stomach before and there was no issue. Sometimes if they haven't eaten enough fiber, their stomach makes weird noises. Rabbits don't overeat. They only eat what they need to and once they are full, they will stop. So it's unusual to see a rabbit eating more than normal. What type of food are you feeding it? If it's food full of fruit and seeds then expect your rabbit to overindulge because they love this. If it's a high fiber pellet, then a little bit will fill them up a lot quicker. If your rabbit swallowed something, the vet should have done an x-ray or a physical exam just to give you peace of mind. But if your rabbit is not having issues now when it's eating, then it could be resolved.
Regarding the urine issue, if your rabbit is six to eight months, then the smell and frequency of their urine can be related to them becoming mature and entering adulthood. But also some food does cause the urine to smell or change color depending on how much of it they eat. But if you think there is an issue with your rabbit, then do go to another veterinarian who has experience with rabbits for a second opinion.
Question: Is it normal that my bunny does not move at all when she is sleeping? Her ears are flat down and she breaths more slowly and her eyes are wide open when she is sleeping. Is there something wrong with my bunny?
Answer: Regarding the flat ears, this varies from rabbit to rabbit. Most rabbits will see their ears drop and hang down by their cheek as they develop from baby to adulthood. So this is relatively normal to see. But if they hear any noises, those ears are definitely listening. Most rabbits will sleep with their eyes open. This trick is developed early on for predators. Rabbits take lots of naps during the day. So while the eyes are opened, they are actually having a little nap. Our breathing slows down when we relax and are no longer active, the same goes for pets. But it is good that you notice these things now as you will be alert for any issues that could arise down the way.
Question: My bunny gave birth and she had four babies but one of the babies is sick. What can I do?
Answer: It would be wise to see a veterinarian.
Question: How can I tell if my bunny's back leg hurts?
Answer: If your bunny is not moving at his/her normal speed, it is sitting still for longer periods of time than it normally does, or it squeaks when you touch that area, then there could be an underlying issue.
Question: My bunny has some sort of gray spots on her face. I don't know if she ever had that before. What should I do?
Answer: If you are worried that it looks suspicious and you are sure it hasnt been there before, then go see your local veterinarian and ask them for advice. It's better to be over cautious than to ignore an underlying issue.
Question: My bunny is not eating or drinking and he has diarrhea. Sometimes he is shaking and his ears are cold. It’s like he is a robot and not moving. He can’t see where he’s going. He steps into his water and food and bumps into things. He is very skinny. What treatment does he need?
Answer: If your rabbit has diarrahorea, then he could become dehydrated which leads to him becoming legarthic and your rabbit would stay still and become disorientated.
If possible see if any clinic offers payment plans as it seems like your rabbit needs immediate help.
Your bunny needs to eat and drink water, if they do not voluntarily eat, then you can get rescue remedy for your rabbit.
But it is usually better to visit a veterinarian to get a proper diagnosis and a treatment plan. This rescue remedy is a temporary solution which might not even help you.
If rabbits don't eat, then their body starts shutting down and they can die.
Question: If the face is never cleaned, will a bunny get sick & die?
Answer: A rabbit needs to have a clean cage and litter tray. If it is dirty they will end up standing in their poo. If you have a rabbit, it is best to have a little tray that is an inch from the ground for them to use as a toilet. Place wood chips in this tray. Clean the tray every day with warm water and soap. Remove the dirty wood chips and put in new wood chips every day.
Question: Why has my rabbit got dirty whiskers?
Answer: Is it digging outside in the ground? Does it have a dirty litter tray? Maybe it just has naturally dark whiskers.
Question: My bunny is older and has recently started scratching his nose on his water bottle that he drinks from. It is becoming red and the water drips onto his nose from the water bottle. When he does this I’m afraid it will eventually become infected. What should i do? Is there a reason for him to be scratching it? He also is very itchy at his rear.
Answer: That's very usual. I know sometimes rabbits can hit things with their nose to move it out of the way. If he is banging his nose against it, maybe there is an issue with something irritating his face or gums. If the skin breaks, then he could cut his nose and it will be harder to stop him. He might want to be let out of his cage. Rabbits need space and when they want to be let out they can to random things to get attention. Being in a cage all day is very boring. Also make sure he has things in his cage to keep him entertained.
If he has an itchy butt then he could have faeces stuck on his tail and this is annoying him. If so you need to clean it with a warm soft wet cloth with pet wash. This happened to my guy before. Wear gloves.
Try changing his daily habits to see if anything stops him. Also try putting in a bowl of water and take out the bottle. Some rabbits prefer the bowl over the bottle.
Question: My bunny stays very still for a long time. She is fine otherwise. She is 7. Is it because she is just getting older?
Answer: As bunny rabbits get older, they will become less playful and are more inclined to just chill out on the couch with you and lay around doing nothing. As long you give it lots of attention when you at home, then things should be fine. But always be vigilant for any unusual behaviour because just like cats and dogs, rabbits cannot let you know if they are unwell.
Question: My rabbit is suddenly scratching his right ear a lot, jerking his head too much, sitting in a hunched up position and grinding his teeth from time to time. Unfortunately, I live in a place where there are no exotic or rabbit savvy vet. Any suggestions? What could be wrong?
Answer: My rabbit had an issue with a build-up of ear wax. I had to put drops in both ears for 10 days. It was a liquid that cats and dogs would also be prescribed. If your rabbit doesn't have ear mites or any other symptoms, then this could be the cause of the head shaking. Check the ears to see if this is the issue. Also maybe something got stuck in the ear and it's trying to get it out.
Regarding the teeth grinding issue. This could mean two things. One when rabbits grind their teeth, it can be a sign of happiness. It doesn't happen often and it's hard to predict when it could occur but it does happen. Secondly, it could also be a teeth issue. Do you give your rabbit wood stick or untreated wood to chew on? Some pets stores sell wood, especially for rabbits. If rabbits don't chew wood then their back teeth next to their cheeks will grow down toward the tongue which will then require your rabbit going to the vet to get its teeth filed down under gas. This isn't a common thing and it's only when your rabbit stops eating that these things are looked at to eliminate it as the cause.
Giving your rabbit wood to chew and hard food pellets will help them with grinding down the two rows of teeth which stops this issue.
Question: Is it normal that my baby bunnies ears' are very warm?
Answer: Some animals like bunny rabbits have warm ears as there is blood flowing to this area of their body. Since a rabbit has a thinner layer of hair around its ears compared to the rest of its body, you will often find that their ears feel very warm when you are rubbing their head. Unless there are other symptoms that make you suspicious of your bunny rabbit health, then it shouldn't be an issue. However as an owner always stay alert when there is hot weather as pets are susceptible to heatstroke. Keep them inside in a cool room.
Question: My mother’s rabbits has had babies and one of them is much smaller than the other one. It keeps trying to walk but it can only seems to go around in circles. It also keeps pointing its head upwards. Is it because he’s a runt or is there something wrong?
Answer: First off if it is the runt then it might need additional attention to ensure that it gets stronger. Looking up and moving around in circles could be because it is looking for its mom or it could just be confused. Maybe try to ensure it gets enough of its mother milk. When it gets to six weeks try to supplement the mothers milk with additional food. But keep an eye on it when it is walking and moving to see if it has any issues with its balance. You might need to seek medical attention later on if it continues to have issues with its head. But if it can walk ok and move around ok without falling over, then it might grow out of it.
© 2011 Sp Greaney