14 Reasons Why Your Bunny Might Be Sick

Updated on August 17, 2019
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I am a rabbit owner who has learned along the way that bunnies are a real joy. Sometimes, however, they get sick.

Even a healthy rabbit gets sick sometimes
Even a healthy rabbit gets sick sometimes | Source

Any bunny rabbit owner will instantly know when there is something wrong with their pet. You will know their personality as well as your own. Once you suspect something being wrong with your little pet, take immediate action. Waiting can be dangerous as it might turn out to be something very serious.

It is challenging being a bunny rabbit owner. You need to know that they have no way of communicating with you. If you notice that your bunny rabbit has become withdrawn or quiet and is not as happy as usual, this could be a big sign that something is up. If you have never owned a rabbit before, then you need to understand that they don't make any noise when they are in pain or sick, so watching their behaviour is the only way to identify if something is wrong. So eliminating reasons behind the change in their behaviour is the first step in diagnosing your pet.

When you buy your first rabbit, you will be told about two injections that they need to get. You might get away with just having to give them one. That is Myxomatois.

If you have only one rabbit this seems to be the one your vet will recommend you to give them. The other injection is given if you have more than one bunny rabbit and live in an area with loads of wild rabbits.

Even a Healthy Rabbit Gets Sick Sometimes

Most rabbits will be extremely healthy their whole life. In fact it is very rare that you will experience any problems especially if you have only one rabbit. Unless your rabbits are outside, then things might be different.

Anybody who does have a bunny rabbit/s needs to be aware of the various condition that can affect them. Again 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.

There is also no harm in being cautious and giving your pet a physical every now and again. If you usually have your pet hanging out with you, give them a body rub, check their face and inside their ears.

Are you an attentive bunny rabbit owner?

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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 like other animals in that they can get health problems. 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.

14 Reasons Why Your Bunny Might Be Sick

  • Mites
  • Ear infection
  • Kidney infection
  • Dental problems
  • Hairballs
  • Digestive problems
  • Heatstroke
  • GI stasis
  • Obesity
  • Snuffles
  • Sore hocks
  • Paralysis
  • Fleas
  • Lice

Bunny rabbits don't have any way of telling you they are sick. You have to be an attentive owner and watch their behaviour.
Bunny rabbits don't have any way of telling you they are sick. You have to be an attentive owner and watch their behaviour. | Source

1. Mites

Type One: Ear Mites

Ear mites (Psoroptes cuniculi), irritating creatures can be found on the inside of the rabbit’s ear near the pinnae. These are not so common in domesticated rabbits, but still saying that, 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

You can expect to see fur mites (Cheyletiella parasitovorax and listrophorus gibbus) around spring. The area most effected will be the neck and the rabbits back. It might look to you like your rabbit has white type dust on his body. But these are the culprits. If the rabbit is effected by them again he will be constantly scratching this area of his body.

Type Three: Burrowing Mites

Burrowing mites (Sarcoptes scabiei and Notodetres cati) are not so common. European rabbits are not so likely to be effected by these creatures and even in the US they might or might not get them. Your rabbit might be just the unlucky one to get infected.

What happens is the female mite digs into the rabbit's skin and leaves her eggs there. Then these larvae hatch and live on the rabbit. They have a life cycle of laying 5 eggs up to 5 times. You will see all this happen in less than 2-3 weeks. Again you will see a white dust on the fur of the rabbit to indicate infestation.

If you suspect your rabbit has any of these mites, get him to a vet for treatment.

2. Ear Infection

Sometimes, even rabbits can get ear infections. This might be serious or not so serious. It could be due to either:

  1. Ear mites
  2. Build-up of wax in the inner ear

It's up to you as the pet owner to notice if your rabbit is behaving stranger than normal. They might be doing a lot of head movements that you think isn't normal for them, and if so, then you need to get it checked out. Don't leave it to the last minute. Either way, if it is one of these conditions, they are going to need get eardrops.

Some signs that you would need to look out for in your rabbit that might indicate a problem could be things like:

  • Scratching their head
  • Shaking their head

These are all signs you are being given that something is wrong.

3. Kidney Infection

Just like humans, rabbits can get kidney disease and bladder stones. If your rabbit’s normal bathroom habits have changed, this could be an indicator of an infection.

For example, if your rabbit leaves no dropping in his litter tray, take note. It might be a simple case of needing more fibre ie, hay. But is could also be more a sign of something more serious.

If they are not urinating, again you will notice that the litter tray will have no wet patches. For some reason rabbits will always pee in the same spot of their litter tray. Normal urine could look clear, yellow, brown, or bright red. But if your rabbit stops eating and you are worried bring him to the vet. Worst case scenario there could be blood in the urine.

Your vet will take an X-ray and this should determine if there is something wrong in your rabbit's kidneys. Also they will 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 no teeth are out of line in the jaw. The reason for this is that a rabbit’s teeth grow 4 to 5 inches each year.

It is important that you give them wood stick (available in pet stores) to chew on. This helps wear down their teeth and 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 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

This is what your rabbit's jaw looks like in an X-ray.
This is what your rabbit's jaw looks like in an X-ray.

5. Hairballs

Just like cats, rabbits can get hairballs. If severe, the rabbit can die because unlike cats, they cannot vomit the balls up.

Since most rabbits molt (shed their coat) up to six 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. Make sure you brush your rabbit's coat to remove loose hair because when grooming themselves they might be likely to ingest it.

To avoid hairballs, make sure your rabbit has a supply of hay—alfalfa or Timothy. This will keep their digestive tract clear.

6. Digestive Problems

If you feed your rabbit the correct food, it is very unlikely they will have any digestive problems. Giving them a fresh supply of hay each day should keep them in good working order.

If a rabbit does get diarrhea, 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 dropping are small, brown balls, or they could be soft and lumpy. It’s when they are smelly or runny that you should be concerned. Also, if your rabbit stops eating, this is another sign that all is not okay.

7. Heatstroke

During the summer months you usually have your rabbit out in your garden in his/her pen. You need to be aware to also have a shaded area for your rabbit to go when it gets too hot.

Signs of Rabbit Heatstroke

  • Panting
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Convulsing
  • Red ears
  • Salivating

How to Avoid Heatstroke

  1. Place ice in water bowl nearby.
  2. Place a bottle of ice-cold water in their pen/cage so they can lie against it to cool down.
  3. Keep them out of direct sun/heat and place in a cool shaded area.
  4. Mist their ears with a spray bottle containing water because heat leaves the rabbit through their ears.
  5. Place a damp towel over the pen/cage.

If you suspect your rabbit is suffering from heatstroke, 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
  • Obesity
  • 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.

9. Obesity

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.

12. Paralysis

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.

13. Fleas

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.

14. Lice

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.

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

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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??

    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.

  • How can I tell if my bunny's back leg hurts?

    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.

  • My bunny gave birth and she had four babies but one of the babies is sick. What can I do?

    It would be wise to see a veterinarian.

© 2011 Sp Greaney


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