The following is a list of the most common ailments and diseases that can affect your rabbit. It’s very important to talk to your veterinarian about how to prevent disease and keep your rabbit healthy and happy.
Rabbits are susceptible to bacterial and viral respiratory infections. Although they may begin as a low-grade infection, they can escalate rapidly – what begins as a sneeze can progress to a major respiratory problem (including an often-fatal pneumonia and possibly cause other health issues). Often these infections are caused by poor living conditions – dusty hay, poor hygiene, overcrowding, poor diet, etc.
If the infection is in the nose, it is called an upper respiratory infection, often referred to as ‘snuffles.’ It is most commonly caused by one of two bacteria – Pasteurella or Bordetella and causes runny eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing.
A rabbit with pneumonia will often struggle to breathe. Their chest will be heaving, their rate of breathing will be increased, and they often have a discharge from the nose. They will probably stop eating, and their faeces (if they produce any) will be dry and hard.
If you think your rabbit has a respiratory infection, isolate the affected rabbit immediately from your other rabbits to stop the infection spreading. Seek veterinary care, as antibiotics and supportive care may be needed. This may require a few days in hospital until your rabbit is stronger and eating by on their own.
Skin problems can be caused by fleas and other skin parasites, as well as conditions such as ringworm, urine scald, and faecal contamination of long fur. These problems are usually associated with inadequate cleaning of the hutch and removal of soiled bedding. Veterinary care may be needed to clip and clean the skin, diagnose the problem, and provide a safe and effective treatment.
Abscesses, painful swellings in the skin that are full of pus, occur more commonly in entire male rabbits that fight with their companion rabbits. The swelling can reach golf-ball size before bursting. Veterinary assistance is required, as pus in rabbits is often very thick and does not drain readily.
Dental problems in rabbits are very common, and are often the result of abnormal anatomy, poor diet (‘muesli mixes’), and lack of sunlight. This can cause your rabbit intense pain and discomfort and severe weight loss. For more information see our article on dental problems in rabbits.
Sore hocks (pressure sores)
Sore hocks, also called pododermatitis, is a condition where rabbits exhibit changes in gait, loss of appetite, pink sores on the skin, and bleeding of the feet. Sore hocks are often seen on the hindfoot and front paws. It is important to line your rabbit hutch with appropriate floor and bedding material (grass hay, straw or shedding paper) to provide some cushioning for your rabbit’s feet to prevent pressure sores developing. See our article on how to house your rabbits for more information.
This is a condition where flies lay maggots on rabbits and the maggots burrow into the rabbit. Flystrike is usually fatal. This is painful for the rabbit, and if the maggots are not spotted quickly the rabbit can quickly go into shock and die. It is very important to protect rabbits from flies and maggots by making sure the rabbit house is both fly and mosquito-proof (use mosquito netting over flyscreen wire, ensure adequate ventilation). Check your rabbit’s fur, especially around the anus, to make sure there are no pellets stuck in the fur. This could attract flies. If the fur is soiled, tease out the pellets or carefully use scissors to cut the fur away.
This disease is transmitted from rabbit to rabbit via mosquitoes. Symptoms can include dry sore eyes and nose, swollen earflaps and genitalia, and failure to eat or drink. The disease is usually fatal, and no vaccination is available. Protect rabbits by making sure the rabbit house is mosquito-proof (use mosquito netting, ensure adequate ventilation). For more information, see these articles about myxomatosis:
- What is myxomatosis and how do I protect my rabbit from it?
- Why can’t I vaccinate my rabbit against Myxomatosis?
This is a virus which is spread directly from infected rabbits or indirectly by contact with contaminated areas or by insects, including flies and will cause a rapid death. A yearly vaccination will protect your rabbit from this disease. However, more, and earlier vaccinations may be required to help safeguard against a new, deadlier strain (RHDV2). Protect rabbits by bringing them inside the home, making sure the rabbit house is insect-proof (use mosquito netting, ensure adequate ventilation) and the yard is rabbit-proof. For more information on calicivirus, see this article.