Rabbits don’t come with a user manual, and just like bringing a human baby home, learning about your rabbit is a day-to-day process. Here’s a list of health concerns to keep your eye on.
Red Urine: Urine varies in color from clear to yellow to brown and bright red. Usually not causes for alarm UNLESS there are additional signs such as sitting and straining to urinate or a loss of appetite. When you see red urine, don’t panic; just keep your eyes open for other signs that may indicate a problem. Red urine may be gone in a day or two but can last for a much longer time. Actual blood in the urine would look like urine with red specks. If you’re in doubt, don’t risk your bunny’s health – have your veterinarian test for blood in the urine.
Hairballs: Rabbits shed every three months, alternating from heavy to light sheds. Rabbits are very clean and are constantly grooming themselves ingesting a great deal of fur. Over time, this fur builds up and blocks their digestive tract causing the rabbit to starve to death while its stomach appears fat. This is known as GI Stasis, Gastro-Intestinal Stasis. Unlike cats, rabbits cannot spit out hairballs, this blockage can lead up to death if not treated quickly. The first sign of blockage is loss of appetite, their droppings will decrease in size and will often be strung together with fur and they become bloated. Other signs of a blockage are reduced appetite, reduced fecal production, and pain. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect a hairball problem.
Grooming your rabbit is essential to preventing blockage, removing as much fur as possible prevents them from ingesting it. Feeding them a diet mostly based on timothy hay also helps prevents GI Stasis. Allow them plenty of exercise room, and occasionally offer fresh or frozen pineapple, not canned. Don’t use any petroleum-based laxatives such as Laxatone, these products can make the problem worse.
Spay/ Neuter: Studies indicate that up to 80% of unspayed female rabbits suffer from uterine and or ovarian cancer between two and five years of age, and a very high rate of males will get testicular cancer. Spaying and neutering your rabbits will help give them the potential life span of eight to twelve+ years of age. When a rabbit reaches sexual maturity, they often display such undesirable behavior as urine spraying, chewing, and fighting with other rabbits. Spaying/neutering will greatly reduce and in many cases, eliminate these behaviors.
It is EXTREMELY important to verify that your veterinarian is knowledgeable and experienced with these procedures. Rabbit neuters or spays can be dangerous or even life-threatening if improper anesthetic or surgical techniques are used. If the rabbit is older, tests may need to be done to assess liver and kidney function prior to surgery. The House Rabbit Society has a worldwide list of experienced rabbit veterinarians. Please ask as many questions before you take your bunny in for surgery, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. And always request postoperative pain relief; it is humane and will help your bunny recuperate faster.
Teeth: Rabbit teeth are constantly growing, that’s why rabbits are constantly chewing, this helps file down their teeth. Some rabbits suffer from misaligned or “malocculuded” teeth which means that their teeth do not wear down properly and grow too long. A rabbit with this condition needs to have their teeth clipped periodically so that they can properly eat. Your veterinarian can do this for you. Very rarely, a bunny will need to have his/her front teeth removed due to extreme malocclusion. These rabbits do just fine as long as you cut their food into small pieces. The misalignment of the front teeth can be easily seen, but the back teeth need to be checked by your veterinarian on an annual basis, sometimes sooner. One indication that the back teeth are overgrown is a wet chin that is caused by drooling. Teeth should be checked at each grooming session. Feel around their jawline and check for misalignments. Talk to your vet for more information.
Cedar & Pine Shavings: Contrary to popular belief, these are VERY BAD for rabbits and other animals. “Aromatic hydrocarbons from cedar and pine bedding materials can induce biosynthesis and hepatic microsomal enzymes which are known to cause liver disease” (US Dept. of Health and Human Services guide). Recommended litters are Carefresh and Yesterday’s News. DO NOT USE CORNCOB FOR RABBITS, if they eat it, it can get lodged in their stomach and create a serious blockage. And NEVER use scoopable/clumpable cat litter – if ingested can be fatal.
Parasites: Rabbits can get the common dog or cat flea, but be very careful about the products used to treat your home, yard, and the products you use on your rabbit. If the yard is treated, do not allow your rabbit on it for at least a week and then water the yard thoroughly to wash off any residual chemicals. If your rabbit must be treated for fleas, only use products recommended by your veterinarian. Listed below are common parasites:
Skin Mites live on the skin dander and will cause your rabbit to scratch. If left untreated, they will eventually cause thick crusts to develop on the rabbit’s body. Your veterinarian can administer a drug to treat this problem.
Ear Mites cause rabbits to shake their heads frequently and scratch their ears. If left untreated, a middle ear infection could develop which may cause a problem with their balance.
Internal Parasites called coccidia can infect the small intestines. Symptoms can range from a loss of appetite to chronic diarrhea and occasionally death. Testing for coccidia is as easy as taking a fecal sample to your veterinarian during the rabbit’s annual check-up.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease that can be transmitted to humans and is especially dangerous to pregnant women. Many pregnant women and their doctors incorrectly believe that rabbit feces carry this disease. Rabbits cannot carry or reproduce the oocysts (eggs) that are harmful. Many rabbits are abandoned because of an unfounded fear of toxoplasmosis. If your rabbit is free of any of these parasites, it is unlikely that they will get them as long as they are kept inside, their home is clean and they are not exposed to other animals that may carry these parasites.
Amoxicillin Danger: NEVER let a veterinarian give your rabbit amoxicillin (an antibiotic that is pink in color and smells like bubble gum). Amoxicillin and other forms of penicillin kill the “good” bacteria in the rabbit’s intestines and can cause other organs to malfunction. There are several antibiotics that can safely be given to rabbits such as Chloromycetin, Tetracycline, and Baytril. Occasionally a rabbit cannot tolerate an antibiotic (sings are a loss of appetite, diarrhea, and other) another antibiotic may have to be administered. If your veterinarian says that just this once amoxicillin will be okay or that they have no other antibiotic to dispense – FIND ANOTHER VET.
Surgeries: Food and water should NOT be removed from a rabbit the evening before surgery. If the office staff directs you to withhold food, discuss the request with your vet. Rabbits cannot throw up and possible vomiting is the reason that food is removed from cats and dogs. Withholding food is harmful to rabbits and causes a longer recovery time if food and or water are denied. Rabbits should also be tempted to eat as soon as they awake from surgery to assist with the recovery process. After surgery, offer lots of things you would normally consider treats in order to help them begin eating again.
Emergencies: Conditions that require emergency cases within 24 hours include diarrhea with listlessness, loss of appetite with bloat and or abdominal gurgling, loss of appetite with labored breathing, runny nose or eyes, head tilt, loss of coordination/paralysis, incontinence (urine-soaked rear legs), abscesses and or swelling. Any sudden behavior changes a thick nose or eye discharge and finally, any sign of severe pain (loud teeth grinding, hunched posture, shallow and rapid breathing, excess grooming, reduced activity or facing the corner with head down).