Keeping your rabbits in tip-top condition isn’t difficult, but it’s important to recognise problems early. If you check your rabbits carefully you will soon become familiar with their eating habits, behaviour, and general body condition.
Rabbits are prey animals who conceal signs of illness. This means that when they do finally show the signs, then they’re in a very bad way.
If a rabbit is quieter than normal; sitting in a crouched position, hopping with difficulty or grinding their teeth, then they may be ill or in pain. They need to be checked over by a vet immediately.
Rabbits will only stay healthy if they have the correct diet. Follow the rabbit diet guidelines and don’t let your rabbits get fat.
Your rabbits must be vaccinated against two killer diseases: myxomatosis and RVHD.
When you go to the vet for the vaccinations your vet should check them thoroughly (including their teeth and weight) and it’s a great opportunity to ask questions about their general health and care.
Rabbit medicine is quite specialised and although vets have become much more rabbit-savvy in recent years, you should check carefully before choosing one.
Rabbit droppings should be fairly large, but may be dark if they have a lot of rich grass in their diet. If they are dark and small then you need to take action. If they change suddenly for any reason, this is a cause for concern.
You may also notice “caecotrophs” occasionally – soft, dark shiny droppings usually eaten directly from the anus.
If you see caecotrophs often, then the first thing to do is to make sure the diet is correct. If the over-production of caecotrophs continues after you have optimised your rabbit’s diet, then seek veterinary advice.
Rabbit urine can be colourful! Anything from white to yellow or even red is normal, particularly if the rabbits have been eating foods such as beetroot!
Signs of trouble include the bunny straining to pass urine, or blood in the urine (where a red patch is visible in a lighter coloured pool of urine).
Never change your rabbit’s diet suddenly – switch foods over a period of at least 1-2 weeks.
Well, legs and feet really. Toenails need to be kept in trim. If they overgrow, then the angle of rabbits’ feet on the ground may be altered, which can sometimes lead to sore hocks and strain on joints.
Things to look out for
Eyes – clean and bright
Runny eyes are commonly due to a scratch or dust, but may be something more serious and must be seen by a vet. Bathing the eye may help temporarily, but probably won’t cure the problem.
Ears – clean and dry
Rabbits have big ears, but they’re usually trouble-free. See the vet if your rabbit is shaking his head frequently, scratching his ears, or has lots of ear wax.
Skin and fur – clean, even and shiny
Rabbits moult several times a year – don’t panic if fur starts dropping out in handfuls!
It’s important to brush moulting rabbits every day. And it’s worth knowing that rabbit skin, which is usually a very pale colour, often looks coloured underneath moulting fur.
Long-haired rabbits need regular grooming throughout their lives. “Dandruff” is usually caused by mites. Treatment usually involves a series of injections.
Don’t use flea sprays without asking the vet – some products are dangerous to rabbits. Areas of bare, red or sore skin should be seen by the vet.
Tail and bottom – clean and dry
Check your rabbit’s bottom daily and keep it clean. Flies can lay eggs on soiled fur and hatch into maggots which eat into the flesh. This is “flystrike”.
If you find fly eggs or maggots on your rabbit, call the vet immediately. Rabbits have scent glands – clefts at either side of the genital region. If they fill with smelly wax you can clean them gently with a damp cotton bud.
Feet – nails trimmed and no matted fur
Nails need to be trimmed every few months. You can do this at home, but ask the vet to teach you. Rabbits use their front paws as a handkerchief so look out for wet, matted fur – your rabbit may have a running nose or eye.
Hocks (heels) – free from sores
A small bare pink patch, beneath a flap of folded-over fur, is normal, especially in large rabbits. Sore hocks (red, broken or infected skin) must be treated by a vet. Never trim the fur on the soles of the hind feet as this cushions their weight and protects the feet.
Nose – clean and dry
Rabbits don’t get colds, so if yours sneezes frequently, or has a runny nose, take him to a vet.
Teeth – well lined up
Rabbits can suffer from dental problems, often due to a lack of hay in their diet. Rabbit teeth never stop growing and if the top and bottom teeth don’t line up correctly, they’ll grow too long and the rabbit won’t be able to eat properly.
Front teeth are easy to see – just fold back the top lip. You can’t check the back teeth at home, but if they are causing problems your rabbit might dribble; lose weight; change his favourite foods; or stop eating altogether.
Rabbits with dental problems may not like having their heads touched, and sometimes have bumps along the lower jaw, runny eye(s), or a nasal discharge.
If you think your rabbit has a tooth problem, take him to the vet. He’ll probably need to be sedated or anaesthetised for a careful examination.
Clipping teeth at home is not advised – it is painful and carries a risk of shattering the tooth root, which can lead to very serious problems.
We strongly recommend that all male pet rabbits are castrated and females spayed – this is vital for their physical and behavioural well-being in captivity.