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Rabbit Health

Last Updated: 12/3/05

General Information
Parasites
Wool Block
Dental Care
Cancer
Diarrhea
Bacterial Enteritis
E. cuniculi
Papilloma
Rabbit Health Links

Pasteurella - pasteurella manifestations, testing, treatment, prevention, links, and Baytril (including a section on how to get rabbits to take pills) (now on its own page)


General Information

Pasteurella, diarrhea, cancer, wool block, and parasites are the most common problems. All are very serious and should be seen by a good rabbit vet. All are treatable but only some are curable. Prevention is best. This is done by the first vet visit to treat parasites, a good diet including hay (see here) and papaya (see here) or similar enzymes (for diarrhea and wool block prevention), and spaying/neutering (for cancer prevention, see here). Rabbits are very fragile when it comes to their digestion.


Parasites

Be sure to have new rabbits checked at the vet for parasites including fleas, mites (body and ear mites), and worms. All can easily be treated with medications from the vet. Do NOT use treatments meant for cats and/or dogs without approval of a veterinarian.

Often, flies are attracted to rabbits due to their feces, especially if the rabbit has diarrhea. Flies will lay their eggs in the feces, even if they are on the rabbit. The resulting maggots can infest the rabbit. Be sure to keep rabbits' cages and bodies free of feces, especially for outdoor rabbits.

Rabbits can get a fur mite that only rabbits have. Jimmy had a species not often seen. Treatment is a series of ivermectin injections. See under Jimmy for more information.


Wool Block

Wool block is common in rabbits that consume a lot of their hair. Angoras and other longhaired rabbits often develop wool block. Prevention is the key. All rabbits should receive good hay and papaya tablets (or one of the alternatives). See under hay for information on hay and under papaya tablets for information on papaya and its alternatives.


Dental Care

Rabbits teeth grow continually. If they are not aligned, they will grow through the mouth and kill the rabbit because it will not be able to eat. Malaligned teeth or maloccluded teeth should be checked for before you buy your rabbit. Also, have the vet check for maloccluded teeth at the first visit. For a maloccluded rabbit to survive, its teeth must be filed down regularly.

Because their teeth grow all the time, rabbits need things to gnaw on. One can buy blocks of wood specifically made for rabbits with various colors and shapes. None of my rabbits ever liked these. Virgin wood, free of any chemicals at all, can be given instead. Avoid certain species of trees such as cedar. Pine, maple, and aspen should be safe. I give my rabbits branches of sassafras (sassafras albidum) with leaves to chew on. Apple tree branches are recommended. Pear, willow, and some other trees are safe as well. Avoid oak. Just be sure that they have not been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals that could harm the rabbits. Rabbits can also wear their teeth down on root crops like carrots.


Cancer

Cancer is always devastating but often little can be done except preventing some cancers (ovarian, uterine, testicular) by spaying/neutering. Tumors can be surgically removed in the case of breast cancer. My rabbit, Ricky, had breast cancer. See Ricky for more information. Spaying young would have reduced (but not negated) her chances of getting this prevalent cancer.


Diarrhea

Sometimes night feces are mistaken for diarrhea (read this section first). If the rabbit has true diarrhea then there are a number of causes.

The rabbit could have an overproduction of bad bacteria in its digestive tract. One example would be bacterial enteritis (see the next section). Antibiotics are needed to get the bacteria under control. Often, these bacteria are normally present but have been overproduced for some reason. Stress (from moving, pregnancy, sexual deprivation if un-neutered, too much sex, noise or air pollution, other animals pestering or threatening the rabbit, bad diet, or any number of other problems) can induce an overproduction of bacteria in the digestive tract.

Another cause of diarrhea can be an underproduction of good bacteria and/or enzymes in the digestive tract. Acidophilus (from yogurt or acidophilus pills at the health food store), papain (from fresh papaya or papaya tablets at the health food store), and hay can help increase these good enzymes and bacteria. My rabbit, Loppy, developed diarrhea partly due to his refusal to eat good timothy hay.

A final possible cause of diarrhea is too much fresh fruits and vegetables and not enough roughage from grains. To counter this, reduce or remove fresh plants from the menu and feed mostly rabbit pellets, timothy hay, and toasted whole wheat or seven-grain bread as a treat. If the rabbit does not improve, then suspect the other problems as well.

Until the diarrhea is under control, rabbits with this problem should have their rears cleaned well. I bathed Loppy as needed and later Jimmy and Sweetie but a full bath may not be needed. Often, insects will harass rabbits with diarrhea on or near them, trying to lay their eggs. Then, you have the additional problems of parasites (often maggots) and possibly infection (Loppy may have gotten pasteurella after an insect or spider bite).


Bacterial Enteritis

As diarrhea is the main symptom of bacterial enteritis, see the section above on diarrhea.

My rabbit Jimmy developed bacterial enteritis in February of 1999. I thought he was having a bout of pasteurella. He was fine on a Sunday when he went for a hop in the pen with Izzy. He had been eating well. Then, Monday, he was hiding in the corner of his hutch and acted scared to death. He would not eat, drink, or use his litter pan. By Tuesday, there was no change so I had my mother bring him to the vet since I cannot take time off from work. I had also noted some blood on his foot which turned out to be a callus. Jimmy was tested and found not to have active pasteurella or other bacterial problems. He had bacterial enteritis which is the over production of E. coli and clostridium bad bacteria in his digestive tract. The vet says the causes are insufficient dietary roughage and/or stress-induced overgrowth of bacteria. He was put on a sulfa drug in liquid form for a week and returned to normal. Because he had stopped eating hay a few weeks earlier, that was most likely the cause. A different brand of timothy hay was eaten heartily. The old hay must have been bad or bad tasting to him. Later, he would refuse all hay except a few bites a week so I made his magic food (see below) to provide hay. Too much sugar from too much fruit or human foods will also worsen bacterial enteritis. Do not feed human "junk food" to your rabbit.

Jimmy again got enteritis on 5/30/00. He went on Bactrim sulfatrim (a sulfa drug antibiotic) and liquid acidophilus for two weeks. For more information on his case, go to my section on Jimmy.


E. cuniculi

I do not know much about this brain parasite as of yet but I believe it is what my rabbit Isabella has. Go to her page to read about her condition. The following is excerpted from Izzy's page.

"It is possible that Izzy has Encephalitozoon cuniculi which is a protozoan parasite that among other things can give symptoms of loss of use of the front and/or back legs, head tilt, eyes moving back and forth, and lack of coordination. For more, see Rabbitrescue.com under the health section. So, I asked the vet, and he said he doubted she had that but treating her would not be a problem. He thinks anything is worth a shot. She will be going on Panacur which is fenbendazole to kill any internal parasites that she might have. My mother also found a site about a rabbit named Bijou who has similar leg use problems and was even on the same three types of medications as Izzy has tried. Here is the link: "Bijou:" Caring for a Disabled Rabbit. She also has links to other sites on disabled rabbits and a link to a Yahoo Group about Disabled Rabbits which I joined. Izzy's dose of Panacur was 0.5 mL once a day for 28 days from a container that a vet tech said read 100 mg/1 mL (10%)."

Izzy did not regain any mobility following treatment.


Papilloma

Izzy also developed what is probably papilloma virus. It looks like red small cauliflower growths around the rectum. Here is the link to a pdf all about papilloma in rabbits including photos.

Papilloma

I took a photo of Izzy's papilloma on 12/3/05.


Rabbit Health Links

MediRabbit - Rabbit Health information including photos of various problems.

Drug Dosage Calculator for Rabbits

For links on pasteurella, see the pasteurella page.


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