We all love our bunnies and as pet parents, we want only the best for our little furry friends. As a whole, rabbits tend to be quite resilient and healthy pets. However, when they do become ill, it can be a scary and dangerous time for both owner and bunny! We have compiled a list of six of the most common illnesses seen in rabbits in the U.S and how to prevent them affecting your little fur baby.
1. GI Stasis
This is a condition that causes a rabbit's GI tract to slow down or stop. This is usually due to a build up of fur (hairballs) along with an inadequate amount of fiber and water. This is a very concerning and deadly problem as most rabbits do not show signs of illness until well into the progression of the condition.
If you notice that your bunny is not having regular stools, acting overly sleepy, or not eating normally you should have them evaluated by a rabbit veterinarian immediately! Your vet will most likely treat your bunny with fluids and electrolyte supplements along with slowly re-introducing appropriate solid foods.
Prevention is key in GI Stasis! Your bunny should have unlimited access to fresh Timothy hay or Orchard grass as well as a constant supply of fresh water. Some experts believe that providing a water bowl rather than a dripper bottle encourages increased fluid intake.
Some other things to consider are proper grooming and exercise. Long fur can build up in your bunny's GI tract causing blockages. Unlike cats, your bunny cannot expel these "hair balls" but with regular grooming to remove loose fur, you can help prevent this. If you are unsure as to how to properly groom your bunny, we offer grooming packages in our shop. You can also contact us for advice on grooming.
Also, when bunnies get bored they may begin "fur chewing" where they quite literally pull their fur. This habit is best prevented by providing regular exercise and mental stimulation. Proper exercise also encourages GI motility.
Yet another method of prevention is to ensure that your rabbit's teeth are properly maintained. While we discuss malocclusion later in this article, it is important to note that if your bunny's teeth are not properly worn down, they can lose the ability to eat properly and they can end up in severe pain both of which are common causes of GI Stasis.
2. Pasteurellosis (Pasteurella)
Pasteurella is a bacterial infection that can affect your bunny's eyes, ears, nose, bone, or skin. However, it is most commonly manifested as Snuffles, a mild upper respiratory infection with symptoms similar to that of a human cold. If you begin to notice any watery discharge from your bunny's eyes or nose, excessive sneezing, or any change in his/her appetite they should be seen by a rabbit veterinarian. Pasteurella is most commonly treated with a course of antibiotics.
Prevention of a pasteurella infection can be a little more tricky as all rabbits naturally have the bacteria that causes the infection in their system. The rabbit usually only becomes ill if their immune system has already become compromised.
One of the simplest ways to prevent this illness is to ensure a clean environment for your bunny. This includes cleaning his/her pen regularly with antibacterial cleansers and ensuring the removal of wet, dirty hay, food, and toys daily. Your bunny should have unlimited access to fresh Timothy hay and water. Regular offerings of bunny appropriate fruit and vegetables will also go a long way in keeping your bunny's immune system in top shape!
3. Dental Malocclusion
A rabbit's teeth are constantly growing. Therefore, without proper care your bunny can develop painful overgrowth causing ulcers, malnutrition, stasis, and severe pain. Treatment can involve painful and sometimes risky oral surgery to file down your bunny's overgrown teeth and repair any damage caused by the overgrowth.
The condition, known as malocclusion is one of the easiest to prevent. Your bunny requires constant access to fresh Timothy hay as well as multiple options for safe chew toys. You can provide your bunny with fresh apple or pine twigs as well as commercially available chew blocks. We also offer a variety of handmade, natural chew toys in our shop. Your bunny should also be evaluated by a rabbit veterinarian at least once a year to ensure proper dental health.
4. Ear Mites & Fleas
If your bunny ever goes outdoors or comes in contact with dogs and cats, they may become infected with ear mites or fleas. Signs of ear mites can include excessive itching along with noticeable flakes or "dandruff" in your bunny's ears. Signs of fleas are similar to that of a flea infestation in cats or dogs, excessive itching and visible fleas or "flea dirt" on your rabbit's skin. If you notice either of these nasty little parasites on your bunny, you should contact your rabbit veterinarian. If left untreated, ear mites can lead to inner ear damage or a condition called Torticollis. You will also need to treat your home with flea or mite preventative measures such as carpet powders, dog & cat flea medications, and washing of all linens and clothing in the home.
Be sure to check your bunny over thoroughly after any outdoor play and talk to your rabbit vet if you suspect that any other household animals may be infected. We do not recommend over the counter flea & tick treatments as the ingredients in some of the common brands are deadly to rabbits. Please check with your vet for an appropriate flea & mite treatment medication.
5. Heat Exhaustion
Rabbits are very sensitive to extremes in temperature. This is one of the main reasons we recommend housing your bunny indoors in a temperature controlled environment. If your bunny becomes too warm, they can suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. We cover this condition in depth in our Beat the Heat: Helping Your Bunny Stay Cool all Summer Long post. The important thing to remember is that if you recognize any signs of overheating in your bunny, begin cooling measures such as utilizing fans and cooling blankets and seek advice from your rabbit veterinarian. Be sure to always provide unlimited fresh, cool water and shade for your bunny, especially in hot weather.
6. Viral Hemmorrhagic Disease
We recently posted on this devastating disease as well (see Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease: Is my Bunny at Risk?) However, with the recent outbreaks in the continental U.S, it has made our list of more common rabbit illnesses.
This disease, also known as RHV or RCV, is fast progressing and deadly. Usually, there are no symptoms, however if your rabbit does show signs of this disease, they can exhibit decreased to no appetite, fever, lethargy, and collapse, seizure and coma, difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, or bloody nasal discharge. This disease is highly contagious as it is spread through the air as well as through direct contact with other infected rabbits. Even if a rabbit has been successfully treated for the disease, they still remain a carrier and can transmit the disease to other rabbits for up to four weeks.
The most adequate prevention is avoidance. If you plan on bringing your rabbit into public, do your research. Make sure you know of any recent outbreaks in your area. Also, while it may be tempting to allow others to handle your bunny, it is best to keep your distance. You never know what bacteria people may be carrying on their hands and clothing. We recommend limiting the more social visits to your bunny's home environment. Your fur baby will be more comfortable and you can ensure that others wash their hands before interacting with him/her.
While this is in no means a fully comprehensive list of all the illnesses your bunny may encounter, we have hopefully made you more aware of some of the more common conditions. We encourage you to remember, that as with all illness, prevention is the key to a healthy and happy bunny! We recommend a minimum of once yearly visits to a veterinarian who specializes in rabbit care. If you would like assistance in finding a rabbit vet in your area please contact us.