For information about rabbit care, please see our 'Rabbit
Below is some information that we'd like to share with you about the commonest problems we see in rabbits, and how you can help prevent them.
Dental problems are a very common reason for rabbits coming in to see us. The most common cause is poor diet. Rabbits have 2 types of teeth, incisors at the front and molars at the back of the mouth. Either can become overgrown:
If the incisors are overgrown, we can burr them while your rabbit is awake. If this needs to be done regularly, it may be better for your rabbit to have these teeth removed.
Molar overgrowth is very painful: sharp spurs develop creating ulcers on the cheek and tongue. Signs include a wet chin and decreased food intake. Correction requires an anaesthetic to safely remove the spurs.
Another sign of dental problems can be runny eyes. This is because the tooth roots pass close to the tear ducts. If the roots get too long, they block the tear ducts
Your rabbit should be brought in to see us immediately if they develop these signs. Dental disease is very painful and stops rabbits eating, which is rapidly fatal.
How to prevent dental disease:
Many rabbit dental problems are caused by a poor diet - typically owners feeding muesli type dried foods, and not enough hay. Rabbits given muesli often pick out their favourite bits, and leave the rest - hence they don't have enough calcium in their diet. This leads to bone weakness around the teeth, the teeth move slightly in position and don't wear down properly when the rabbit eats.
Remember that muesli foods (like the one on the left in the picture below) should NEVER be given to rabbits, instead give them pelleted food (like the one on the right):
At least 80% of the diet must be hay. Only feed a small egg cup full of dried food to your rabbit every day.
A problem unique to rabbits, where stress or pain causes them to stop eating and the gut to stop its normal movements. It is dangerous and painful and can prove fatal. If your rabbit doesn't eat or poo for over 8 hours, this is an emergency. The rabbit should be seen by us ASAP.
Again, feeding a pelleted food and lots of hay can help prevent this condition.
An extremely nasty disease in which flies lay eggs on a rabbit, usually on the rabbit's rear end. These hatch into maggots which start to eat the rabbit's flesh. This is extremely painful and distressing, you need to bring your rabbit in immediately if you find maggots on it.
Flies are attracted to a messy bottom or a dirty hutch. So prevention of fly strike involves (1) ensuring the hutch is regularly cleaned, with lots of clean bedding used, and (2) feed as described above, so the rabbit's poo doesn't stick to its body.
The rabbit below is a classic example of one that has been poorly looked after. It has a very matted bottom, motions have stuck to its bottom. Its hind feet are soaked in urine, probably due to inadequate bedding. This rabbit is at high risk of fly strike.
E culiculi (Encephalitozoon cuniculi) is a parasite which is a relatively common but often unheard of disease in rabbits. One study showed that 52% of pet rabbits have been infected, but only 6% ever show signs of the disease.
If a rabbit has E cuniculi, it can pass the infection on to other rabbits via spores in its urine, which are ingested by another rabbit. once the parasite has entered the rabbit's body, it is carried in the blood to organs such as the eyes, kidney and central nervous system. This leads to cell rupture in these organs, causing a variety of clinical signs including nerve problems (eg a head tilt, wobbly/unsteady on their legs), eye problems such as cataracts, and kidney problems.
Treatment is aimed at reducing inflammation and killing the parasite. Therefore, we prescribe anti-inflammatories, and anti-parasite medication which must be given for 28 days. It is recommended that any in-contact rabbits are also treated for the parasite as there is a good chance they will also be infected. E cuniculi can survive in the hutch for one month, but is killed off by regular disinfectants, so it is important to clean the hutch thoroughly.
Rabbits can survive infection with E cuniculi but sometimes have a permanent head tilt.
Lumps, especially around the head area, are often found to be abscesses. These are usually due to a tooth root infection and again, poor diet is often to blame. Abscesses in rabbits are very hard to treat compared to other animals, often requiring surgery and antibiotic injections.
Dandruff along the centre of a rabbit's back is commonly caused by a mite called Cheyletiella. Mild infections can be treated with topical treatment (a drop on the back of the neck of a product which kills these mites), but often injections are required to clear the infestation. Any in-contact rabbits should also be treated. These mites can bite humans, so it is important to treat them as soon as possible.