Problems in Rabbits
Rabbits can suffer from a range of
diseases and other maladies. The following list,
while not exhaustive, might help you identify health
problems that your rabbits might be having. Those
of us at Rabbit Web are not vets, and we strongly
recommend that you check with one for professional
diagnosis and treatment.
bump on the skin of a rabbit that's filled with pus.
An abscess is a symptom of infection, which can develop
in a cut or a scratch. In rabbits, an abscess is
a serious condition because of the thick, tenacious
nature of the pus, which can be very difficult to
remove. In some cases, a bump on a rabbit's skin
is a symptom of a bacterial infection such as Pasteurellosis or
a symptom of a parasitic infestation commonly called warbles.
stones: See urinary
bloat: See mucoid
urine: Urine that contains blood. The urine
can have "frank" blood - one or more streaks of
vivid red - or the urine might be pinkish or reddish
in color. Bloody urine can be a symptom of a bladder
stones, or cancer in
a rabbit, particularly uterine
cancer in does. Sometimes, a rabbit has a condition
known as red
urine, which is urine that is reddish or orangeish
in color, but doesn't actually contain blood.
blue breast: See mastitis.
b. procyonis: See roundworm.
calculi: See urinary
disease in which a proliferation of cells grow unchecked,
often forming tumors and spreading throughout the
body via invasion and metastasis. Cancer generally
leads to death if untreated. Symptoms of cancer can
vary from individual to individual, but can include
lethargy, loss of appetite, weight loss, among other
symptoms. Aside from uterine
cancer, cancer is not as common in rabbits as
it is in human beings or animals like dogs or cats.
cheyletiella: See fur
protozoan infection in a rabbit's gastrointestinal
tract. One of the primary symptoms of coccidiosis
is severe diarrhea (in rabbits, this often takes
the form of soft or jelled droppings), which can
lead to dehydration, weight loss, poor weight gain,
and/or liver damage. Coccidiosis is caused by coccidia,
protozoan parasites, and is usually spread from one
rabbit to another through a rabbit's excrement or
through soiled food or bedding. The coccidian organism
is thought by some to reside naturally in a rabbit's
digestive system without problem, but becomes more
prolific when the rabbit is under stress or in crowded
in humans, an illness of the upper respiratory system
or sinuses with symptoms such as sneezing and runny
nose. Sometimes, however, what appears to be a cold
in a rabbit is actually a serious disease called
snuffles or Pasteurellosis.
conjunctivitis: See runny
rabbits, diarrhea often takes the form of soft stool;
droppings that are undersized and frequently strung
together; or stool that is a jelled mass. Causes
of diarrhea include enteritis and coccidiosis.
ear canker: A
infestation of a rabbit's ear by ear
mites. Also called ear mange.
ear mite: A
tiny parasite that infects the interior of a rabbit's
ear. A rabbit with ear mites might shake its head
and scratch its ears frequently. The interior of
the ears often has a dark crust. If untreated, the
ear can become infected and turn red and sore, with
a discharge. Infestation by ear mites is often called
ear canker or ear mange.
e. cuniculi: Short
for encephalitozoon cuniculi (ecuniculi). A protozoal parasite that
can cause severe illness in rabbits. Symptoms of e. cuniculi can
include wry neck (tilting of the head to one side), darting eyes
(nystagmus), walking in circles, loss of balance, rolling on the
ground, incontinence, seizures, and paralysis of the hind quarters.
Often, e. cuniculi results in death. It is thought that e. cuniculi
is transmitted through spores in urine that are inhaled, ingested,
or passed from mother to offspring at birth. Often, e. cuniculi can
be present in a rabbit's body, without the rabbit displaying noticeable
symptoms. Also called nosema cuniculi.
enteritis: An inflammation
of the intestine, due to bacterial infection. Symptoms can include
constipation or diarrhea; lethargy; lack of appetite; and painful
or distended abdomen. Typically, rabbits become dehydrated, which
weakens them and slows down the motility of their digestive system.
It's thought that E. coli is a primary cause of enteritis. Mucoid
enteritis is a common form of enteritis that tends to strike
epiphora: See conjunctivitis.
fly strike: An
infestation of fly larvae, or maggots, in the skin of a rabbit.
Flies lay their eggs in open sores on a rabbit or on skin dampened
with feces or urine. The larvae burrow into the flesh, producing
toxins that can induce of state of shock in the rabbit. Symptoms
of fly strike include listlessness, itchy, irritated skin and,
in some cases, seizures. An infestation of bot fly larvae is
often called warbles.
fur mite: A tiny
parasite that lives on the skin of a rabbit. Infestation by fur
mites often causes flakey skin, a condition that's called mange.
A common species of fur mites is cheyletiella.
(GI) stasis: A slowdown or stoppage of movement in the
intestines of a rabbit. A rabbit's gut is generally very active,
and when movement stops, it causes blockages in the intestines
and the buildup of harmful bacteria in the rabbit's caecum,
which will likely lead to the rabbit's death if not treated.
Symptoms of GI stasis, or gastro stasis, include lack of appetite,
small droppings, and liquidy or jell-like caecotropes, or no
droppings. GI stasis can occur if a rabbit doesn't get enough
crude fiber (such as from timothy hay) or water or if the rabbit
stops eating altogether (often due to stress or pain).
hair balls: An
obstruction in the digestive system of a rabbit. Generally, hair
balls (also called wool block or trichobezoars) is a blockage
in a rabbit's gut that's caused by a buildup of fur or wool.
Hair balls are considered by some to be actually a result of GI
status, a slowdown or stoppage of movement in the gut of
head tilt: See wry
condition when a rabbit is overheated, usually due to hot weather.
A rabbit that suffers from heatstroke will often pant and has a wet
nose, due to sweating. When heatstroke is extreme, a rabbit's nose
can turn blue. If a rabbit isn't cooled down, it could die. Rabbits
generally fare better in cooler temperatures under 90 degrees. Longer-haired
rabbits, such as Angoras, as well as elderly rabbits and ones that
are very young, are most sensitive to the heat.
maggots: See fly
condition where a rabbit's teeth do not align and continue
growing. Often, a rabbit with malocclusion will have the "slobbers," matted
fur around his mouth or down the front of his chest, because
he cannot shut his mouth completely. Because a rabbit's teeth
are continually growing, if the teeth do not line up properly,
the rabbit will have trouble wearing them down as a healthy
rabbit does. If the teeth get long enough, the rabbit might be
to open its jaws or mouth wide enough to eat. In other circumstances,
the teeth can grow up into the nostrils, into the lips or
gums, or into the side of the mouth, and the condition can lead
infection and sores. Malocclusion can be caused by an injury
to the head, pushing the teeth out of alignment. Or it can
be the result of heredity. Malocclusion happens more frequently
to a rabbit's front teeth, but in some cases, the back, or
teeth have been affected.
mange: An infestation
mites, which can cause a rabbit's skin to become itchy, with
white particles like dandruff appearing in its fur. In some cases,
the rabbit will lose its fur in areas of heavy infestation. Also
called walking dandruff.
of the mammary gland in nursing does, due to a bacterial infection.
The mammary gland tends to swell and become hard and lumpy. In
some cases, the doe will develop abscesses on
the gland. If the infection progresses, the skin over the mammary
gland will often turn red or dark blue. Also called blue breast
or caked udder.
mites: See ear
mucoid enteritis: A
form of enteritis in
which the droppings are covered with a thick layer of mucus,
giving them a jelled appearance. Other symptoms can include listlessness;
rough fur; dull, swollen eyes; bloated, distended stomach; sloshy
sound in the rabbit's gut; caecal impaction; anorexia; weight
loss; teeth grinding; hunched position; dehydration; and intense
thirst. Often, mucoid enteritis leads to death. The disease tends
to strike younger rabbits, under 10 weeks old, although it can
affect older rabbits as well. Although it's not really understood
what the cause of the illness is, speculation has included bacterial
infection, change in diet, lack of fiber in the diet, and stress.
Also called bloat, scours.
myxomatosis: A disease
in rabbits characterized by lesions or swellings under the skin,
particularly on the head, genitals, or anus. Other symptoms can
include red, swollen eyelids, conjunctivitis, and red, tender
skin. Blindness is often a result of the disease, as is pneumonia.
Myxomatosis is caused by a pox virus that's often transmitted
by the bite of an insect, such as a flea, although some rabbits
can become infected by contact with a contaminated cage. In most
cases, rabbits die in one to two weeks after being infected.
In milder cases, the rabbit develops small lumps. Myxomatosis
is prevalent in Australia and parts of Europe, but is not in
the United States.
nematode: See roundworm.
nosema cuniculi: See e.
or rolling eyes. Often this is a symptom of a neurological disorder,
which could be the result of e.
or a tumor.
disease: See paralysis.
overgrown teeth: See malocclusion.
inability to move, ranging from an inability to move a selected
group to complete paralysis. Sometimes called "old rabbit disease" because
paralysis is more common among older rabbits, paralysis can
be the result of a number of conditions, including trauma
back, stroke, cancer,
parasite: A small creature
that feeds on a living host. Common parasites that plague rabbits
mites, pinworms, roundworms,
and warbles (the
larva of the Cuterebra fly, or botfly).
Pasteurella: See Pasteurellosis.
highly contagious illness among rabbits caused by a bacterial
infection that can rapidly lead to a rabbit's death. The symptoms
can include white or yellow discharge from the nose, runny eyes,
frequent sneezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Often
a rabbit with Pasteurellosis will have matted, crusty fur on
the front paws from attempting to wipe away the discharge from
the nose. Pasteurellosis usually starts as an infection in the
sinuses and can spread to the eyes or organs elsewhere in the
body, encourage pneumonia, cause abscesses particularly in head
and jaw, and infect the inner ear, causing the head to tilt.
Pasteurellosis is caused by the Pasteurella Multocid organism,
which is thought to reside naturally in most rabbits' sinuses
but can multiply under certain conditions--such as in stressful
situations or in older rabbits or very young ones--and cause
illness and death. Pasteurellosis can be difficult to treat.
Sometimes what appears as Pasteurellosis is actually a cold or
another bacterial infection, which is generally treatable. Also
called Pasteurella or snuffles.
pinworms: Small, wormlike
parasites that can infest a rabbit's large intestine and ceacum.
If a rabbit has pinworms, the thin white worms can sometimes
be seen in the rabbit's droppings or around the anus. Rabbits
with pinworms might lose weight or have trouble gaining it. The
condition is contagious among rabbits and can be transmitted
when a rabbit ingests the eggs from a pinworm.
pododermatitis: See sore
rabbit syphilis: A
venereal disease that produces blisters, lesions, and/or scabs
on the genitals and anus on a rabbit. Often, legions can spread
to mouth, lips, nose, eyelids, ears, and feet, spread when a
rabbit washes his or her hindquarters. The disease is contagious
and can be passed between mating animals and between a doe and
her offspring. Also called vent disease or spirochetosis.
RCD: See VHD.
red urine: Urine
that is orangeish-red in color. The color often leads rabbit
owners to think that the urine contains blood, but it doesn't:
red urine is generally cloudy and/or has an orange tinge, while
bloody urine is pinkish or red or has streaks of red. Often,
red urine is due to a rabbit's diet, such as too much beta- carotene
or calcium. For some rabbits, it's a temporary condition. For
others, it happens more regularly and could be due to heredity.
See also bloody
ringworm: A fungal
infection that can cause dry skin and sudden fur loss. Symptoms
include one or more scaley, red rings on the skin. Highly contagious,
ringworm can be passed between different species of animals and
rolling eye: See nystagmus.
roundworm: An intestinal
parasite. The type most frequently plaguing rabbits are nematodes,
which are carried by raccoons. These roundworms can be passed
to other species of animals, such as rabbits, through raccoon
feces. Once ingested, the eggs of the parasite hatch in the intestine
of the host and migrate throughout the body. Frequently, the
larvae will migrate to an organ, such as a liver, brain, or spinal
cord, and cause a great deal of damage. Symptoms of infestation
can include loss of balance, lethargy, paralysis, wry neck, and
blindness, and often the condition leads to death. However, in
some cases, a rabbit with roundworm will show no symptoms. The
parasite cannot be passed to other hosts once the eggs hatch.
Also called nematode or baylisascaris procyonis or b. procyonis.
runny eye: A condition
in rabbits when one or both eyes tear continuously. The fur on
the cheek below the runny eye often will be matted. Sometimes
this is not a sign of illness; a rabbit's eyes might have been
irritated by too strong a cleaning solvent in their cage, such
as ammonia, In some cases, this condition is due to a blocked
tear duct, which can be caused by debris, injury, or heredity.
In other cases, runny eye is a symptom of an allergy. Runny eye
can also be a sign of a bacterial infection, such as Pasteurellosis.
Also called conjunctivitis, epiphora, or weepy eye.
sand: See sludge.
scours: See mucoid
condition where a rabbit drools or has a chin or chest area
that's always wet. Often this leads to infection of the rabbit's
skin. Slobbers can be caused by malocclusion or
misaligned teeth, which prevent the rabbit from closing its
mouth. Slobbers might also be caused by drinking from a water
dish or poor living conditions that keep the rabbit's skin
sludge: Very small urinary
stones that a rabbit might pass while urinating. Because
the stones are very fine and are usually present in large numbers,
they are called sludge or sand.
snuffles: An infection
of the respiratory system in rabbits. Snuffles often includes
such symptoms as a runny nose and watery eyes. Some rabbits with
snuffles have matted fur on their front paws, due to repeatedly
wiping their noses. Snuffles can be caused by a variety of bacterial
infections, including some that can be treated, such as bordetella,
staph, and strep. Some cases of snuffles are caused by the proliferation
of pasterella bacteria and are not easily treated. See also Pasteurellosis.
sore hocks: A
condition in which a patch of fur on the legs or feet of a
away, exposing skin and in some cases bone. Often, the rabbit
can develop sores or abscesses on the exposed skin as a result.
It's thought that sore hocks can be caused when a rabbit
is kept in a wire cage but doesn't have a flat surface
to rest upon.
Sore hocks typically occurs on the hind legs or feet, but
front legs or feet can also develop sores or abscesses. Generally,
a rabbit's hocks – the backs of a rabbit's hind legs – are
not affected, which makes the name something of a misnomer.
spondylosis: A disease
in which the vertebrae in the spine fuse together, decreasing
flexibility and causing pain. The results can range from difficulty
in jumping and running to an inability to move. This affliction
is more common in rabbits that are over four years old, particularly
stroke: Brain trauma
caused by a ruptured blood vessel or an obstruction of blood
flow through a blood vessel in the brain. Effects of a stroke
can range from mild muscle weakness in the face or legs to sudden
death. Paralysis of
one or both sides of the body is a common result of a severe
torticollis: See wry
trichobezoars: See hair
Tyzzer's disease: A
disease caused by a bacteria infection and characterized by sudden,
profuse, watery diarrhea. Symptoms can include anorexia and dehydration.
Generally, the onset of the disease is rapid, resulting in death.
Tyzzer's disease is highly contagious and can be spread between
species of animals through ingestion of the bacterial spores
from excrement. The spores can remain viable for up to a year
outside of a host's body in bedding, soiled food, or soil.
urine burn: See urine
urinary stones: Stones
that form in a rabbit's bladder or urinary tract. Urinary
stones cause problems ranging from pain or difficulty
to blockage of urine. In some cases, the rabbit will pass
urinary stones. Symptoms of urinary stones can include
loss of appetite,
straining to urine, hard abdomen, and a reluctance to move
from a hunched-up position. The stones, also called "calci," are
formed of sand or crystals and range in size from tiny (the size
a grain of sand) to large (more than an inch). It is thought
that urinary stones can be the result of a high calcium diet,
urinary infection, or difficulty emptying the bladder, due
to physical impairment or habit on the rabbit's part. Also called
bladder stones or calculi.
urine scald: A
condition where an area of a rabbit's skin becomes irritated
by repeated exposure to urine. Often, the fur will fall out in
that area. Urine scald usually occurs on the hindquarters and
genital area of a rabbit and tends to happen most frequently
in crippled or old rabbits that have trouble positioning themselves
away from their urine flow. Sometimes urine scald is indicative
of kidney disease. Also called urine burn.
uterine cancer: One
of the most commonly occurring forms of cancer in
rabbits. It generally strikes does older than two who have not
been spayed or who have not given birth, although does who have
been mothers can also develep uterine cancer. Symptoms can include
what appears to be bloody
urine but is actually bleeding from the vulva, reduced litters,
stillborn births, reabsorption of fetuses, and abortion.
vent disease: See rabbit
vent infection: An
infection on the "vent" region of the genitals. Generally,
the infection takes the form of small pustules, which can
scab over. It is thought that vent infection is caused by
dirt on the vent region on a rabbit or by urine dribbles
not cleaned off. The infection can be passed between mating
rabbits. While similar in appearance to rabbit syphilis,
is not a venereal disease. Also called hutch burn.
VHD: Short for Viral Hemorrhagic
Disease of Rabbits. An infectious viral disease that attacks
the internal organs of domesticated rabbits, particularly the
liver. Most rabbits infected by VHD typically die within the
following 24 hours, due to massive hemorrhaging of one or more
internal organs. Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, congestion,
foamy discharge from the nostrils, lethargy, muscle spasms, and
bleeding from one or more orifices. However, in some cases no
symptoms are evident until death. VHD is also called Rabbit Calcivirus
Disease (RCD) after the calcivirus, which is thought to cause
the disease. VHD is prevalent in Australia, New Zealand, China,
and many European countries, such as England, Spain, and Italy,
but has had a limited presence in the United States.
walking dandruff: See mange.
larvae of the Cuterebra fly, or botfly, which burrows into
flesh. The adult botfly lays its eggs on hosts like rabbits.
The larvae burrow into the skin, where they'll stay, feeding
on the rabbit's flesh, until they develop into flying insects.
These parasites cause what looks like an abscess on the rabbit's
skin, except that "abscess" has a small hole that functions
as an air vent for the larvae. If injured, the larvae excrete
toxic solution that can prove fatal to rabbits. Also called
wool block: See hair
worms: See pinworms.
wry neck: A condition
in which the rabbit's head tilts to one side while the chin tilts
to the other. One cause of wry neck is ear infection, sometimes
caused by e.
cuniculi or Pasteurellosis.
Another cause is trauma to the head, causing damage to the inner
ear. Tumors in the head and stroke can
also cause the head to tilt. Also called torticollis.