Health 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.
abscess: A 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.
bladder stones: See urinary stones.
bloat: See mucoid enteritis.
bloody 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 infection, urinary 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 stones.
cancer: A 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 mite.
coccidiosis: A 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 conditions.
cold: Like 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 eye.
diarrhea: In 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.
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 young rabbits.
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.
gastrointestinal (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 a rabbit.
head tilt: See wry neck.
maggots: See fly strike.
malocclusion: A 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 unable 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 to 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 cheek, teeth have been affected.
mange: An infestation of fur 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.
mastitis: Inflammation 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 mite, fur mite.
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. cuniculi.
nystagmus: Oscillating or rolling eyes. Often this is a symptom of a neurological disorder, which could be the result of e. cuniculi, Pasteurellosis, a stroke, or a tumor.
old rabbit disease: See paralysis.
overgrown teeth: See malocclusion.
paralysis: An inability to move, ranging from an inability to move a selected muscle 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 to rabbit’s back, stroke, cancer, and e. cuniculi.
parasite: A small creature that feeds on a living host. Common parasites that plague rabbits are e. cuniculi, ear mites, fur mites, pinworms, roundworms, and warbles (the larva of the Cuterebra fly, or botfly).
Pasteurella: See Pasteurellosis.
Pasteurellosis: A 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 hocks.
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 urine.
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 humans.
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 enteritis.
slobbers: A 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 wet.
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 rabbit wears 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 a rabbit’s 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. Also called pododermatitis.
spirochetosis: See rabbit syphilis.
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 females.
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 stroke.
torticollis: See wry neck.
trichobezoars: See hair balls.
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 scald.
urinary stones: Stones that form in a rabbit’s bladder or urinary tract. Urinary stones cause problems ranging from pain or difficulty while urinating 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 of 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 syphilis.
vent infection: An infection on the “vent” region of the genitals. Generally, the infection takes the form of small pustules, which can burst and scab over. It is thought that vent infection is caused by dirt on the vent region on a rabbit or by urine dribbles that are not cleaned off. The infection can be passed between mating rabbits. While similar in appearance to rabbit syphilis, vent infection 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.
warbles: The larvae of the Cuterebra fly, or botfly, which burrows into a rabbit’s 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 a toxic solution that can prove fatal to rabbits. Also called bots.
wool block: See hair balls.
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.