||Welcome to The Bunny Basics Health section. It is very important to educate yourself on the issues your bunny may face during his/her lifetime. This section is a collection of important information gathered from rabbit experts. Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Do not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a medical or health condition. This should be left to an experienced veterinarian.
Neutering/Spaying - The neutering/spaying of rabbits is of utmost importance. Altered rabbits are healthier and live longer than unaltered rabbits. The risk of reproductive cancers (ovarian, uterine, mammarian) for an unspayed female rabbit is virtually eliminated by spaying your female rabbit. Your neutered male rabbit will live longer as well, given that he won't be tempted to fight with other animals (rabbits, cats, etc.) due to his sexual aggression. Uterine adenocarcinoma is a malignant cancer that can affect female rabbits over
two years of age. The best prevention for this disease is to remove the reproductive organs (ovaries and
uterus) in a surgical procedure commonly called a spay. The procedure can be performed in females
over four months of age. Spaying a rabbit also prevents pregnancy and can help control some
aggressive behavior. Male rabbits can also develop disease of the reproductive organs (the testicles) but with much less frequency than females. However, some male rabbits have a tendency to become aggressive in their
“adolescent” years (8-18 months of age) and can also start spraying urine outside the toilet area to mark
their territory. Surgical removal of the testicles, called castration, can control these behaviors if it is done
before the behavior occurs or shortly thereafter.
Loss of Appetite - Rabbits are little eating machines and if you note that your pet has changed his/her
eating habits, there is cause for concern. The most common reason a rabbit stops eating is in response
to pain somewhere in the body. The rule of thumb regarding the seriousness of the loss of appetite is as
• Loss of appetite but otherwise acting normal should be investigated within 48 hours.
Some rabbits may go through a slow down and then pick up again in a day. The key here is that
the rabbit is still active and alert is still be producing stools.
• Loss of appetite accompanied by obvious lethargy or depression should be considered an
emergency and should be investigated immediately. This can be a sign of an intestinal
obstruction or toxin ingestion. Another important sign is that no stools are being produced.
Diarrhea - True diarrhea, where all the stool being passed is purely liquid, is very rare in the rabbit.
More commonly we see a situation where the rabbit has both normal and soft pudding-like stools in the
toilet area. This is not diarrhea, but a problem with GI motility usually caused by an inappropriate diet.
If you should notice true diarrhea in your pet, you should consider it an emergency situation and consult
your veterinarian immediately.
Rabbits produce two types of pellets: fecal pellets (left in the litterbox) and cecotropes (soft, pungent, normally shaped like a cluster of grapes and reingested by the rabbit to obtain essential nutrients). Liquid or mushy cecotropes are usually caused by an imbalance of the normal bacterial and fungal flora of the cecum (the bunny's intestinal "fermentation vat"). The floral imbalance can be caused by a number of factors, such as the wrong antibiotic (oral penicillins can be deadly to rabbits for this reason!) or a diet too rich in digestible carbohydrates and too low in crude fiber. It also can be caused by a slowing of the normal peristaltic muscular contractions which push food and liquids through the intestines. The slowdown or cessation of peristalsis of the intestine is known as gastrointestinal (GI) stasis or ileus.
What Causes GI Stasis: A rabbit's intestine can become static for a variety of reasons, including (1) stress, (2) dehydration, (3) pain from another underlying disorder or illness (such as gas, molar spurs, bladder problems or infection) (4) an intestinal blockage or, most commonly, (5) insufficient dietary crude fiber (which is why unlimited grass hay is so essential in the rabbit diet). Left untreated, the slowdown or complete cessation of normal intestinal movement (peristalsis) can result in a painful death, in a relatively short period of time. If your rabbit stops eating or producing feces for 12 hours or more, you should consider the condition an EMERGENCY. GET YOUR BUNNY TO A RABBIT-SAVVY VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY.
An intestinal slowdown can cause ingested hair and food to lodge anywhere along the GI tract, creating a blockage. Also, because the cecum is not emptying quickly enough, harmful bacteria such as Clostridium spp. (related to the ones that cause botulism and tetanus) can proliferate, their numbers overwhelming those of the normal, beneficial bacteria and fungi in the cecum. Once this overgrowth occurs, gas emitted by the bacteria can cause extreme pain. Some Clostridium species produce deadly exotoxins. It is the liver's job to detoxify these harmful poisons, at a terrible cost to that all-important organ. Often, the ultimate cause of death from GI stasis is damage to the liver.
How Can GI Stasis be detected: Symptoms of GI stasis include very small (or no) fecal pellets, sometimes clinging to the bunny's bottom. In some cases, very small fecal pellets will be encased in clear or yellowish mucus. This indicates a potentially serious problem (enteritis, an inflammation of the intestinal lining) which must be treated as an emergency. With GI stasis, the normal, quiet gurgling of the healthy intestine is replaced either by very loud, violent gurgles (gas blorping around painfully!) or a desolate silence. The bunny may become lethargic, have no appetite and may hunch in a ball, loudly crunching his teeth in pain. Too often, a rabbit suffering from GI stasis is diagnosed as having a "hairball." In reality, an apparent hairball usually is a result of GI stasis--not the cause. A vet who has not palpated many rabbit abdomens may be unfamiliar with the normal, sometimes doughy feel of the healthy rabbit stomach. A doughy stomach is cause for concern only when accompanied by an empty lower GI and symptoms of abdominal discomfort.
Like those of most herbivores, the stomach and intestines of a healthy rabbit are never empty. A rabbit may eat relatively normal amounts of food, almost up to the time the GI shuts down. Because of this, the stomach may retain a large bolus of food when stasis occurs. Unlike the typical cat hairball, which usually consists completely of hair, the mass misdiagnosed as a "hairball" in a rabbit is usually composed mostly of food held together by hair and mucus. Unless it is allowed to dehydrate into an impassable mass, this bolus of ingested material can be slowly broken down with enzyme supplements and plenty of oral fluids. However, treating a mass this way without addressing the problem of GI stasis will generally be unproductive.
If you suspect that your bunny is experiencing GI stasis, you must take him/her to your rabbit-experienced veterinarian without delay. Tell the vet your suspicions. S/he will probably listen for normal intestinal sounds and palpate the bunny's abdomen. The vet also may wish to take radiographs (x-rays) to see whether the various parts of the digestive tract contain normal ingested matter, feces or foreign objects--or are empty and gassy. The appearance of the digestive tract will help the vet determine whether there is an obstruction and, if so, where it is located.
If a true intestinal obstruction (almost always accompanied by severe bloating and acute pain) is present, the use of intestinal motility drugs (described later) could make the situation worse by pushing it into a narrow area where it completely obstructs the intestine, resulting in intestinal rupture. However, if the mass is not causing a complete blockage, it is best to consider medical alternatives to surgery. A gastrotomy--surgical opening of the stomach--may be performed to remove an obstruction, but rabbits who undergo this procedure have an abysmally low survival rate. It is very difficult to get a rabbit's intestines moving normally again post-operatively. Those who survive the surgery itself often succumb a few days later to peritonitis or other complications, even when under the care of the most practiced, skillful rabbit surgeon. Surgery on the rabbit GI tract should be considered only as a last resort.
GI Stasis can be successfully treated if your vet has determined that there is no intestinal obstruction. There are several treatments s/he may wish to use to help your bunny in distress. As always, do not perform any of these procedures or try to administer any of these medicines without the supervision of a veterinarian experienced with rabbit disorders and treatments.
TreatmentsOral fluids (administered at a rate of 100cc per kg of body weight per day--or about an ounce per pound of body weight per day) are essential for hydrating intestinal contents which may have formed a hard mass and be nearly impossible to pass. Water is fine, but unsweetened Pedialyte, an electrolyte drink designed for human infants can also be used. Avoid any fluids containing large amounts of sugar (even Gatorade), as these can exacerbate the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the cecum.
Force feeding. Anorexia can rapidly cause gastric ulcers and hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) in rabbits. Even 12 hours without eating is cause for concern. As long as your vet has determined that there is no actual blockage, and that there is enough slow movement of the GI to keep the stomach from becoming overly full, keep the bunny eating! An excellent, ready-to-mix emergency food for compromised rabbits is Critical Care from Oxbow Hay Company. If you do not have ready access to Critical Care, one quick and easy recipe is to soak about 2 - 3 tablespoons of pellets in about 1/2 cup of Pedialyte or chamomile tea until soft and fluffy. The pellets will fluff more quickly in slightly warmed solution, but overheating may destroy some of the nutrient content of the pellets. Mix the pellet fluff with vegetable baby food or canned pumpkin until it forms a somewhat liquid paste (you may need to add more liquid). Allow to cool before using a large-bore feeding syringe (available at most pharmacies) to deliver the goods.Insert the tip of the syringe into the space behind the incisors and squeeze gently sideways to avoid squirting food down the trachea (windpipe). Give only 1-2 cc at a time, allowing the bunny a chance to chew and swallow. Aspiration of food can be life threatening, so do this with great care!
Unlimited grass hay. Even if the rabbit won't eat timothy, oat, brome or other grass hays, it is probably best to avoid giving more than a few strands of alfalfa hay, especially if the rabbit is unused to eating it. A sudden change in the diet can exacerbate Clostridium overgrowth and cause severe, potentially fatal bloat. Grass hay is better than alfalfa.
Abdominal massage. One of the single most effective ways to stimulate a lazy gut into action is with gentle massage. Place the bunny on a secure countertop on a towel (or in your lap, if the bunny feels secure there), making sure he can't jump down and hurt himself. With your hands and fingertips, gently massage the abdomen. Knead as deeply as the bunny will allow, but back off immediately if he expresses pain. We have found that gently lifting the rabbit's hindquarters a few inches (with the bunny's head safely tucked into the massager's elbow) helps gas to pass more easily, and seems to be comforting to the bunny. Once s/he gets over the initial surprise of being held this way, a rabbit will often allow his/her legs to droop in comfort and relief as the massage helps gas pockets move towards the exit. A rabbit's internal organs are very delicate; care must be taken to avoid bruising them and making the situation worse. In addition to stimulating the muscles, the massage seems to help break up gas bubbles and ease colic. Massage as long and as often as the bunny will allow and enjoy.
Simethicone (liquid, pediatric suspension or tablets) is essential for the relief of gas pain which usually accompanies ileus. For relief of acute gas pain, 1-2 cc (20mg/ml suspension) can be given as often as every hour for three doses, then 1 cc every three to eight hours. This substance has no known drug interactions, is not absorbed through the intestinal lining and acts only on a mechanical principle: it changes the surface tension of the frothy gas bubbles in the gut, joining them into larger, easier-to-pass bubbles.
Fresh, wet, leafy herbs. The fiber and moisture in fresh vegetables will help stimulate the intestine. If the rabbit refuses to eat, try fragrant, fresh herbs such as mint, basil, dill, cilantro, tarragon, sage, fennel, parsley and others. Sometimes all it takes is a little taste to get the bunny nibbling. Try a variety until one of them gets the bunny to eat. You never know which herb will stimulate the appetite, so it's best to have a variety on hand.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is not normally a member of the rabbit's intestinal ecosystem, but we have noticed that a good dose of dried Lactobacillus powder (available at health food stores in powder or capsules) seems to help the rabbit survive the crisis until the intestine starts moving again. No one knows why, but it seems to help. Use nondairy powder--NOT yogurt. The milk sugars and carbohydrates in yogurt may promote harmful bacterial overgrowth.
Probiotic pastes such as Benebac are available at feed stores, and might also be helpful. Products designed for horses are generally safe and possibly effective for rabbits.
An intestinal motility agent, such as cisapride (Propulsid) or metaclopramide (Reglan) will help get a static intestine moving again. Both of the aforementioned drugs are safe and effective for rabbits. Cisapride, a more recently developed drug, has fewer potential nervous system side effects with long term use than Reglan. Your veterinarian should be aware of any potential drug interactions between cisapride/metaclopramide and any other medications your rabbit may be taking. For example, narcotic painkillers should never be given with Reglan due to the potential for dangerous interaction between the two.
Subcutaneous Fluid Therapy. Keeping the tissues well-hydrated via administration of subcutaneous Lactated Ringers Solution (LRS) will not only keep the bunny well hydrated, but will also assure that the electrolytes are balanced and make the bunny feel better in general. A dehydrated rabbit will feel tired and ill, and may not have as much will to live as one who is well-hydrated. Rabbits in GI stasis tend to be unwilling to eat or drink, so it is a good idea to administer subcutaneous fluids as a precaution, unless the rabbit has known kidney or heart malfunctions.
Appetite stimulants. B-complex vitamins, administered orally or injected, or Periactin (cyproheptadine) can be used to stimulate appetite. The former not only help stimulate appetite, but might also help supply what the bunny is missing by not producing or eating his cecotropes. Periactin is available in 4 mg tablets or a 1 mg/ml liquid suspension. An average-sized (4 - 6 lbs.) rabbit can be given 1mg by mouth, twice per day. It is vital to keep the bunny eating, even if you must force-feed. Anorexia can rapidly result in gastric ulcers and serious liver degenerationIt is absolutely essential that the caretaker faced with a rabbit in GI stasis be patient, allowing the treatments and medications to work. Rabbits are easily stressed, and excessive handling should be avoided. It may take several days before any fecal pellets are seen, and it may take two weeks or more on intestinal motility agents and therapy before the intestine is moving normally again. We have had one case in which a rabbit produced no fecal pellets for 14 days, but finally did respond to gentle, consistent administration of the above treatment regimen. Patience and persistence are key. While you are treating your sick bunny, NEVER separate him/her from his/her bonded partner(s). The stress of separation itself can make the problem worse. If your bunny does not have a mate, it is even more important that you, his best friend, show him a great deal of attention and affection during his ordeal. Rabbits seem to understand when they are being fussed over, and it may help them recover more quickly to know that they are not being abandoned in their misery.
Dental Disease - Dental disease can be the result of a variety of factors including trauma to the face,
genetics (jaw is too short or malformed such as seen in the lop-eared breeds of rabbits), nutritional
disease, infectious disease and diet. Rabbit ancestors ate a diet that was tough and abrasive therefore
they developed teeth that grew throughout their lives. Without this constant replenishment the teeth
would wear down quickly and the rabbit would be unable to eat and eventually die. Any condition that
causes a rabbit’s teeth to be worn down improperly or causes malalignment or the death can result in
serious dental disease.
The best prevention for dental disease is a healthy diet of grass hay and green foods. But even with this
good diet, there are still rabbits that develop disease due to other factors, particularly genetics. The
treatment of dental disease is based on the cause and severity of illness. Your rabbit should have a
dental examination performed by a veterinarian at least once a year. You should never attempt to trim
a rabbit’s overgrown teeth without consulting your veterinarian. An improperly performed tooth trim
can lead to serious dental disease.
Respiratory Signs - Rabbits can exhibit sneezing, coughing and excess tearing. Not all these signs are
related to respiratory disease. More common causes include environmental irritants (perfumes, sprays,
cooking fumes, ammonia fumes from accumulated urine in toilet area, fabric softener on bedding, dust),
poor air circulation, damp environment, hot environment and dental disease. Please consult your
veterinarian if your pet is showing the signs listed above.
Never let a vet give your rabbit amoxicillin. (It is an antibiotic and is recognizable as a pink liquid that
smells like bubble gum. It is killing a very large percentage of the rabbits that receive it.) All drugs in the
penicillin family are bad for your rabbit as they kill the “good” germs in the rabbit intestines and can cause
other organs to malfunction. There are other very effective antibiotics that can be safely given to rabbits,
such as Baytril. Occasionally a rabbit can’t tolerate one antibiotic. For instance they may stop eating or
experience diarrhea, and another antibiotic will have to be tried instead.
“Hairballs” - Hairballs are often cited as a reason for rabbits to stop eating. The problem is not hair
(which is always present in a normal rabbit’s stomach due to grooming) but abnormalities in GI
tract motility. A rabbit on a healthy diet of grass hay and green foods will not have a problem with this
The only exception is that, rarely, longhaired breeds of rabbits such as Angoras and Jersey Woolys, can
accumulate an abnormal amount of hair in their stomachs even if they are on a good diet. Brush these
breeds regularly to prevent the ingestion of large amounts of long hair. Remember that these rabbits do
not have the normal rabbit hair coat of the ancestral rabbit so we humans have artificially created this
Urinary Disease – The normal color of rabbit urine can range from yellow to dark orange-red. The color
comes from plant pigments in the food or from normal pigments produced in the wall of the bladder. The
urine can be clear or cloudy with a white precipitate. The white precipitate is excess calcium excreted
through the urine. Rabbits can develop disease of the bladder or kidneys and may exhibit signs such as
blood in the urine, straining to urinate, inappropriate or frequent urination, or the complete inability to
urinate. If your pet is exhibiting any of these signs, please consult your veterinarian immediately. The
best prevention for urinary disease is an adequate water intake, which is accomplished through
the feeding of green foods and providing fresh water daily.bbits can be neutered anytime after four months.
Rabbits urine varies in color from clear to yellow to brown to bright red. This is usually not a cause for
alarm UNLESS there are additional signs such as sitting & straining to urinate, loss of appetite or a
temperature. When you see red urine don’t panic, just keep your eyes open for other signs that might
indicate a problem. The red color will usually be gone in a day or two, but can last for a much longer time.
If you’re in doubt, your vet can test to see whether or not there is blood in the urine.
These are very bad for your rabbit and other pets. “Aromatic hydrocarbons from cedar bedding materials
can induce biosynthesis and hepatic microsomal enzymes” which are known to cause liver disease.
(Quoted from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guide for the care of laboratory
animals. Please pass the word to pet shops and others who carry this material for small animals. If they
won’t use it for lab animals we sure don’t want it for our house rabbits. Use organic litter for the litter box
and put newspaper in the tray if you have a cage for your rabbit.
Food and water should NOT be removed from a rabbit the evening before surgery! Ignore this direction if
given by the front office staff and discuss this with your vet if the instructions come from him/her. Rabbits
cannot throw up and possible vomiting is the reason that food is removed from cats & dogs. It is harmful
to the rabbit and causes a longer recovery time if food is removed. The rabbit should also be tempted to
eat as soon as they are awake to assist with the recovery process.
Rabbits can get the common dog or cat flea. Be very careful about the products you use to treat the home
& yard, as well as the products you use on your rabbit. If the yard is treated do not allow your rabbit on it
for at least a week and then water it thoroughly to wash off any residual chemicals. Use a spray or “bomb”
that contains “pyrethrins” and “Precor” (methoprene). Flea powders labeled for use on kittens that contain
pyrethrins can be used.
A mite that lives on the skin dander of rabbits will cause your rabbit to scratch and if left untreated will
eventually develop thick crusts on their bodies. An injectable drug called Ivomec or Ivermectin can be
given twice, 2 weeks apart, to eliminate this problem. A third injection 2 weeks later may be necessary for
a particularly heavy case of skin mites. Rabbits can die if the ivermectin dosage is not correct, so for you home treatment people, please see your veterinarian.
Ear mites cause rabbits to shake their heads frequently and scratch at their ears. If left untreated a middle
ear infection could develop which can cause a problem with their balance. Ivomec/Ivermectin is again the
preferred treatment, 2 injections given 2 weeks apart.
An internal parasite called coccidia can infect the small intestines. Symptoms can be loss of appetite to
chronic diarrhea and occasionally death. A rabbit is considered to have diarrhea if the droppings are not
firm and round. If the droppings are round but squish when you pick them up, your rabbit has diarrhea.