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Rabbit Health Problems

- EMERGENCY - Fleas - Ticks - Mites - Worms - Poo Problems -

- Urinary Problems - Respiratory Problems - Eyes - Ears - Teeth -
- Feet & Nails - Vaccinations - Calicivirus Disease -
- Myxomatosis - Coccidiosis - Head tilt / Wry Neck -
- Abscesses - Heat Stroke - Moulting & Fur Balls -
- Warts - Reproductive Problems -

Please Note: 

This information is to be used as a guide only. If you have any concerns about the health of
your bunny you should consult your vet ASAP!

Some readers may find the included images disturbing.


Bunny is not eating and there are no 
droppings in the cage

Bunny is grinding its teeth

Bunny is very quiet and withdrawn

Bunny's head is tilted sideways and it 

is losing its balance

Bunny is dribbling or has blood coming from mouth

Bunny's bottom is infested with fly eggs 

or maggots

Bunny has diarrhoea

Bunny is crying when urinating or inability to urinate

Bunny is rapid mouth open breathing

Bunny is having spasms or convulsions

Do not wait - get to the vet...



Although fleas are not a common problem for domestic rabbits, bunnies who share the home
as a communal living area with dogs and cats are prone to suffer with the fleas that are
brought into the home. Consequently flea control programmes being used should include the
rabbit as well as other pets since bunny can act as a host and fleas then spread once again to
the other animals.

Extreme care is needed with the flea treatments used, since many which are readily available
and routinely used on other pets can badly affect bunnies, indeed in some cases have proved

Advice from a vet is required about safe eradication of fleas from the bunny and indeed the
house. The recommended treatment is Advantage a preparation which was licensed for use
in rabbits in 2001. It is a drop on treatment, and is easy to use. Ivomec applied to the back of
neck monthly is also safe for Rabbits.

See our Recommended Products.

It must be remembered that fleas can transmit myxomatosis, in particular to areas where
there are wild rabbits. Cats will return home with rabbit fleas attached to their ears and faces
and this could prove fatal to the pet rabbit should one of these fleas be carrying the disease.

Flea Dirt


Occasionally a tick might attach itself to a rabbit. These are blood sucking creatures which
insert a 'probe' into the skin and begin sucking blood. Unless you are used to removing ticks
from other pets, it is probably wisest to see a vet to have it removed. It is easy to pull the tick
apart, rather than totally removing it. So the part remaining can then cause an infection.

Tick Attached to rabbit near eye



Rabbits can get mites and be affected by fleas should there be cats or dogs in the area.
Mites are often discovered when there is a balding patch with flaky skin around the shoulder
and spine area. This can easily be treated.


See our Recommended Products or consult your vet.

Tell Tale Sign of mites found on shoulders and along spine

Also See Ear Mites


Worms are rather rare in rabbits and most are rabbit specific, though they can get tapeworms
from dogs. However, they should not be discounted. They are rather insidious as the rabbit
can gimble along not appearing very sick, or even sick at all, be quite lively, and have a
good appetite. Nonetheless something will be not quite right - the rabbit can seem to have
lost some condition (the spine can be felt, for example) though eating heartily enough. Or
s/he will pick at his/her food, tossing out the pellets (for example) and eating the rest, or else
eating about half s/he would normally. Eventually, if left untreated, the rabbit will eat less and
less or stop eating all at once, then die (rabbits can't survive more than 24 hours without food
as their liver collapses).
The presence of worms is detected in the droppings by a vet. Blood tests may show some
anaemia, uraemia and so on as signs of stress of having worms. X-rays may show a bloated
digestive tract with gas and food in it, indicative of some lack of gut motility. The worms are
transmitted by other rabbits, usually wild rabbits who have got into the garden but not always.
So if your rabbit seems a bit off-colour, not herself even though she hops around and is lively,
especially if her appetite declines or she suddenly gets finicky and it isn't her teeth, take her to
a vet who knows rabbits (Canberra Veterinary Hospital, particularly Sandy Hume, for
example). The remedy is worming, usually a paste or gel given orally.
Also use Ivomec to prevent worms.


Respiratory Problems

Sometimes sneezing can just be caused by dust in the hay, but when there is white mucous
from the nose and sticky front legs from wiping their nose, it is usually caused by a disease
called (Pasteurella.) It’s a serious infectious disease, sometimes trivialized by breeders calling it
the “snuffles.”
You will need to see your vet for treatment and keep the bunny away from other rabbits.

Pasteurella (Snuffles) -

Pasteurella multocida is a bacterial disease which spreads rapidly from one rabbit to another.
Stressful situations can cause an explosion of the bacteria leading to a disease known as
Pasteurellosis. While the bacteria mostly reside in the rabbit's nose, eyes and lungs, it can
quickly spread to other parts of the body. Respiratory diseases, infections of the middle ear,
eye membranes, jawbone and uterus are common results of the Pasteurella organism. Signs of
the disease include: Abscesses which need to be surgically removed, sneezing, congestion,
running eyes or nose, listlessness, lack of appetite, laboured breathing, head tilt, loss of
balance, and pneumonia. Always consult your veterinarian if you bunny appears to be
unhealthy in any way. Don't forget to separate your sick bunny from his rabbit friends.

Any rabbit breeder who has a rabbit with the snuffles shouldn't try to cure it, because it can
get very expensive and snuffles is a disease that spreads quickly and could wipe out a whole
barn. If you do decide to treat snuffles, like if this is a pet. Try VetRx. It seems to work the best.
But any rabbit who has snuffles if a threat to the whole herd. These rabbits should be culled,
and their cage burned to clear away the disease. Water and food supplies should be
cleaned or thrown out. If you manage to treat snuffles, there is a high chance of it returning.
Snuffles could have life long effects on a rabbit, and most breeders who care for their animals
agree, it would be best to put them out of their misery, than to have a life long "cold" that
could damage them mentally or even kill them in the long run.

Mucous Discharge from nose

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

Other organisms can also cause respiratory diseases in rabbits including bordetella
Bronchiseptica. This bacterium is quite common in guinea pigs, dogs and cats. For this reason
rabbits should not come in contact with these animals. Bordetella may also be involved with

It results in abnormal respiratory sounds, sneezing, a nasal discharge (but less than pasturella) ,
inappetance, depression, weight loss and in severe cases death. Secondary infection can
occur leading to pneumonia.


This is when Pasteurella or Bordetella goes untreated or treatment isn't successful. Rabbits
usually die at this stage. Pneumonia is an inflammation of lung tissue, resulting in reduced
oxygen uptake by the blood. It also leads to poor weight gain, and rough coats. Rabbits that
have their heads tipped back or show open-mouthed breathing often have it.

Prevention of Respiratory Problems

Prevention against this and other respiratory disease is cleaning the cages as often as they
need it, and not allowing bacteria to form. Clean your cages! And don't allow the rabbit to
become wet, or cold. Keep out drafts and try to keep the hutch calm. Stress often leads to
many diseases and death.



Vaccines contain harmless forms of viruses and infections. In response to a vaccination the
rabbit's immune system stimulates the formation of antibodies and therefore immunity. This
prevents similar forms of the virus causing the disease we wish to prevent our bunnies from
catching. It is as though the rabbit's immune system has been taught in advance how to
defend against the illness. Sometimes this can cause the newly vaccinated bunny to become
lethargic for around 24 hours - should this continue for 48 hours, then a quick consultation with
the vet would be appropriate. Because of the severity of the illness, immunity needs to be
maintained at a high level - hence the recommendation of repeated annual (or more
frequent) boosters.

Only vaccinate healthy rabbits!

Calicivirus Disease (RCD)

Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD) known in Europe as haemorrhagic viral disease (HVD) did not
occur in Australia until recently. As haemorrhage is not a feature of this disease, the name
RCD was adopted in Australia. RCD was first reported in China in 1984 and the disease had
spread to Europe by 1986. By 1992 it had spread throughout most of western Europe. It was
reported for the first time in the UK in 1992 and Australia in 1995. Australian authorities have
approved the virus for use to control "wild" rabbit populations.

There is no effective treatment and so the best way to protect your pet is by annual
vaccination which maintains immunity. The acute form of the illness will attack the liver and
cause severe internal bleeding which kills the animal. Most infected animals die very suddenly
and often without warning. Although the virus is within the wild population, sick animals are
not seen because of the speed with which it takes effect.
Your veterinarian will give you the best advice as to when to start vaccination. Only 1 dose is
necessary at 10-12 weeks of age. An earlier vaccination can also be given in some
circumstances if earlier protection is warranted.

Protection does not last forever. Immunity to this disease will wane over the course of a year
leaving some rabbits susceptible. An annual visit to your veterinarian will allow both a general
health check and an annual booster vaccination against RCD. This will maintain immunity
against RCD for a further year.


Unfortunately there is no vaccination for this currently in Australia, only in Europe.

Fly wire on the hutch may be a helpful protection. 

If your rabbit is out in a run during the day, it is wise to put it back into its’ mosquito proof hutch
before dusk, or bring it inside.

Myxomatosis was first introduced to Australia in 1950 to control the wild rabbit population. It is
mainly spread by blood-sucking insects, such as fleas and mosquitos but also from skin lesions.
According to papers available the original virus killed about 99% of infected rabbits. However
rabbits that did not die produced a high level of antibodies and any does (female rabbits)
that survived passed these antibodies on to the kittens. There is also an accumulation of
genetic resistance that has built up within the wild rabbit population, so the figures are much
lower today.

How is myxomatosis spread? 

Blood-sucking insects, including mosquitoes, fleas, lice, ticks, and mites, are the main method
of spread. Direct transmission is possible, usually by the aerosol route. Those rabbits infected
via this route usually develop nasal & eye discharges as part of the disease process.
Transmission is also possible via infected hutches or enclosures. An owner may spread the virus
from one rabbit to another. Similarly, animals that are congregated at rabbit shows or fairs
may become infected if one of the rabbits has the disease and is shedding the virus.

What are the signs of myxomatosis? 

The clinical signs of myxomatosis vary with the strain of virus involved and the species of rabbit
infected. In pet rabbits, there are several forms of the disease.

Peracute form: The peracute form progresses most rapidly and may cause death within 7 days
of infection, and within 48 hours of showing signs of disease. The only signs may be lethargy,
swelling of the eyelids, loss of appetite, and fever.

Acute form: In the acute form, fluid swellings enlarge around the head and face, including the
lips, nose, and around the eyes. The swelling around the eyes gives the rabbit a sleepy
appearance. Swellings of the ears may cause them to droop. The area around the anus and
genitalia also appears swollen. The lesions progress rapidly, and within 24-48 hours may
become severe, causing blindness. The rabbit continues to have a fever and be depressed.
Most rabbits die within 10 days of hemorrhage and seizures. In a susceptible population, over
90% of rabbits may die by this stage of disease.

Chronic form: The chronic form of the disease is less common, and occurs in animals that
survive the acute form of the disease. Rabbits with this form develop thick ocular (eye)
discharge and swelling around the base of the ears. Nodules called "myxomas" may develop,
although with infection by the California strain of virus in domestic rabbits, myxomas are
seldom present in infected animals. Affected rabbits may also show respiratory signs including
difficulty breathing. Most animals die of the disease within two weeks. Rabbits that survive may
shed the virus up to 30 days. Most rabbits who recover from myxomatosis are immune to re-
infection for the rest of their lives.

How is myxomatosis diagnosed? 

The diagnosis of myxomatosis is made through observing the clinical signs, biopsies of the
lesions, and virus isolation. In many cases, because the rabbit dies suddenly, the diagnosis is
made post-mortem (after death).

How is myxomatosis treated? 

There is no effective treatment for myxomatosis. Affected rabbits may be kept more
comfortable through the use of supportive fluids.

How is myxomatosis prevented? 

The best way to prevent myxomatosis is to control external parasites such as mosquitoes, fleas,
and mites. Screening should be used to protect outside animals. Rabbits should be kept
indoors, if possible, especially during the peak insect seasons of the year, and at dawn and
dusk, when many insects, such as mosquitoes, are more active.

If a rabbit is suspected of having myxomatosis, the animal should be isolated and mosquito
netting placed over the cage. Extreme care should be taken to prevent mechanical
transmission to other rabbits through dishes, contamination of clothing, or other means.

The myxoma virus is resistant to inactivation under most environmental conditions and is not
easily destroyed by disinfectants.

If a rabbit is exposed to an infected animal, she should be quarantined for a period of 14

days. During the quarantine, she should be handled as though she were infected and cared
for as indicated above. After 14 days, if the rabbit does not become sick or develop a fever ,
it can be assumed she is not infected with the myxoma virus.

If myxomatosis occurs in an area, rabbits should not be taken to fairs, rabbit shows or
anywhere these animals are congregated.


Poo Problems

One of the most important factors to remember to keeping a rabbit healthy is keeping their
digestive process in order! 
This begins from the moment food enters it's mouth! 
For More Info Read our bunny food page! 

Fibrous hard, round droppings - means gut working well!


Diarrhoea comes in many types and degrees. Although ALL diarrhoea is a sign that something
is wrong, the more liquefied and voluminous the stool, the more urgent the situation. Never
"wait and see" if your bunny has blown-out, soupy stool - take action immediately! Collect a
sample of the stool in a zip lock bag or other clean container and go to the vet.

No Poo

This is a most serious problem and the rabbit must be taken to the vet as an emergency. In
some circumstances there may be a physical blockage, but often there is some disturbance
within the gut that is causing it not to function correctly. The rabbit has a complex and unique
digestive system which can get out of balance and the results can be life-threatening.

 Watch out for the rabbit being off its food and, especially, no droppings in the litter tray
or toilet corner.

 Bunny may be hunched up in a corner, or lying around uncomfortably shifting position,

grinding its teeth quite audibly.

 Sometimes the stomach area becomes bloated and bunny feels blown up like a
balloon with gas. 

 Watch out especially if the rabbit is moulting since excess fur in the digestive system
can cause problems.

 Mucous may be seen coming from the rabbit's anus or found in the cage.

Clear Mucous
Caecotrophy (Copraphagy)

Rabbits originally come from Spain and Portugal where the vegetation is often sparse and of
poor quality, so their digestive systems have adapted to cope with this nutritionally poor diet.
The rabbits basically eat everything twice. This is called Caecotrophy or Copraphagy.

Rabbits produce two types of pellets. Caecotrophs or caecals are the soft pellets. They are a
valuable source of nutrition and are designed to be re-eaten by the rabbit. Then there are the
familiar hard, round, fibrous pellets. It is perfectly normal for the rabbit to be seen with its head
down between it's back legs and eating the caecotrophs directly from its anus.

Caecotrophs - Usually eaten directly from the anus

If the rabbit does not eat all the caecotrophs that it produces it can collect around the tail
area in a large sticky mass, often with the hard pellets stuck into it and becomes a prime
target for fly strike.

Fly Strike (Sticky Bottom)

Warm weather is the time for Fly Strike - if your rabbit has a dirty bottom it will be a prime target
for flies and maggots. Remove the faeces with a tissue. If the rabbit's bottom needs to be
washed off use warm water, ensuring that the fur is completely dry and never use a human
shampoo. Inappropriate diet which leads to overweight, fat rabbits is a contributory factor.
Check the rabbit once or twice a day. Maggots hatch and will eat into the rabbit's flesh within
12 hours of being laid.

Dirty bottom is a prime candidate for fly strike

Severe fly strike - Maggots have attacked the rabbit

Herbs which repel flies – . 
Balm, Chamomile, Hemp, Lavender, Peppermint, Basil, and Green Oregano have pungent
smells which repel many insects.

Always check your bunny's bottoms regularly to make sure they are not dirty or have faeces
stuck to them!


Coccidiosis can also be low grade and insidious and not announce itself with diarrhoea and
other bells and whistles as many rabbit books will tell you. Coccidia live normally in a rabbit,
indeed a few are necessary to keep the immune system active. However, when the rabbit is
subjected to stress such as extreme changes in climate (such as we've been having) or the
presence of parasites or any other factor, they multiply and can make bunny very sick. They
flourish particularly at this time of year when it is milder and damp - they like dark damp spots
so make sure you don't have any in the cage where the water bottle leaks. They can be killed
with cloudy ammonia or sunlight. A rabbit with coccidiosis may not show any outward signs -
clean bottom, no discharges anywhere, normal temperature - but it may be lethargic and
then die 24-36 hours after going down.

Coccidiosis is a disease of rabbits caused by a class of single-celled organism known as

protozoa. Coccidiosis is caused by the Eimeria species of protozoa. Of the nine species of
coccidiosis affecting rabbits, one affects the liver, and the other eight affect the intestines.
Poultry and other animals are also susceptible to coccidiosis but are affected by different
species. Older rabbits are more likely to be resistant and it is young rabbits that are most likely
to be badly affected.

Coccidiosis is spread through a rabbit eating the eggs (Oocysts) of the parasite which have
been excreted by an infected rabbit. The oocysts can remain active for more than a year
and thrive in warm, humid conditions. Common sources of infection are grass or green foods
contaminated by infected wild rabbits.

Adult rabbits are often passive carriers of coccidiosis without showing any symptoms
themselves. It can happen that a baby rabbit that is brought into a home where an
apparently healthy adult rabbit is already in residence, develops diarrhoea, and the blame is
laid on the place the baby rabbit came from or change in diet, when in fact it has picked up
the disease from a symptom free carrier.

Prevention of Coccidiosis
In addition to good hygiene and keeping food and bedding dry, feeding from
uncontaminated bowls and hay/salad racks, rather than allowing the rabbit to feed off the
hutch floor, reduces the risk of the rabbit ingesting infected oocysts. If rabbits are allowed
access to an outdoor run, moving the run around the garden reduces the number of oocysts
they are exposed to. Strong ultraviolet light from the sun helps disinfect the ground and
destroy the oocysts.

A natural alternative used to prevent coccidiosis is natural oregano extract, which can be
added to the drinking water and used for general hygiene purposes, or oregano oil, which
can be mixed with vegetable oil to a suitable dilution and used on food. Feeding oregano
leaves and stems also has an antibacterial effect on the intestinal tract.
Also See our herbal bunnies page.

Urinary Problems

Red Urine

Many people have probably seen red urine in the bottom of the cage, and thought that the
rabbit was bleeding or had some kind of internal injury. Well red urine is quite normal. Some
rabbits get it often, and some never have it. Red urine is basically when the urine contains
large amounts of calcium oxalate, and forms on the cage floor. Certain types of feed often
cause this, such as alfalfa and Lucern Hay. The rabbit is getting rid of all that excess calcium
from. It is often seen in the cooler months of the year. One thing to worry about, is if the rabbit
is constantly showing red urine, he may have a kidney stone, or a tumor in the bladder. There
is no treatment for this and it could be very painful. Take them to a vet if the red urine persists
over a long period of time, just to be safe.

Bladder Sludge

All rabbits normally excrete excess calcium and oxalate salts via the urinary tract, and the
residue of normal urine will often appear "chalky." However, when excessive amounts of
calcium/oxalate salts precipitate in the urinary tract, they sometimes manifest as a thick,
curry-coloured "sludge" that sometimes has a consistency as thick as toothpaste. This can be
very painful in the bladder and when it is passed, and sludge build-up can cause urine
leakage and incontinence.
Although some vets suggest reducing dietary intake of calcium to help control this problem,
we have not found any correlation between dietary intake of calcium and severity of sludge.
Rather, this seems to be a metabolic problem suffered by a few individual rabbits, and may
be an endocrine problem, rather than a dietary one.
Treatment for bladder sludge may include bladder flushes (in severe cases), or simply helping
the bunny flush the bladder by administering subcutaneous fluids and a small dose of
diazepam (Valium) to help relax the bladder sphincters. Your vet will know best how to treat
your rabbit's particular problem, if this is what it turns out to be.

Bladder stone (urolith)

Diagnosed via radiography, a bladder stone is a mass of calcium and/or oxalate salts that has
precipitated into a solid mass. Like sludge, a urolith can cause urinary incontinence and
dribbling. Unfortunately, the only viable treatment at this time is surgical removal.

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Bacteria can infect the urinary tract (kidneys and/or bladder), just as they can many other
organ systems. The best way to diagnose this particular ailment is via cystocentesis: inserting a
sterile needle into the bladder and extracting a sterile sample into a syringe. This is then sent to
a laboratory for Culture and Sensitivity Testing. This will reveal (1) what species of bacteria is
causing the infection and (2) which rabbit-save antibiotics (with good urinary tract
penetration) will kill them.
Unfortunately, urinary tract infections are sometimes caused by "fastidious anaerobes":
bacteria that die upon the slightest exposure to oxygen. If this is the case, then the culture
and sensitivity test will come back negative. However, your vet may be able to determine if a
UTI is likely by examining the urine under the microscope for signs of blood and white blood
cells in the urine. If there is a good chance that your bunny has a UTI, even if the culture
comes back negative, your vet might wish to put her on a course of antibiotics such as
chloramphenicol, which is effective against many anaerobes and also concentrates well in
the urinary tract. Your vet is the best person to advise you on the proper course of action in
case of a UTI.

Urine Scalds
A rabbit suffering from urinary tract problems may experience loss of fur in the genital region
and hindquarters. The baldness and red, irritated skin are caused by "urine scald," and it can
happen to any bunny whose urine soaks into the fur around her vent and is in constant
contact with her delicate skin.

Urine Scald


Reproductive Problems

Vent Disease (Rabbit Syphilis)

"Vent" is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection usually seen in breeding animals. Sores
develop around the vent (genital) area and sometimes on the face. Treatment is with
antibiotics: there's some debate whether topically applied cream is adequate or whether
injectable antibiotics are required, but most authorities recommend injectable penicillin as
treatment, which is remarkably well tolerated and does not seem to cause any gut problems.

Rabbit Pox

Rabbit pox is a viral disease that closely mimics rabbit syphilis. It causes crusty, scabby lesions
around the genital region, lips, and eyelids that eventually clear up by themselves after a few
weeks or months. Pox tends to be diagnosed when "vent disease" fails to respond to
antibiotics, but it can be confirmed using skin biopsies and blood tests. This is recent and
unpublished information, which has not yet reached textbooks of rabbit medicine.

Rabbit Pox

Uterine Cancer

Unspayed female rabbits have a very high risk of developing uterine cancer, and a large
tumor can sometimes interfere with normal urination. All female rabbits should be spayed for
their health and longevity if there is no intent to breed.
In nature, rabbits are designed to reproduce as quickly and frequently as possible, and die of
predation before reaching an age at which cancer becomes a risk. With such active uterine
tissue, in which cells are constantly dividing, mutations that can give rise to tumors take place

The first signs of uterine cancer are often bleeding from the vagina, which may be interpreted
as bloody urine. The rate of blood loss can be quite rapid, with the rabbit bleeding out in days.
By the time there are any signs of a problem, chances are that the tumor has metastasized
(spread), often to the lungs. This means that even if the bleeding carcinoma is removed, the
rabbit will likely die within some months because of cancer that has spread throughout the
body. Decreased appetite and weight loss are common signs that the body is breaking down
as the tumors grow. Losing a young bunny to a preventable cancer is pitiful!

Vets have noted that removal of the cancerous uterus (via spay operation) usually solves the
problem, and they have not noted a high degree of metastasis (spreading) in this type of
cancer, once the uterus is removed. Spaying is the best treatment option for this problem.


Toxaemia is a life threatening condition that affects pregnant animals. It is most likely to occur
in the week or two before and after delivery. It is not uncommon for animals to go off their
food before giving birth but if they are listless you may have a problem. If she is also salivating
then the chances are she has toxaemia.

There are two types of toxaemia. The first is where the animal's diet has not included enough
protein and the animal becomes ketonic. This is a life threatening condition and the animal
often has a distinctive smell, similar to that of nail polish. The second type is due to calcium
deficiency and is easier to treat if caught in time.

Liquid calcium supplementation (Osteocare Liquid, and oral rehydration solutions such as
Diaoralyte can help if you recognise the condition soon enough.

Caesarian section may be necessary to save the life of the mother. Veterinary treatment
should be sought as a matter of urgency.

Overweight animals are more prone to toxaemia as are those carrying larger litters. Heat and
stress increase the risk of toxaemia in these animals.


Moulting & Fur Balls

In warmer weather and through into the autumn, rabbits will moult. This fur needs to be
removed as it can cause a blockage in the rabbit's gut from licking themselves when
cleaning. We prefer owners to use damp hands run over the coat or possibly a small comb.
We have found that the soft brushes available cause static in the fur which can then get
matted. Sometimes the fur will come away in handfuls!
Moulting Rabbit

Rabbits molt often, especially in Australia where the whether changes frequently. Regular
gentle brushing is enjoyed and helpful. Clipping may be necessary for rabbits with long fur.

Fur Balls

All food balls contain hair from normal grooming which is simply passed in the faeces. When
the food ball dehydrates however it can lead to the formation of fur balls.
Feed plenty of good hay and make sure the rabbit is drinking enough water to aid digestion
of furballs.
A dilution of 25% pineapple juice and water may help to break up hair balls.

Read our cashmere grooming page for more information about grooming long haired rabbits
to help prevent matting and fur balls.


Feet & Nails

Clipping Nails

It is easier to trim your rabbit's nails quickly and effectively when the rabbit is properly
restrained. If possible, ask someone to assist you and then wrap your bunny in a towel to
reduce movement and to isolate each paw.

Examine the claw to locate the quick, or the vein. Some rabbits' nails are quite dark, so you
will need a small flashlight to see it. Cutting the quick will cause it to bleed.

It is easier to trim your rabbit's nails quickly and effectively when the rabbit is properly
restrained. If possible, ask someone to assist you and then wrap your bunny in a towel to
reduce movement and to isolate each paw. the claw to locate the quick, or the vein. Some
rabbits' nails are quite dark, so you will need a small flashlight to see it.
Cutting the quick will cause it to bleed.

If you accidentally cut the Quick-

Take a pinch of powder such as cornstarch or flour and press onto the tip of the affected nail
after wiping away the blood, , press the affected nail into a bar of mild soap for minor
problems, simply applying pressure to the tip of the nail may be effective, No matter which
method you use, make sure the bleeding has stopped before placing the animal back in its
cage, or leaving the animal unattended. While nail trims sometimes seem very daunting,
especially on a nervous and jumpy pet, doing nail trims is really not difficult and will become
much easier if they are done regularly as part of your pets' maintenance.

Overgrown Nails

Nail Clippers

Sore Hocks

Never house your bunny on a wire caged floor!

Even though rabbits have well furred feet there are occasions when the fur can come away
leaving bare patches of skin on the bottoms of their back feet. Without the furry padding
these patches will quickly become sore, the skin broken and possibly infected. It often occurs
with larger breeds because of their weight, bunnies that thump and some house rabbits that
run on carpet. For the skin to heal the foot needs to be carefully protected and padded. This
can be a painful condition and sometimes pain relief as well as anti inflammatory medication
and antibiotics are needed. It is often a long term problem.

Foot Fur Removal

A bunny's feet need attention as do their nails.

It is possible that you will find there are wads of fur attached to the furry pads of the hind feet.
This is old fur that needs carefully removing. It often looks as thought the rabbit has got
particularly fluffy feet, with tufts sticking out sideways.

Hard knot like lumps and tufts can be combed through and removed from the feet.

Foot on the Right has been combed through

Show Rings

Rabbits which have come from a show breeder may carry a metal ring around one of the
back legs. This is an identification ring for show purposes and will have been slipped onto the
rabbit's leg as a youngster and will be kept in place as the hock joint grows to adult size.

Under normal circumstances this ring will remain loose and will cause no problem.

However this ring can become over-tight if the rabbit grows more than anticipated, or if
something gets trapped underneath. Should this happen the ring will begin to rub, can
create a nasty sore and potentially get seriously infected! Always check the ring regularly.


There are many conditions which affect eyes. Many are simple eye infections which can be
dealt with effectively with a course of antibiotics. Some eye problems are caused by
Entropian where the eye lids turn in causing the lashes to rub continually on the eye surface.
Sometimes problems with the incisors can mean that the tear ducts become blocked or
squashed. Often tear overflow can cause soreness around the eye by creating patches
where the fur actually comes away leaving red skin.

Weepy Eye/Pink Eye

When the eye is watery and appears that the rabbit is crying. Fur is matted below the eyelid
and down the cheek.
The best thing to do is to keep the eye clean and apply Terramycin eye ointment 2-3 times a
day for a week. Neomycin Polymyxin, or Neobacimyx also works well with this, and can be
used on young kits who have "Nest Box Eyes, or Sore eyes." This medicine is almost always used
with eye diseases.

Wall Eye/Moon Eye

Glazed or cloudiness to the eyes around the pupil or cornea. Slow to respond to light. This is a
genetic defect, and the rabbit should be culled if it is a breeder/showing rabbit. There is no
cure for it, it is genetic.

Corneal ulcers

Your playing bunny may take the corner too fast and bump into a baseboard with her face,
or get a tiny piece of hay chaff stuck in his eye. Scratching the cornea, which is the outer
layer of the eye, may cause an ulcer, a wound that is slow to heal without proper treatment.
Your bunny will tell you if something is wrong by repeatedly blinking or refusing to open the
eye, and lots of tears that tell you to get the vet soon because this hurts!

Blocked tear ducts

Dental problems, inflammation, and other sources can clog your bunny's tear (nasolacrimal)
ducts. The ducts run from the inner corner of the eye to the nose and drain the liquid tear film
that is constantly formed to protect the eye (this is why when you cry, your nose gets runny).
Rabbits only have one duct opening in the eye, and thus are more susceptible to blocks. The
tears, instead of draining out, then overflow and leave wet areas around the eye. The
condition itself is not painful, but constant tears on the face will cause skin irritation. Without
care, the fur becomes soggy and matted around the eye, and the underlying skin will
become so irritated that eventually the fur just peels off- events should never get to this point.
Until the duct opens, which may take several visits to the vet, gently wipe your bunny's
affected eye several times a day to remove the sticky salty tears (try cotton wipes and water),
then dry carefully.


Any changes in your bunny's eye, from splotches in the iris to pigmented areas in the whites of
the eye, call for a visit to the vet. My bunny Ginger and our family had a cancer scare
recently. Just in time for holidays in December, I noticed a dark brown lump on the white of
her eye just under her eyelid, a place I only looked because the eye was being covered in my
vet school anatomy class. I took her to Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Brookline to see an
ophthalmologist immediately; the lump was already quite large because I didn't know to
check her eyes thoroughly at regular intervals. She was diagnosed with scleral melanoma, a
very aggressive cancer in the white of the eye, and had her entire eye removed a few weeks
later. The pathologist who examined the eye luckily found that the dark mass was not
melanoma. Instead, the sclera had weakened and the dark part of the eye behind it was
pushing through the rupture. I now check Ginger's remaining eye regularly, and when her tear
ducts clogged shortly after the surgery I was forearmed with knowledge that would have
been useful earlier.


In many rabbits (and humans), the lens inside the eye becomes more and more opaque with
age. This cloudiness may progress to the point where less light can reach the sensitive retina at
the back of the eye, and visual ability decreases. Laser surgery can correct the problem.
However, as this type of vision loss is gradual, many rabbits adapt well if their environment
remains stable. Ginger is now blind in her remaining eye, and other than running into us, her
mobile family members, there has been no change in her enjoyment of life. She still dashes
between her favorite places and noses around for treats. Plus her special needs have forced
my husband to pick up after himself and become neat!

Eye Injuries

When you have any eye injury you need to take the rabbit to the vet to have it checked out.
Any injury could result in blindness and the rabbit could be in extreme pain. Time and the right
medicine may or may not correct this, but it will heal.

This rabbit got some small pieces of wood shaving into its eye which caused this bad reaction. It was easily resolved by flushing the eye
and some drops.

The fur is coming away around the eye. Sometimes a light covering of Vaseline can protect the bare area, thus making it less sore.
Eye drops may be needed from the vet.

This rabbit has developed a prolapse of one of the glands in the eye causing a large swelling where the third eyelid is sited. The swollen
tissue will protrude beyond the eyelids. This will need veterinary attention to ensure that it does not become infected. Possibly surgery
may be needed to help resolve the problem.



The inside of a bunny's ears can become dirty with a normal waxy discharge and dirt. The
outer part of ears can be carefully cleaned using a cotton bud or soft tissue. Extreme care
must be taken because the inside of a rabbit's ears can be very sensitive and it can be
extremely painful if crusty discharge or wax is removed or knocked. The rabbit will then jump
and damage can occur with the cotton bud.
Cleaning Ear

If there appears to be a whitish / yellowy discharge deep within the ear, or an abnormal
amount of debris in the ear, there could be an ear infection. Often there is a tell - tale,
sometimes 'fishy' smell which is indicative of infection.

For info about Middle Ear Infection - read 'Head Tilt'

Ear Mites

Ear mites can be easily identified by the light brown crusty material that fills the ear canal. You
rabbit may walk with his head tilted as a result of the raw and irritated skin beneath and
surrounding the infestation. He may scratch like crazy in an attempt to ease the itching. Raw
and bloody skin may appear behind the ears from the scratching. Ear drops from your vet
work very well as long as you keep up with the treatment. It is easily spread from one rabbit to
another, so care should be taken when treating a rabbit with ear mites. Ivomec can be used
as a preventative treatment and cure for ear mites.

Severe Ear Mites



Rabbit's teeth grow continuously throughout a bunny's life. Regular checks of incisors can be
done by the owner to ensure that they do not become overgrown. Molars, being hidden
within the mouth, need to be checked by the vet. But problems can be detected by the
owner should the rabbit begin to dribble, appear to have difficulty eating or reject hard
foodstuffs. Also runny eyes can be associated with dental problems.

Properly aligned incisors

Properly aligned incisors

Overgrown Teeth
Incorrect alignment, (Malocclusion) or damage, or old age may cause the front teeth to
become overgrown, inhibiting normal nibbling, resulting in starvation.
Check occasionally as clipping may become necessary. See your vet as he may decide that
the best solution is to have the teeth removed. Also if there is malocclusion of the front teeth,
there may also be a problem with the back ones too which you cannot see.

· Hay is important in keeping teeth healthy.

· Always supply a branch or untreated pine wood to nibble on.

·  Crunching on pellets is an unnatural chewing action for rabbits. This is one reason why
pellets should be limited and the rabbit given a copious amount of hay, fresh vegetables, and
grass instead.
These teeth are a problem and not overlapping correctly, therefore over growing

Abscesses can be a problem with rabbits since they often develop to become a permanent
issue for the rabbit, especially if they are associated with bones. An abscess under the chin is
quite a common problem and they will develop almost overnight becoming greater in size
than a large marble. Rabbit pus is quite difficult to deal with because it is very thick and tends
not to drain easily. The treatment which we prefer for dealing with these is an injectible
penicillin combined with precautionary pain relief. Some vets are wary about using this as it is
well known that penicillin, given orally, can have a devastating effect upon the gut flora and
can kill the animal. However injected it is well tolerated and rabbits can be safely on it for
long periods to maintain and control a situation. Abscesses can be quite alarming for the
owner to discover, but surprisingly often the bunny is totally unconcerned about it! Lancing
the abscess is an unpleasant process as the pus is as thick as toothpaste and the consistency
of cream cheese. An abscess which is within the soft tissue generally can be dealt with
relatively easily - sometimes by surgery with the removal of the capsule in a similar way to a
tumour. Abscesses which have become associated with bone, however, are another matter
altogether and pose far more complex problems.

Burst Abscess to be cleaned out


Rabbits can develop wart like growths on their ears, which look like little horns. They are dry
and crusty in appearance and when knocked or broken can bleed profusely. They are
generally viral in origin and although unsightly normally do not cause any problems to the
rabbit. They are not painful and do not irritate the bunny. At times they will disappear on their
own, and maybe re-grow at another nearby site. Being viral there is a chance that other
rabbits kept nearby may develop similar growths.
Wart has been knocked and caused some bleeding

You may also see around the anus small red swellings with the lumpy appearance of a bunch
of grapes. This is a Papilloma. Generally it will cause no problems - in fact many rabbits have
them for some time with their owners being totally unaware of their presence. When pressure
is applied they can project through the anus, or as they grow they can become large enough
to be external as well as internal. A little Vaseline may be used to help return the lump
internally. If the growth becomes large you will need to ensure that it is not damaged on
bedding with the area then becoming infected. It is worth talking things through with your vet
at a routine appointment as in some cases surgical removal may be appropriate.



Head Tilt / Wry Neck (Torticollis)

If your rabbit has head tilt do not hesitate to contact your vet ASAP!

Torticollis is not a single disease. It is a symptom of a problem with the rabbits' balance system,
components of which include the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord, collectively
called the "CNS"), the visual system, the vestibular apparatus in the inner ear, and even the
pads of the feet, which tell the bunny he's standing on solid ground, the way gravity "intends"
him to. Hence, a rabbit exhibiting torticollis may have a problem with one or more of the
balance components, and causes of this include (but are not limited to)

 middle- or inner-ear infection

 parasitic infestation of a nematode worm, Baylisascaris procyoni


 abscess or tumor in the brain (intracranial abscess)

 head trauma

 Parasitic infection of Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E. Cuniculi) in the CNS

Inner Ear Infection

An inner ear infection may have started with an outer ear infection, which remained
unnoticed and untreated and gradually worked its way into the inner ear, or with a middle
ear infection, which resulted from an upper respiratory infection. Or it may have arisen from
bacteria in the nasal cavity or bloodstream. A radiograph of the head may help determine if
the middle ears are affected. Some of the bacteria which have been cultured from ear
infections are Staphylococcus sp, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Pasteurella multocida, Bordetella
bronchiseptica, Proteus mirabilis, Streptoccus epidermidis, Bacteroides spp. and Escherichia
Treatment with antibiotics needs to be aggressive and prolonged.


Stroke is usually suspected on the basis of physical signs. Imaging to diagnose this problem is
available to humans but difficult to arrange for companion rabbits. As in humans,
acerbrovascular accident can kill, but if it does not, then the rabbit may initially be left with
one side of his face, and perhaps one entire side of his body affected. One side of his face will
droop, he may drool, and one eye may not function properly. He may not move normally or
may move in circles. Function usually will slowly return over a period of months. Almost three
years after a stroke, one of my rabbits has only a slight tilt to his head, unnoticeable, unless
pointed out. Benny just looks a bit quizzical.

Care for a bunny who has suffered a stroke involves nursing him through his difficulties in
eating, drinking and moving. Antibiotics do not help these cases, but sometimes are given to
help rule out infection. Acupuncture should also be considered in treatment of these cases.


A blow to the face, neck or head can result in an injury to the brain which can cause the
rabbit to have a head tilt. Trauma even could result from a panic reaction. Depending upon
the severity of the trauma, an anti-inflammatory might be helpful to speed recovery.


Tumors occurring in the brain, neck or ear could produce a symptom of head tilt.

Cervical muscle contraction

A "muscle spasm" could cause a temporary head tilt. This situation will resolve itself once the
muscle is relaxed.

Cerebral larva migrans

Baylisascaris spp are round worms which live in the intestine of raccoons and skunks. A rabbit
may acquire eggs from these works by eating grasses, food, or bedding contaminated by
feces. Larvae hatch from the eggs and migrate into the brain, where they live and grow and
destroy brain tissue. There is no known cure for this invasion. Ivermectin probably does not
penetrate the brain in sufficient quantities to kill the larvae, although it may kill them before
they reach the brain.

This could be caused by ingestion of lead, found in paints or imported pottery, or ingestion of
a toxic plant such as the woolly pod milkweed.

E. Cuniculi

Encephalitozoon cuniculi (E.cuniculi) is a protozoan parasite, can cause brain disease

(meningooencephalitis and microscopic cysts), and can result in paralysis anywhere in the
body, since every part of the body is controlled by a specific part of the brain.

Frequently there are signs preceding a head tilt caused by E.cuniculi such as tripping,
dragging of feet, tipping over. These symptoms may have appeared and then vanished
weeks or months prior to the head tilt. A blood test for antibodies to E. cuniculi can tell
whether your rabbit has been exposed.

This immune disorder caused by a tremendously opportunistic protozoa (microsporidia) resides

primarily in the kidneys in many (if not all rabbits) and when the immune system is
compromised the parasite replicates ( by injecting spores through a polar filament into the
host cells) and begins to migrate from the kidney through the blood stream to any organ in
the body but most commonly the brain where it develops cysts on the brain. Another
common depository is the eye which results in a chronic weepy eye.

It is believed that the location of the cysts on the brain causes a variety of symptoms and the
severity thereof.

Bunny with wry neck

The common symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

Tilted head

Walking in circles

Nystygmus (darting eye)

Rolling (in later stages)

Paralysis of the hind quarter

Early symptoms frequently overlooked are:

Lack of movement around the cage - huddling in corner

Loss of appetite
Darting eye (nystygmus)

Weepy eye

Lying close to the floor with head down

Weight loss


Weaving from side to side

Staggering gait

Stargazing ( starring up at nothing)

A proven method of treatment which you should 

discuss with your vet :

Ivomec 1% injectable solution for cattle given orally at the rate of 1/10cc per pound of body
weight. Dosage repeated in 7 days. Then followed at 3 month intervals as a preventative. It is
critical that the dose be repeated in 7 days at that appears to be the life cycle of the spore.
We generally see improvemnt in the condition after the second dose of Ivomec.


Piperazine (pin worm medication) at the rate of 4 drops per pound given orally at the same
time as the Ivomec. Repeat in 3 month intervals. This is to remove additional parasites that
might compromise the immune system but does not effect the EC spores.

Steroid injection (Depo-Medrol, Cortisone or similar) at the outset in a single dose of 1/4cc per
5 pounds of body weight. This is only in cases of rabbits who are rolling. Repeated doses may
compromise the immune system.

Antibiotic therapy to treat an obvious infectious condition that is suspected of being the
orginal stressor. My drug of choice is Penicillin with Benzathene or Biomycin administered sub-
cutaneously at the rate of 1/10 cc. per pound of body weight. This dosage is given every 48
hours for 3 days ONLY.

Probiotics are given if antibiotics are used.

Extract from:


Heat Stroke


This is an important concern that every rabbit owner must know about in order to keep the
buns alive. Rabbits are not tolerable to heat and are thus highly susceptible. When the
temperatures rise above 29° Celsius or 85° Fahrenheit, humidity levels are above 70%, or
inadequate shade and/or ventilation can all contribute to heat exhaustion.

The main symptoms of Heat Stroke; may include panting rapidly (open mouth breathing),
weakness; ears are red hue, refusal to move, slobbering (drooling), delirium (feverish),
convulsions (spasms) and sadly eventual death.

If Heat Stroke Occurs

Never submerge the rabbit in cold water. This may worsen the condition by placing the bunny
into shock. Do dampen its ears and body with cool water; a towel will do the job.

- Next get it HELP. Immediately get him into a vet or emergency clinic. Do Not Wait; its life is at

Prevention is of course the best course of action!

Prevention of Heat Stroke: 

· Give total shade if over 25 degrees Celsius!!

· Give fresh cool drinking water.

· Place frozen containers of water in hutch for rabbit to sit on.

· Insulate metal hutch. Drape hutch with wet towels.

· Spray hutch with cold water.

· You could wet the rabbit's ears

· Bring bunny inside if very hot day.

Frozen water bottle in cage

For more info on heat stroke click here


Kirsten Smit

C o p y r i g h t © 2 0 0 8 N ib b l e N u r se r y