Rabbits can be prone to mites, which can affect them on the body or around the ears. Signs to look out for include:
- Flaky dandruff and fur loss between the shoulder blades, known as walking dandruff fur mite
- Very small, black dots seen when back combing the hair around the rump
- Head or ear shaking and scratching
- Blood spots, scabs or crusts building up around the ears
If you spot any of these conditions, take your rabbits along to a rabbit-friendly vet.
Myxomatosis and VHD
Your rabbits will need vaccinating against Myxomatosis & RVHD1 & 2 (Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic disease) yearly. Both are fatal and easily contracted. Myxomatosis is spread by mosquitos and fleas, so even indoor rabbits are at risk.
Signs of myxomatosis to look out for:
- Puffy, red or swollen eyes and genital area
- Small bumps and lumps appearing in the ears and over the body
- Noisy breathing
- Sitting hunched and fluffed
- Eyes shut with a glue-like appearance.
Sadly, once this disease has taken hold of a rabbit it is highly unlikely it will survive. However, it may go on to suffer for up to two weeks before death. Therefore, the kindest option is to consider euthanasia with the support from your veterinary practice.
Rabbit Viral haemorrhagic disease is very much a silent killer & now comes in two strains. RVHD 1 has been around for many years although not found to be that common. RVHD2 appeared in the UK in 2015 and has rapidly spread across the country and responsible for the death of thousands of pet rabbits and the decline in wild rabbits. With little or no symptoms, spores from the virus can be brought to your rabbits on your clothes/foot ware if you’ve unknowingly been in contact with it, or if your rabbit is in contact with a rabbit in the early stages.
If your rabbit passes away suddenly with no obvious reason, it is recommended to agree to have a post-mortem carried out by your veterinary practice. Positive results can then be documented to help track the virus’s movements.
Signs of VHD include:
- Sudden death with no symptoms
- Sudden collapse where death follows within hours
- Projectile diarrhoea followed quickly by death
- Loud scream followed by death
Poor dental health is one of the most common killers in rabbits, often because of an incorrect diet. Rabbits should eat a diet of at least 85% hay – if they don’t their teeth may elongate and begin to wear unevenly causing sharp ‘spurs’. These may cause ulceration to the tongue or cheeks. The tooth roots can also break through the jaw bone or grow up into the eye sockets of the rabbit causing pain and abscesses.
Feeding your rabbits the right diet will dramatically reduce the risk and in some cases resolve very early symptoms. Signs to look for include:
- One or both eyes weeping or blocked tear ducts
- Weight loss
- Mucky bottoms or regularly finding soft stools within the accommodation
- Lumps/abscess along the jawline
- Lack of appetite
- Fly strike
- Overgrown front teeth with matted fur wrapped around them
A rabbit with perfect teeth can still develop dental issues in later life. Monitor your rabbit closely for signs of problems and visit the vet at least twice a year for regular dental checks.
Unfortunately, dental disease is rarely treatable, only manageable – it can be a very slow and painful end for your rabbit. It may be kinder to euthanise sooner rather than later, with the support of your rabbit-friendly vet.
Fly strike is very preventable, yet it can come on suddenly and cause your rabbit a lot of pain, and even death. Fly strike happens when a fly lays its eggs around the rump or tail area of the rabbit. These look like small grains of white rice. Maggots quickly hatch out and start to feed on your rabbits’ flesh and move up through the genital area. Rabbits commonly at risk include:
- Those without litter trays or trays that are not cleaned daily. Using, and regularly cleaning, litter trays reduces the smell that flies are attracted to
- Elderly, less mobile rabbits
- Hutch or indoor cage-bound rabbits
- Long hair breeds prone to becoming matted
- Obese rabbits with double chins
- Rabbits with digestive issues that often produce smelly grape-shaped poo
If your rabbit is at risk, they will need daily checks to monitor for any signs of eggs or maggots. If you suspect your rabbit has fly strike, get to a vet immediately as time is very limited.
Keep an eye on their poo
Although not everyone’s favourite subject, it’s important to monitor your rabbits’ poo regularly for any change in size, shape, consistency, smell or amount. Healthy poo should be around the size and shape of a pea or larger in big breeds. It should be light brown and be made up of lots of hay.
Poo is one of the biggest clues to a poorly rabbit, so if you spot anything unusual, contact your vet. Look out for:
- Very limited amounts or none seen in the last 12 hours
- Smaller size or strung together like pearls
- Coated in a smelly, jelly-like texture. The rabbit may have a very bloated belly and appear to be sitting uncomfortably
- Very loose poos with a watery consistency
Is your rabbit obese?
Obesity can cause many health problems in rabbits. Signs of an obese rabbit include:
- ‘Sticky bottom’: a big build-up of smelly faeces around the bottom
- Regularly seeing lots of soft poos around the hutch. These look very similar to bunches of grapes, just a lot smaller.
- If you suspect your rabbit is obese, contact your rabbit vet for advice about a change of diet and weight management.