When a rabbit gets diarrhea, it is usually a symptom of another underlying illness or disease. Soft stools can sometimes become an issue with rabbits but when the stools become more frequent, runny or contain blood or mucus, something serious could be going on within the rabbit's body.
The most common cause of diarrhea in kits that are under the age of two weeks is the Escherischia coli (e-coli) bacteria. If an entire litter of kits are experiencing runny stools, this is typically the cause and most likely will kill the kits.
Rabbits that are in the weaning process are known to develop diarrhea from bacterial enteritis. Enteritis is a leading cause of death in rabbits of weaning age and one of the most common diseases seen in rabbits over two pounds. The bacterium infects the intestines which can sometimes be caused from improper feeding young rabbits that are being weaned from their mother.
Because the digestive system of these young rabbits have not fully developed, the rabbit's system reacts to diet changes and develops infections within the intestines. A diet too high in carbohydrates or starches will cause infections in the intestines because they cannot be digested properly.
Certain antibiotics can also lead to infections thus leading to diarrhea. These medicines that are used to kill bacteria in the stomach can create unwanted bacteria to form like Clostridium spiroforme. When a rabbit is undergoing antibiotic treatments, owners should watch for any changes in the rabbit including diarrhea.
Adult age rabbits can develop diarrhea from a variety of sources. Some of these causes can be less dangerous such as hairballs and an improper or change in diet while others are more serious such as bacterial enteritis, enterotoxemia, and foreign objects that have been ingested. Viruses like a coronavirus can cause diarrhea and many times can be fatal. A rotavirus is typically not fatal if the rabbit is treated promptly.
Diet changes can lead to loose or runny stools but are typically not fatal. When offering a rabbit new food, introduce these in small amounts over a period of time. Although not fatal, iceberg lettuce is not recommended for rabbits as it has no nutritional value and can lead to diarrhea. Fresh vegetables should be given in limited amounts based on the rabbit's weight. One cup of fresh vegetables for every four pounds of body weight, per day is recommended for most rabbits.
Rabbits that are experiencing bouts of diarrhea from their diet normally don't require treatment unless the diarrhea doesn't dissipate. It is important to offer plenty of fresh water as diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Because diarrhea is a sign of a more serious and sometimes life-threatening issue, rabbit owners should seek veterinarian care for their rabbit.
A veterinarian who specializes in the care of rabbits can test for infections and bacteria. The vet will be able to offer the correct treatment and offer the best advice for the care of the rabbit. Most importantly, when a rabbit experiences diarrhea, the symptom should be taken seriously and proper medical attention should be provided.
RABBITS, THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING YOUR RABBIT, by Virginia Parker Guidry, copyright 2001.
THE RABBIT HANDBOOK, by Karen Gendron, copyright 2000.