Knowing the signs of a sick rabbit and reacting swiftly can mean the difference between life and death of your beloved pet. Most rabbit illnesses are treatable and some are even preventable. Knowing your rabbit's normal behaviors, personality, and routine are important so that if one of these changes, you can act promptly before an illness becomes life threatening.
There are several illnesses that will hinder a rabbit from eating or change their eating behavior. Teeth problems, hairballs, or obstructions can all be potential causes for a rabbit to stop eating. More serious disorders can be caused by a problem with the digestive tract such as that found with gastrointestinal (GI) stasis which can lead to a rabbit's death.
Rabbits that do not get enough fiber and exercise are prone to getting "wool block" or hairballs. Teeth issues are noticeable with the most common problem being malocclusion. Rabbits will eat frequently throughout the day. Any changes in the eating behavior, if a rabbit refuses their favorite treats or if the rabbit hasn't eaten for at least six hours, can be signs that your rabbit is ill.
Just like with eating, rabbits will produce droppings frequently. As a rabbit owner, you should already know what the appearance of normal droppings look like. Changes in the droppings can include the size, shape, and color. When a rabbit stops defecating and urinating all together, this is a sure sign that your rabbit is ill. Diarrhea can also occur which is commonly caused by an irritant that affects the digestive tract.
Something as simple as lettuce can cause loose to runny stools however there are several more serious causes for diarrhea like certain viruses. When the droppings contain blood, mucus or excessive hair, these are signs of a serious illness that need immediate medical treatment.
A concern that may occur for rabbit owners is a condition called red urine. When the urine has a red tint, owners may immediately think that this is blood. Some plants that are fed to rabbits have a pigment known as porphyrin that can cause the urine to have a red color. If a rabbit has red-tinted urine and no signs of sickness, this is typically not a cause for alarm. A simple urine test can be performed by a veterinarian if you are unsure of the cause.
Illness or injury will change a rabbit's overall behavior. They may not play or move around and are lethargic. The rabbit may nip at their owner or become distressed when handled. A rabbit that grinds their teeth constantly can be a sign of pain. If you notice any of these changes, your rabbit could be injured or sick.
The most important symptoms of a sick rabbit that owners should be aware of include:
*Loss of appetite or a complete halt in eating and drinking
*Irregular droppings, diarrhea, straining to urinate or defecate
*Loss of coordination
*Eyes that appear dull, irratated or have mucus build-up
*Constant teeth grinding
*Hair pulling (other than that associated with nest building)
*Too high or too low rectal temperature (normal temperature ranges from 101 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit)
Observe your rabbit and watch for any changes that are out of the ordinary for your rabbit's behavior. It is highly recommended that rabbit owners seek veterinarian care at the first signs of illness. When illnesses are caught and treated early, the less likely the rabbit will have any long-term health effects from the illness.
THE RABBIT HANDBOOK by Dr. Karen Gendron, copyright 2000.
RABBITS FOR DUMMIES by Audrey Pavia, copyright 2003.