Rabbit Owners Guide to Common Diseases and Parasites
As a rabbit owner, just as with any other pet or livestock, it is prudent to be able to recognize common diseases and parasites that may impact your rabbits. Disease control becomes especially important when multiple rabbits are kept in a herd. Early recognition and proper treatment of these conditions is the most effective way to reduce the impact of them on your animals. For the few conditions that aren’t treatable, early diagnosis can save the rest of your herd from being exposed and infected. While this is not intended to be a comprehensive list, here are some of the most common health condition rabbit owners should work to recognize and ideally, prevent.
Pasteurellosis or “Snuffles”
Signs and Symptoms: Typical early signs of snuffles are a nasal discharge, watery eyes, head shaking, sneezing or rattling noise in breathing and a loss of weight. Continual infection may cause rabbits to become sterile, or can cause death. It can spread quickly throughout the herd, and require that the entire herd be destroyed.
Prevention: Quarantine all new rabbits for at least a 30 day period. Cull rabbits that show continuous chronic symptoms of the disease. Reduce stressors and have good management and sanitation practices.
Cause: Snuffles is a chronic upper respiratory ailment caused by the pasteurella bacteria.
Treatment: Tetracycline in feed may be effective in a uncomplicated cases. For accurate treatment, the organism needs to be cultured and identified. There are several labs that will do this without having to call a veterinarian.
Signs and Symptoms: The rabbit’s head will be noticeably tilted to one side. The degree of head tilt will vary considerably, but can be so severe that the animal will not be able to stand on its feet. The rabbit will usually continue to eat and drink.
Prevention: Wry neck is usually associated with high incidents of "snuffles". Adequate ventilation within the rabbitry decreases the incidents of snuffles and wry neck.
Cause: This condition is caused by inflammation of the balance mechanism deep within the ear. The inflammation of the inner ear is usually caused by the pasteurella bacteria.
Treatment: Use injectable terramycin as ear ointment placed in both ears each day for about fifteen to seventeen days. Effectiveness increases the sooner treated.
Signs and Symptoms: This condition primarily affects young rabbits. In severe cases, symptoms are diarrhea, loss of flesh, pot belly, loss of appetite, rough coat fur. The liver may be white spotted and enlarged and there may be small hemorrhages in the intestine.
Prevention: Keep pens clean and prevent fecal contamination of feed or water. Use wire floor pens, such as our Supreme Rabbit Cages.
Cause: Five different species of an organism called protozoa that can injure the rabbit’s intestine.
Treatment: A medication called sulfaquinoxaline can be added in feed or drinking water continuously for 2 weeks, or until symptoms completely resolve.
Signs and Symptoms: A watery diarrhea in the rabbit may be only symptom.
Prevention: Develop a program to control coccidiosis. Feed fresh fruits and vegetables sparingly to rabbits. Free feed grass hay each day to rabbits to provide adequate fiber and maintain healthy digestion.
Cause: Enteritis is most likely caused by coccidiosis or other intestinal inflammation. In young rabbits the weaning process, or excessive feeding of fruits and veggies can cause diarrhea.
Treatment: Pull all feed except for grass hay. Keep rabbits comfortable and encourage water consumption. Adding a small of electrolytes such as Pedialyte to the water may increase the rabbit’s interest in drinking. A medicated or vitamin fortified feed may be helpful.
Myxomatosis (“Myxo” or “Myxi”)
Signs and Symptoms: Signs of myxomatosis in the domestic rabbit appear 5 -14 days after being bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus. Signs include swelling around the eyes and weeping eyes, lips, ears and genitals, high fever, lethargy and poor appetite.
Prevention: Adequate sanitation in the rabbitry, and periodic dusting for mites and fleas are the best prevention measures. Isolate any affected animals, as the disease can be transmitted from animal to animal, and human to animal. Mosquito control is key.
Cause: Biting insects such as mosquitoes, and rarely mites or fleas carry the myxoma virus and transmit it to the bitten animal.
Treatment: Sadly, there is no known treatment. A vaccine that is available in Europe is not yet available in the U.S. This disease causes a great deal of suffering, and it is often the most humane course of action to have the animal put down.
Viral Hemorrhagic Disease/Rabbit Calicivirus
Signs and Symptoms: The rabbit displays uncoordination, convulsions (seizures), and evidence of severe pain. There usually is a bloody nasal discharge. VHD causes rapid development of blood clot formation in major organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys. The clots block blood vessels causing heart and respiratory failure.
Cause: Infection occurs after contact with objects or animals carrying calicivirus.
Prevention: Practice good sanitation and cleaning of rabbit’s housing and equipment. Wash your hands in between handling rabbits. Rabbits house outdoors 100% of the time are more likely to become infected. If rabbits are kept solely outdoors, enclosures such as our Supreme Rabbit Cages will keep the rabbit from coming into contact with wild animals.
Treatment: There is no known treatment. An infected rabbit that has died from VHD will often have its legs straight out and head over its neck.
Signs and Symptoms: Enlargements under skin, usually near the jaw. They can occur on other parts of the body where there are wounds or scratches.
Prevention: House rabbits in separate pens to prevent fighting. Identify and eliminate sharp objects that can potentially injure a rabbit.
Causes: Abcesses are caused by bacterial infections.
Treatment: Clip the fur around the abscesses, then lance and remove the pus. Disinfect with peroxide and use an approved antibiotic ointment or powder to promote healing.
Signs and Symptoms: Scabs usually appear in the bottom of the rear feet. Pad and toes may become infected. Nervous and heavy rabbits are more susceptible to the sore hock condition, as are the Rex breeds.
Prevention: Use wire bottom pens, and do not let wet litter and manure accumulate. Eliminate sharp objects on the floor of the cage.
Cause: A bruised or infected area on the undersurface of the hock joint causes it to become sore and unable to heal. Related causes are a dirty hutch, and rough surfaces on the cage floor constructed with the wrong size wire grid.
Treatment: Wash the hock with a germicidal soap and apply an antiseptic such as tincture of iodine or an aluminum powder-based spray. Provide a resting mat or board for the rabbit to get up off the wire, like our EZ Cage Floor Mats for rabbits.
Fur Block or “Hairball”
Signs and Symptoms: Rabbit will sporadically eat small amounts of feed. A firm mass can be palpated in the stomach.
Cause: The rabbit ingests a large amount of its own hair or another rabbit’s hair in a short period of time.
Prevention: Fur block is noted more often in Angora rabbits, but can happen to any rabbit. Regular grooming during molting can help get rid of excess hair.
Treatment: An oral dose of ½ oz. mineral oil may be effective. If the fur block is too large, surgical removal is necessary.
Signs and Symptoms: Scabs or a crust start forming at the base of inner ear. It can cause considerable irritation and the rabbit will frequently shake its head and try to scratch ears with hind legs.
Prevention: Do not let unaffected rabbits in contact with rabbits that have ear canker. Place three drops of oil (such as mineral or vegetable oil) in rabbits’ ears once a month.
Cause: Ear mites.
Treatment: Use a cotton swab to apply mineral, vegetable or olive oil over all visible crust. Inject or apply an anti-parasitic medication.
Eye Infections (Conjunctivitis)
Signs and Symptoms:The eyes of rabbit kits may stick shut and pus around the eyes may be noticed (this is called “nest box eye”). Older rabbits out to the nest box can have swollen, weeping eyes, with or without white pus around the eyes.
Prevention: Prevent cold drafts and other stressors. Isolate infected rabbits and sanitize their equipment.
Cause: There are several types of bacteria that can cause conjunctivitis.
Treatment: Apply an antibacterial eye ointment until the condition completely goes away. Consult with a veterinarian if needed to pinpoint the type of antibiotic that is necessary.
Mastitis or “Blue Breasts”
Signs and Symptoms: The mammary gland on a doe will become red in color, swollen, tender and dark blue streaks may appear.
Prevention: Reduce any chance of injury to mammary gland as the doe enters the nest box. Buy the right size of nest box, such as our Metal Rabbit Nest Box for the breed of rabbit you are raising. Do not transfer the young to another lactating doe, except in an emergency.
Cause: A bacterial infection in the mammary gland caused by an injury from nest box, cage or a bite from a nursing kit.
Treatment: Penicillin is effective against Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria or a similar organism, but a veterinarian may recommend another antibiotic.
Malocclusion “Buck Teeth”
Signs and Symptoms: The rabbit’s lower teeth protrude and upper teeth curve into mouth.
Prevention: NEVER use rabbits with “buck teeth” for breeding purposes – the condition is hereditary.
Cause: Malocclusion is a genetic condition characterized by excessive growth of the front teeth.
Treatment: Teeth on young rabbits can be trimmed until they reach slaughter weight. If desired, teeth trimming can continue for the duration of the rabbit’s natural life.
Signs and Symptoms: A tell-tale sign of ringworm is a loss of hair in circular patches. There is usually a yellowish crust that forms around the patch and sloughs off in about 3 weeks. If the infection goes untreated, considerable scratching will occur, and will likely spread to other areas.
Prevention: Do not allow infected rabbits in contact with other rabbits. Wear gloves when handling the infected rabbit.
Cause: A fungus infection that can appear on any part of the body but most often will occur on the head. This fungus infection can be transmitted to humans.
Treatment: Clip the fur around affected area and treat with an anti-fungal medicine. Other medications may be available through your veterinarian.
Fur Mites and Skin Mange
Signs and Symptoms: There will be some hair loss, scaly skin and intense itching and scratching.
Prevention: Infected rabbits should be separated and treated. The premises should be disinfected.
Cause: An infestation of mites that burrow through the skin and cause considerable irritation. Mange mites that affect dogs and cats can infect rabbits.
Treatment: Dust with an insecticide approved for skin mange. Treatment should be repeated again in 7 days. The rabbit’s fur should be thoroughly combed through and inspected for any remaining living bugs.
Signs and Symptoms: Excessive biting, chewing, or scratching, visible bite marks on skin or evidence of fleas (larvae, flea dirt, etc.)
Prevention: Do not allow the rabbit to be around other pets that have not been treated for fleas, isolate one rabbit with fleas from the rest of the herd.
Cause: Fleas are more common in some climates and during particular seasons, but they can affect rabbits year-round. Fleas can also jump from one pet to another, such as from dogs or cats.
Treatment: Use a flea treatment approved for use on rabbits, such as Advantage. Check with a veterinarian before using any other medications. (Frontline, for example, is known to have toxic effects on rabbits).
Remember, early recognition and treatment is vitally important. However, with proper sanitation, adequate ventilation, and proper nutrition, most rabbit owners can raise rabbits with little to no occurrence of these diseases or parasites. Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself! Please feel free to comment or leave questions below!
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