A rabbit health check should encompass more than just the rabbit's appearance. You need to check its environment for key signs, observe its behaviour and pick it up to give it a thorough examination. You should be looking out for signs of ill health every day when you look after your rabbit, but it can be worth carrying out a more formal rabbit health check, including all the points below, on a weekly basis.
Have a look at your rabbit’s living quarters – has anything changed since yesterday? If there are two rabbits living together, clumps of fur lying around could mean they have had a fight, so will both need checking for wounds. However fur forming a nest in one area of the hutch means your rabbit is either having a phantom pregnancy – common in unspayed females or is pregnant.
Make sure there are no escape routes developing in the pen. Rabbits can be good at chewing through wooden hutches, pulling the wire away from the front of a hutch or burrowing out if they have a grass run.
Gnawing activity can leave hutch nails exposed or sharp splinters. It is worth removing these and making an immediate repair so that your pet doesn't injure itself.
Droppings and Urine
Rabbit droppings should be round, pea sized or a little bigger, dry and hard. Squishy clumps of droppings may be a sign of digestive upset and mean you must pay particular attention to checking your rabbit for fly eggs or maggots around its rear end. If there are fewer or smaller droppings than usual perhaps your rabbit isn’t eating as much or may even have an intestinal blockage.
Rabbit urine can vary in colour from yellow to deep orange. It can be hard to tell if there is blood in the urine, but if you see any,that merits a visit to the vet. If your rabbit is urinating more then usual this needs monitoring over a few days to determine whether it was a one off or a sign of illness.
Food and Water
If your rabbit has drunk less than usual, first check that the water bottle nozzle isn’t blocked and then monitor the situation for a couple of days. If your rabbit’s water consumption has increased it may be weather related, but could indicate kidney problems and will be worth a visit to the vet if it continues.
Check to see if there is any food left in the food bowl and watch whether your rabbit approaches to eat when you put fresh food in. Don’t assume just because the bowl is empty that your rabbit is eating it all up – wild rats, mice and birds will all eat rabbit food.
It is harder to monitor an individual’s food and water consumption if they live as part of a group. This is where careful observation of your pet is even more important.
Behaviour and General Demeanour
If your rabbit is keeping to a corner of the hutch and seems reluctant to move or is lame or stiff, this is a cause for concern. You will become familiar with your rabbit’s normal behaviour and should be alert to any changes. Most pet rabbits will approach the front of the pen when you go towards them and will appear interested in what is going on, keen to eat and alert.
Any change in behaviour can indicate it is feeling unwell or could be stress or boredom related. Stressed or bored rabbits sometimes become aggressive or depressed and in either case you will need to make changes to your pet's environment and routine to help it feel better. Female rabbits who have just had a litter of babies sometimes become aggressive too. Even if you aren't trying to breed rabbits, but you've had your rabbit for fewer then 30 days (average rabbit gestation period) or you've brought a pair who are 'supposed' to be the same sex, this could be the answer. You won't be the first person to end up with more rabbits then they bargained for!
Eyes, Ears and Nostrils
All of these should be free from discharge. A small amount of clear moistness below the eyes and nostrils is nothing to worry about.
Eyes should be clear and bright. Because rabbit eyes are large and slightly protruding they can get scratched by a sharp piece of straw for example. This can cause an ulcer which must be treated by a vet. Netherland dwarf rabbits have particularly prominent eyes so may be more prone to this.
Ears – rabbit fleas tend to congregate around the ears and can transmit the myxomatosis virus, so look out for them. If you have cats who go outdoors they can pick up rabbit fleas from wild rabbits and bring them back home to your pet rabbit. If your rabbit is vaccinated against myxomatosis this will help guard against this often fatal disease.
Snuffles is a relatively common rabbit illness caused by a pasturella bacteria. In the early stages it shows as clear discharge from the nostrils and or weepy eyes. The eyes and nostrils can become inflamed and you may hear your rabbit sneezing. Veterinary treatment will be needed.
Mouth and Teeth
Rabbit’s teeth grow continually throughout their life and should be worn down evenly through chewing hay. However if the teeth don’t meet properly they can overgrow. This is easy to check at the front by opening the rabbit’s mouth and overgrown front teeth can be clipped by you or the vet. It is hard to see what is happening with molars, but if your rabbit often has a little slobber at the side of its mouth this can indicate back teeth which have overgrown or developed sharp edges due to not being properly lined up – a condition known as malocclusion. This can be a real problem and needs attention from the vet. Rabbits with malocclusion are prone to facial abscesses from the tooth root becoming infected.
In my experience lop eared rabbits are most prone to problems with their teeth, but any breed can be affected.
Your rabbit’s gums should be pale pink.
Coat and Skin
Your rabbit should have a glossy coat without bare patches .Sometimes when moulting the hair will come out in clumps, but the new growth should be already in place. Check the coat for signs of dandruff. A thick patch of dandruff on the rabbit’s shoulders and back is often an indication of cheyletiella mites which the vet can confirm with a skin scrapping. Other mites may be visible as tiny dots on the rabbit’s hair.
Weight and Body tone – if you have an accurate pair of bathroom scales, you could weigh your rabbit once a week and record it on a spread sheet or notebook. If your rabbit loses 10% of its bodyweight over the course of a month or less it is worth taking it to the vet for a check over. If you don’t have accurate enough scales you will need to judge your rabbit’s weight by eye. A healthy rabbit should appear smooth without a prominent backbone or rib cage although it’s good to be able to feel the ribs with gentle pressure. The shape will vary from breed to breed. Belgian hares are bred to look lean and hare-like whereas dwarf lops are more rounded.
Feel for any unusual lump, bumps and bites on your rabbit. Any wounds should be bathed twice a day in tepid salt water (1 teaspoon salt to a pint of water) and observed for signs of infection such as swelling, redness and pus. Infected wounds need treatment from a vet. Any lumps which develop need checking by a vet – they could be an abscess or tumour, though luckily rabbits are not prone to tumours. In my experience with over 100 rabbits I’ve only had one die as a result of a tumour and only one who developed the sort of benign lump which is common in elderly dogs.
Bottom and Genital area
These areas should be clean, dry and free of discharge. The skin should be pink, not red and inflamed.
Overweight or elderly rabbits who are struggling to clean themselves or rabbits with digestive upsets can get clumps of droppings stuck around their bottom. Long haired rabbits, such as angoras, can be particularly susceptible. In warm weather this can attract flies which lay eggs that hatch into maggots on the rabbit. They will then start eating into your pet. It is vital to clean off any droppings stuck to your pet. It may come away with a paper towel, but if not put a drop of washing up liquid in a bowl of warm water and sit your rabbit in it. This should loosen the droppings and enable you to pull them away without pulling any fur out; which can make the rabbit sore. Then pat the rabbit dry with a towel and keep your rabbit in a cage indoors until it is dry, especially in winter.
Feet and Nails
The underside of the feet can become sore, especially if your rabbit is urinating more or tending to sit in its own urine as sometimes happens with elderly rabbits. Rex rabbits have less hair on the soles of their feet so are more prone to getting sore feet.
If your rabbit’s nails are too long and certainly if they are curling over, now is a good time to cut them. A rabbit has 5 nails on each front foot and four on each back foot.
You are aiming to cut the nails back to about 1/8th inch after the end of the quick, which is the pink area with blood vessels. This is very easy to see in a white clawed rabbit, but difficult where the claws are black or brown. With black claws clip off a little at a time and if you do just nick the end so that it bleeds a little, bathe the rabbit’s foot in warm salt water.
Rabbit Health Check Table
|What to look for||Date and Comments||Date and Comments|
clumps of hair, blood, signs of escape
smaller or fewer then usual or squishy and clumped
Very dark or containing blood
Food and water
more or less consumed then normal
reluctant to move or hiding away, lameness
Discharge, ulcers, inflamation
Fleas, wax buildup, discharge
slobber round the edges
Overgrown or uneven edges, pale gums
Bald patches, dull condition, fleas and mites
dandruff, inflamation, bites and lumps
Weight and body tone
weight loss or gain. Loss of muscle tone
Inflamation, clumps of droppings, fly eggs, maggots
Fur loss, sore patches
Overgrown or damaged
Marie Gail Stratford from Kansas City, MO on October 12, 2014:
I had pet rabbits growing up and would love to have one in the house sometime if my two cats would be agreeable. Good information on caring for them.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 05, 2012:
Thank you for reading and voting Insurancegal.
insurancegal88 on July 05, 2012:
Excellent advice, good for anyone who is thinking about getting a rabbit or currently owns one. Voted up!
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 03, 2012:
Thank you for looking in and for your votes Marcy!
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on July 02, 2012:
This hub is very helpful for anyone who has pet rabbits or is raising them. All too often, people get an animal and never bother to learn about the diseases they can get or how to care for them in a way that supports good health. Voted up and up!