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Rabbit-Welfare / Back

Diseases, Illnesses & Injuries



Resting RabbitRabbits are susceptible to a variety of diseases and parasites - Ask your vet about preventative treatments and what you need to watch out for. To keep them happy and healthy you will need to check your rabbits regularly, ensure vaccinations are up to date, and keep their living environment clean. Even if they’re healthy, rabbits will need to visit the vets for annual check-ups and vaccinations.




Rabbits must be vaccinated against fatal diseases. The main two are Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) and Myxomatosis. These can be in a single injections for each disease, or as a combined injection. Booster injections will also be needed every year. You should vaccinate your rabbit as soon as possible and not wait for reports of an outbreak. Many rabbit boarding places and insurance policies require up to date vaccinations.



This disease is spread by coming into direct contact with infected rabbits or their urine/faeces. Almost all rabbits that catch VHD will die within a couple of days. It causes severe internal bleeding, and in a lot of cases goes undiagnosed. Rabbits can be protected by being vaccinated against the disease, and must receive yearly booster injections. Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 or 10-12 weeks old. The virus can live in the environment for months and be transported by the wind, birds or insects, food, or even on your feet or clothes. Keep living areas clean, and try to prevent contact with wild rabbits who may be contaminated.



The main ways a rabbit can catch Myxi is through an insect bite or from direct contact with an infected rabbit. Symptoms start with conjunctivitues, followed by swelling around the head area and genitals, becoming weak and going blind. This is often an extremely fatal disease, but rabbits can be protected by being vaccinated, and must receive yearly booster injections. Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 weeks old. Vaccinated rabbits may still catch Myxi, but it will be a much milder case, and they will usually survive. Other things you can do to prevent it are to fit insect screens to outdoor housing, using dust extracted hay or kiln dried grass, eliminate standing water, keep other creatures and wild rabbits away as much as possible and prevent them making any contact.



A parasite that lives inside the body cells (particularly brain and kidneys), and is responsible for causing many health issues in rabbits. Most rabbits are commonly infected at a young age by their mothers or can easily pick it up through contaminated food or water in the environment, or from an infected rabbit. Rabbits infected with E Cuniculi can suffer from renal failure, convulsions, head tilt, deafness, hind limb weakness, loss of balance, incontinence, drinking more or cataracts. You’ll need to get your rabbit tested to check that symptoms whether symptoms are caused by the parasite or are a result of another health problem. E Cuniculi is diagnosed through blood tests and can be treated with medication. Be sure to keep your rabbits living environment and any litter trays thoroughly cleaned to prevent harbouring and spreading of disease.


Checking RabbitMITES [70]

The most common mite is Cheyletiella (sometimes referred to as ‘walking dandruff’), which is usually found on the neck and back of the rabbit. These mites cannot be seen, but become a problem if infestation occurs, or they burrow deep into the skin. Signs of a problem are bald patches or flaky, encrusted areas of skin, which the rabbit will try to scratch to ease their discomfort. Fur Mites are most common in mild weather, and can be spread by hay. Ear Mites (Psoroptes Cuniculi) affect the ear canal, and are spread through direct contact. Initial symptoms are excessive head shaking, discharge, and ear scratching, as rabbits become increasingly itchy, irritated and in pain. Conditions should be treated by a vet, and the living area thoroughly cleaned.


FLEAS [71]

Fleas are common in rabbits and may cause itching, resulting in the rabbit trying to scratch or chew their skin. Common signs of fleas are black flecks in the fur (usually flea droppings), which turn red when dampened, or bald irritated patches of skin. The main thing to worry about with fleas is that they can spread the fatal disease, Mxyomatosis. You should contact your vet for advice on the correct treatments to use.



A fungal infection that causes hair loss and itchy, scaly lesions on the skin, usually around the head, legs and feet. Also, persistent scratching may cause the skin to become infected. Ringworm is spread by coming into direct contact with an infected animal or item that has been contaminated. It can be treated by either applying an anti-fungal ointment to affected areas or by taking an anti-fungal medicine. Treatment may take several weeks for lesions to heal and fungus to die down. The fungus can live in the environment for long periods of time, so it’s important to ensure you thoroughly clean and disinfect your rabbit’s living area, and any place or item they may have come into contact with. Ringworm can be passed between humans and rabbits so take care when handling an infected rabbit and wash hands well afterwards.


Standing RabbitFLYSTRIKE (MYIASIS) [65]

This is when flies lay eggs in a rabbit’s fur, which then hatch into maggots that eat into the flesh. Flystrike is more common in the warmer months. Dirty bottoms will attract more flies, making a rabbit more at risk of flystrike, so it’s important to check your rabbits regularly, especially if they have difficulties cleaning themselves. Rabbits with a high risk of flystrike are those that are overweight, long haired, have dental problems, those with large dewlaps or who have folds of skin around their stomach or bottom, are wounded, elderly, or are living in unsanitary conditions. If you see maggots on your rabbit’s fur, visit the vet immediately, as flystrike can be serious and sometimes fatal if not treated quickly enough. Treatment usually involves removal of maggots and antibiotics. You can help prevent flystrike by keeping rabbit living areas clean and dry, adding fly screens to housing, ensuring your rabbit has a healthy diet, or speaking to your vet about special preventatives, such as ‘Rearguard’ (a liquid treatment applied to the rear of the rabbit).



This is usually caused by incorrect diet or may indicate that there is a problem with the gut. Ensure your rabbit has plenty to drink so they don’t become dehydrated. If your rabbit is still suffering after a few days of eating just hay and water, then consult your vet.



Rabbits have long visible teeth at the front of their mouths (incisors), as well as less visible teeth inside their cheeks (molars and premolars). Poor diet is the main cause of dental issues, or a lack of calcium which results in softening of the jaw bone causing teeth to move out of the correct alignment. Rabbit teeth grow continuously and can often become overgrown. This is why it’s so important they eat the correct diet with a constant supply of fibrous foods that help wear the teeth down. Overgrown teeth can cut into the gums and tongue or cause discharge from the nose and eyes. Sometimes, overgrown teeth can become infected and cause abscesses, which can be hard to treat. Signs of dental problems include weight loss, changes in eating habits and preference for soft foods, dribbling, not eating and difficulty grooming themselves. If your rabbit has overgrown teeth, you should take them to the vet for regular trimming and consider any changes in diet that may be necessary.



Rabbits breathe through their nose rather than their mouth. They can take 30 – 60 breaths per minute (or more if they are suffering from stress), and have sensitive nostrils that can twitch up to 120 times per minute. Rabbits have small lungs, making them susceptible to Pneumonia and respiratory issues. If your rabbit is gasping for air or breathing noisily it may indicate a respiratory problem. Respiratory issues can be caused by poorly cleaned living conditions, air pollution, obesity, heatstroke, stress, impaired immune system or physical blockages in the nose. Rabbits do not tolerate draughts and should live in accommodation with sheltered space, at a comfortable temperature. The most common form of respiratory infection in rabbits is snuffles, which is caused by the bacteria Pasteurella. This bacteria can live in healthy rabbits, only developing problems when the rabbit is unwell or stressed. Signs of snuffles include sneezing and runny eyes and nose. The best way to prevent health issues is to keep your rabbit fit, healthy and happy by ensuring they have enough space, a companion, a suitable diet and regular health checks. If you suspect that your rabbit is suffering from snuffles, diagnosis and treatment should be sought as soon as possible.



Rabbits have a very fragile bone structure. If they are caged in an environment without the space to run, hop or move about or stand up comfortably, then they will be at risk of developing weak, brittle bones. This can in turn lead to fractures easily occurring. Confinement will also cause rabbits to lack coordination, flexibility and muscle development. Make sure you provide your rabbit with the correct living conditions where they have the opportunity for frequent exercise to keep them healthy. [67] As creatures that are most active at dusk and dawn [78], rabbits need to have access to their exercise area 24 hours a day so they can run about when they want and display natural behaviour patterns.



Can be caused by a number of factors, including poor hygiene or damp bedding, long nails resulting in more weight being put on the heel, overweight bunnies applying more pressure on their feet, immobility or unsuitable flooring such as hard or rough surfaces. A rabbit that spends too much time on a hard surface with no give is more likely to get sore hocks, as it puts more pressure on their feet, and surfaces like carpet can be abrasive. The best living surface for a rabbit would be grass or soil, like they have in the wild, as this soft, compliant surface that toenails can dig into is what rabbit feet have evolved to work with. Ensure your rabbit has the correct living conditions to prevent sores. If left untreated, sores can be very damaging, leading to pain, infection and even blood poisoning.



Severe wounds should always be treated by a vet. Minor scrapes and cuts should be carefully cleaned to prevent infection. Rabbits may chew at themselves or pull out their fur if they are bored, stressed or in pain. It’s important to find out the underlying reason rather than just thinking it’s a behavioural problem, as it could be down to a health problem or skin irritation.



Causes of lumps can include abscesses, tumours or a reaction to a vaccination. Rabbits are prone to abscesses following wounds or injuries. They are usually surrounded by a thick covering, with the inside being dry and thick, meaning they can’t easily be drained. In some cases, abscesses can be treated with surgery, but it may take a while to recover. Care needs to be taken to ensure it doesn’t become infected. If an abscess is internal, it may not be possible to treat. Not all lumps are harmful, but if you discover a new lump on your rabbit, it’s best to get it checked by a vet to relieve any concerns.



Rabbits need enough Vitamin D to enable Calcium to be absorbed from the gut, to help strengthen their bones and keep teeth healthy. A lack of Vitamin D will weaken the immune system and an excess of Calcium can cause urinary stones or bladder problems. Indoor rabbits, or rabbits confined to living in hutches without time spent running around outdoors, are at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, as they lack sunshine. Ensure that your rabbit has access to an outdoor space that is safe and secure and big enough for them to fully run around. (See Housing Standards)



Moulting (shedding hair) is a natural process for rabbits, and usually happens at the end of winter and the end of summer, when they have new coats for the changing temperatures. As rabbits groom themselves, they ingest a lot of hair. When your rabbit is moulting, you should help groom them regularly to reduce the amount of hair passing through to the gut, and always ensure your rabbit eats plenty of hay to keep their digestive system moving correctly. [37] Brush down the skin, parting the fur as you go. To help avoid fur becoming matted, make sure you remove all of the undercoat and not just the fur on top. Avoid brushes with sharp ends, as it could scratch the rabbit’s skin. Instead, opt for a wide toothed comb with blunt ends. If you’re having trouble removing the matted fur, get a vet to clip it out, don’t attempt to cut the fur yourself as rabbit skin is very delicate. [59]



The rabbit’s digestive system is designed to digest foods rich in fibre, which is one of the reasons why hay/grass is an important part of their diet. The intestine is divided into compartments, and microorganisms break down the fibre, converting it to fatty acids that are used to build body cells. Rabbits pass two types of faeces, one of which, (known as Caecotrophs), they re-ingest to absorb the nutrients. GI Stasis is the stopping of normal bowel movements, and is indicated by the reduction of food intake, changes in food preferences or lack of stools. It can be caused by a blockage, poor diet, dehydration, stress or pain. It’s important to get your rabbit checked by a vet so they can determine the cause and the correct treatment. To prevent digestive problems, ensure that you feed your rabbit the correct diet (80% of a rabbit’s diet should be grass or hay, 15% greens and 5% pellets [28]), give them plenty of fresh water to drink, that they have enough exercise, avoid sudden changes in their diet, and help groom them when they’re moulting.



To keep your rabbit healthy, ensure you feed them the correct diet (See Diet – What do Rabbits Eat), keep them mentally stimulated, provide suitable, clean living conditions, and give them plenty of space and opportunity to exercise (See Housing Standards). Try not to let them get too overweight, as that could cause health problems (See Is My Rabbit Overweight?).