SPECIAL PROBLEMS OF PET RABBITS
Rabbits have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.
Diarrhea is often seen in rabbits. While it can be due to coccidia (a one-cell protozoan) or incorrect usage of oral antibiotics, often the cause can't be determined. Rabbits eating a diet that is too high in carbohydrates (pellets or alfalfa hay) are more prone to develop intestinal problems than rabbits eating a high fiber (grass hay) diet.
Mucoid enteropathy is by definition a diarrheal disease of young rabbits that can be fatal. The diarrhea has a mucoid or gelatinous consistency.
Treatment for diarrheal conditions of rabbits is controversial and varies among veterinarians. As a rule, fiber in the diet is increased (often nothing but hay is offered for several weeks). Fluid and vitamin therapy are used as needed.
Cystic Calculi (Bladder Stones)
Rabbits, like many pets, can develop bladder stones. Signs include urinating frequently, straining to urinate, and blood in the urine. Often the stones can be palpated (felt) by your veterinarian during the examination. Radiographs (X-rays) can confirm the diagnosis. Surgical removal of the stones cures the problem. Rabbits that have been eating a diet high in pellets (this may contribute to stone formation) can be weaned onto a diet lower in pellets and higher in hay, which may prevent stone recurrence.
Rabbits have sharp nails, and owners are easily scratched when handling their pets. The back feet, which are the most powerful, are usually the culprits. Scratches to owners most commonly occur when placing the rabbit back into its cage or down onto the floor. Supporting the rear end of the rabbit during the entire lifting, carrying, and replacing regimen will usually eliminate the problem. Periodic nail trimming (have your doctor show you the proper technique) is important. RABBITS SHOULD NOT BE DECLAWED EXCEPT IN EXTREME CASES!
Several references in the literature discuss antibiotic toxicities in rabbits. Some of the reports warn against using ANY oral antibiotics in rabbits, whereas others mention specific problems with oral drugs such as penicillin or lincomycin. Antibiotic toxicity is one reason to make sure that your veterinarian is trained to properly treat pet rabbits. Feel free to discuss any concerns you have with your veterinarian about antibiotics for your pet. And if your rabbit develops diarrhea while being treated with any medication, STOP the medication and call your veterinarian at once!
Rabbits engage in coprophagy, which means they eat their own feces. This occurs at night, and these fecal pellets are different from the ones normally excreted and seen by the owners. These pellets serve as a source of nutrients, specifically vitamins, for the rabbit. Most owners never observe this behavior; if you do, remember that it is normal and necessary for the health of your rabbit.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Shawn Messonnier, DVM.
© Copyright 2002 LIfelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. November 18, 2002