Rabbits

The 12 Most Common Rabbit Diseases: How to Treat and Prevent

Here at J&R Pierce Family Farm, I think it’s important to connect my readers with valuable insight from other master farmers & gardeners. Today’s post is a guest post brought to you by Samantha Rainwater.

Raising rabbits is not all “fuzzy bunnies”, there are some serious aspects that you are going to want to consider.  Rabbits can get sick, just like you and me, so having some knowledge in how to prevent these diseases, and treat them if need-be, is important.  

If you are considering raising rabbits, please don’t let the idea of them getting sick scare you. This is a normal thing that many rabbit farmers experience, and there are generally simple remedies that will get your rabbits back in tip-top shape.   

common rabbit diseases

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12 Most Common Rabbit Diseases

common rabbit diseases

The best way to be prepared to handle a sick rabbit is to familiarize yourself with common diseases that rabbits can get.  Knowing which diseases are most common will help you prevent your rabbits from ever getting them in the first place, as most can be avoided in the right environments.  

It is also a good idea to know what treatment options are available if your rabbits do get a common disease.  Many of these diseases are easier to treat if they are caught early on.  

Snuffles (Pasteurellosis)

One of the most common diseases that rabbits can get is the snuffles– it sounds harmless enough– and generally is if treated properly and not ignored.  Snuffles is the common term for Pasteurellosis, which is an upper respiratory infection caused by bacteria.  

The most common symptoms to look for in your rabbits are: runny nose, skin infections, or a head tilt.  

Snuffles can generally be diagnosed with just a physical examination, and it is important to spot early.  If it goes undetected, it can progress to a more serious condition such as sepsis or pneumonia.  

Snuffles is also highly contagious among rabbits, so an early treatment plan is important to ensure the safety of your rabbits. 

Treatment

Snuffles is caused by bacteria, so antibiotics are an effective method for treatment, but please consult a veterinarian before administering antibiotics to your rabbits.  If the case is caught soon enough, probiotics may be a sufficient treatment.  

Prevention

One of the best ways to help prevent snuffles in your rabbits is by keeping their environment stress free.  The bacteria that causes the snuffles is very common in rabbits, but may only become a problem if the rabbit becomes stressed.  

Probiotics can also be used preventatively, as they help keep good bacteria in the gut.  

Encephalitozoonosis

Encephalitozoonosis is caused by a parasite, and can cause neurological problems in rabbits.  The most common symptoms are: head tilt, rolling, and trouble walking.  

The most common way for a rabbit to become infected is through the urine of an infected rabbit or during birth, if the mother is infected.  This disease can be serious in some cases, and can remain present even after a rabbit has been treated.  

In cases where the disease cannot be eradicated, treatment may be needed for the remainder of the rabbit’s life.  

Treatment

Anti-inflammatory medication is the most common treatment to cure Encephalitozoonosis, and rabbits that do not recover in-full, may need to stay on this medication indefinitely.  

Prevention

The best way to prevent Encephalitozoonosis is to keep your rabbits away from wild rabbits, and check any incoming rabbits prior to introduction. 

Flystrike (Myiasis)

Flystrike is the common term for myiasis, which is an infestation of maggots that break skin, causing infection.  This is fairly common in warmer months, as the flies are attracted to feces or fur dampened in urine.  With an overabundance of flies, they can lay eggs on the skin of the rabbits.  

Once these eggs hatch (sometimes within a few hours), the maggots will feed on the rabbit’s flesh, causing damage and infection.  Some common symptoms of flystrike are: refusal to eat or drink, lethargy, and a light smell coming from the hutch.  You may also be able to see the maggots on the skin if you comb through the fur.

Treatment

Treating flystrike often includes clipping and cleaning the rabbit’s fur to remove the maggots.  Pain relieving gel and soothing products may also be administered to help relieve the rabbit’s pain. 

In some cases, antibiotics are needed.

Prevention

Thankfully, flystrike is preventable by keeping your rabbits’ enclosure cleaned, and making sure that your rabbits are grooming themselves.  Rabbits that struggle to keep themselves clean may need to be groomed regularly, as it only takes a small amount of soil to attract flies.  

Bordetella bronchiseptica

Another respiratory infection, Bordetella bronchiseptica can sometimes be mistaken for snuffles, as they are very similar conditions, with the main difference being the type of bacteria present.  

Although most rabbits are actually asymptomatic carriers of Bordetella, they may become sick if they are immunocompromised.  Bordetella can also be passed through other animals, so an infected rabbit may cause harm to other animals such as guinea pigs or dogs.  

Common symptoms include: difficulty breathing, wheezing, and sneezing, and the progression of the disease may be rapid under the right circumstances.

Treatment

Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication are the most common treatment for Bordetella.  In some, more serious cases, vitamin C and fluid therapy may also be needed for recovery.

Prevention

Although there is no common vaccine for Bordetella in rabbits, it is a good idea to vaccinate other large animals, such as dogs, to ensure the disease is not spread to your rabbits from these animals.  

Keeping different species separate is also a key to preventing spread.  

Staphylococcosis

common rabbit diseases

Staphylococcosis is caused by staphylococcal bacteria, and can range from mild to severe cases in rabbits.  If treated early, most cases are mild, but if not caught early, may be fatal.  Staphylococcosis can cause infertility, mastitis, and abscesses in rabbits.  

Keep an eye out for signs of mastitis or abscesses on your rabbits, as they may be a sign of infection.  Although most strains are mild, there are stronger strains of the bacteria that are more contagious and will require more rigorous treatment plans.

Treatment

It is important to test the strain before treatment, as different strains will respond differently to different medications.  In most cases, antimicrobial therapy is required for treatment.

Prevention

The main mode of prevention for Staphylococcosis is to ensure no contaminated individuals come in contact with your rabbits.  If bringing in new rabbits, proper screening is important to make sure they will not contaminate your current rabbits.  

Moraxella catarrhalis

This disease comes from another common bacteria which may live in a normal and healthy rabbit without infecting the host.  The problems with Moraxella occurs when a rabbit becomes immunocompromised, or when an immunocompromised rabbit is introduced to a rabbit that has the bacteria.  

If the bacteria manifest, they can cause upper respiratory complications ranging from mild to severe cases.  This disease can become airborne, so an infected rabbit can easily spread the disease to other rabbits, especially if they live in the same colony or in nearby hutches.  

Treatment

Most treatment plans include antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication.  In some cases, nasolacrimal duct flushing may be needed to help the rabbit recover.  

Prevention

Reducing stress levels in your rabbits is a simple way to prevent Moraxella.  Rabbits that are stressed are more likely to become immunocompromised, allowing the bacteria to manifest into a disease.  

Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis is caused by parasites that live in the intestines of rabbits.  These types of parasites are species-specific, so they can only be transmitted between rabbits.  Young and recently weaned rabbits are especially susceptible to coccidiosis, and are more likely to be affected by the disease.  

Rabbits may become infected with coccidiosis by eating the feces of a rabbit that has the parasite.  Although this parasite may be dormant in the infected rabbit, the rabbit that comes in contact may be affected.  

Signs of coccidiosis in rabbits include: watery stool, blood-tinged diarrhea, and infrequent or intermittent stools, along with lethargy and lack of appetite.  

Treatment

In more mild cases, oral medications taken at home may be sufficient in killing the parasite.  In severe cases, hospitalization for your rabbit may be necessary as they may become dehydrated.  

Either way, a thorough cleaning of the living space is important to make sure they do not reinfect themselves. 

Prevention

Rabbits are coprophagic (they eat their own feces), so it is important to keep their cage clean to help prevent coccidiosis from spreading.  Most healthy rabbits can fight the parasite without medical intervention, so keeping your rabbits generally healthy will also help with prevention.  

Enteritis

common rabbit diseases

One of the most common gastrointestinal tract diseases in rabbits is enteritis.  Enteritis is inflammation of the intestines, which can be deadly in rabbits if not treated properly.  The most common cause for enteritis is a poor diet, particularly diets that are low in fiber and high in carbohydrates.  

Carbohydrates are quickly broken down by bacteria, fueling their spread and leading to overgrowth.  A sudden change in diet can also play a role in enteritis manifesting.  Inappropriate use of antibiotics can throw off the balance of bacteria and may also lead to enteritis.  

Symptoms to look out for include: soft and mucus-covered stool, bloated abdomen, loss of appetite, weight loss, and grinding of teeth.  

Treatment

Treating enteritis is tricky if not detected early on.  Treatment can include providing extra fluids and syringe-fed high fiber feeds.

Prevention

The best way to prevent enteritis is to provide your rabbit with a good diet that is high in fiber.  Keeping a low-stress environment can also keep enteritis from harming your rabbits.  

Mycoplasmas pulmonis

Mycoplasmas pulmonis is an infection that can be found in rabbits.  This infection often leads to an asymptomatic individual, so diagnosing it can be difficult.  Culture tests often return with negative results, even when the infection is present.  

There are more accurate tests, but these will often not be done until many other options have been ruled out.  This infection can lead to infertility, embryonic resorption, and reduction in litter size.  

Because the infection is often asymptomatic, it is difficult to spot.  Checking on the general happiness of your rabbits is important in catching mycoplasmas pulmonis.

Treatment

Treatment is usually based on the severity of the case, which must be determined first.  Fluoroquinolones and tetracyclines are generally the most effective treatment options that are safe for rabbits.

Prevention

Keeping infected individuals away from your rabbits is the best way to prevent mycoplasmas pulmonis.  This may be difficult in some cases, because many rodents have this disease.  

Ensuring your rabbit enclosure is not susceptible to rodents is important in keeping this disease away from your rabbits.  

Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer is very common in rabbits.  Approximately 60% of females greater than 3 years old will develop uterine cancer.  Most uterine tumors will start small, but will slowly grow and eventually spread to other areas of the body.  A fast diagnosis is key in treating rabbits with uterine cancer.  

Signs to look out for include blood in urine, vaginal discharge, and mastitis.  Any of these symptoms should be checked by your vet immediately.  Age is the greatest risk factor in rabbits, so keeping an eye on your older rabbits will be especially important in spotting uterine cancers.  

Treatment

There is no sure-fire treatment for uterine cancer in rabbits, but treatment generally includes hospitalization and surgery to remove the tumor(s).

Prevention

The only way to help prevent uterine cancer in rabbits is to spay your females.  This, of course, is not feasible if you are breeding your rabbits.  However, you might consider spaying rabbits that are past breeding age, or those that will not be used for breeding. 

Calicivirus

common rabbit diseases

Calicivirus is a disease in rabbits that may cause damage to internal organs, along with hemorrhaging or bleeding.  This disease is most commonly spread from wild rabbits, but can also spread through the air or on fleas.  This disease is very serious, and prevention is key to keeping your rabbits safe.  

Treatment

There are currently no treatment options available for rabbits with Calicivirus, and unfortunately a large percentage of rabbits will die once infected.  

Prevention

There is a vaccine available that will help to protect your rabbit from contracting Calicivirus.  Making sure that your rabbits are up to date is the best preventative measure against Calicivirus.  

Overgrown Teeth

Although not a true disease, overgrown teeth are a very common problem with rabbits, and can lead to major problems if not taken care of properly.  A rabbit’s teeth will continuously grow throughout its whole life, so the ability to grind them down is always important.  

If the rabbits are not grinding down, the molars can form sharp spikes that may damage their cheeks and tongue.  

In some severe cases, the rabbits may not be able to eat, which can cause their gut to stop functioning, resulting in death.

Treatment

If severe, a rabbit may need to have their teeth burred after receiving a general anesthetic.  This is the only true treatment for overgrown teeth.

Prevention

The good news is, preventing overgrown teeth in rabbits is easy.  Making sure there is enough fiber in your rabbit’s diet is key to preventing overgrown teeth, as the fibers will help grind their teeth down while they eat.  

What You Can Do to Treat & Prevent Illness In Your Rabbits

common rabbit diseases

It is important to be aware of the more common, potential diseases that your rabbits may get.  Knowing what symptoms to look out for may be crucial in getting effective treatments.  

If you are able to detect a potential disease early on, you may be able to use a simple treatment, which may save your rabbit’s life.

Prevention is also key, and knowing what diseases to prevent is the first step.  Overall, a solid enclosure, stress-free environment, screening of incoming rabbits, and proper diet will help to prevent most common diseases.  

In addition, some diseases require vaccinations, so make sure your rabbits are up to date.   

Any symptoms that are unusual should justify a trip to a local veterinarian, as some diseases will spread quickly.  Rabbits are notorious for hiding their pain, so knowing your rabbits well is important in spotting disease.  

Keeping your rabbits healthy is a crucial aspect of raising rabbits.  Your first line of defense will be taking preventative measures to assist in avoiding disease altogether.  

However, if your rabbit does get a disease, there are generally good treatment options if action is taken right away.  

Overall, knowledge is power, and understanding your rabbit’s normal behavior versus a sign of disease is key.  If you do detect disease, stay calm, and evaluate the situation.  

Disease is a normal part of all life – you just need to know how to handle the situation.

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Samantha Rainwater is a freelance writer, full-time business owner, and recent mom who spends her free time writing. Her degree in Biology gives her a background in science, which she likes to apply on her small hobby farm. Writing about her experiences is one of her passions, and she finds joy in sharing her experiences with others.

Have your rabbits suffered from any of these diseases? How did you treat them? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
  

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Author: Rebekah Pierce

I'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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