Common issues, treatments, and advice
Disclaimer: These are treatments we use in our rabbitry. We are not licensed vets, but this is what works for us.
Pinworms: Small white worms common in rabbits. Can be found in feces, but dry up quickly. Often cause rabbits to have poor condition and fur quality when their numbers grow.
Treatment: Safeguard liquid at 2/10 cc per lb orally once a day for 5 days and again on day 10. OR Safeguard pellets approximately one full pellet per lb on the same schedule as the liquid.
Head Tilt: This can be caused by several factors. If the
rabbit has been scratching at their ears, it could be a mite infestation that was left go until it reached the inner ear. If the rabbit experienced balance issues, it may be an inner ear infection. These can be fungal and/or bacterial. If not treated, it will lead to a head tilt. Most commonly, it is from EC (Encephalitozoon cuniculi, or E. cuniculi), which is a type of parasite most rabbits carry, but it effects those with weaker immune systems (generally the young and old). The eye tends to move up into the head for EC and often moves back and forth for inner ear infections.
Treatment: For EC: Conventional treatment is 1/10 cc of Safeguard once a day for 30 days. However, I have treated with much higher dosages and twice a day until the tilt was gone and then decreased to the recommended dosage with no ill effects. Personally, I want to get rid of the tilt as quick as possible to decrease the likelihood it becomes permanent. Sometimes vets will prescribe steroids to decrease the inflammation, but this does come with a health risk. I've not felt they were needed in most cases. I've also found that when they get to rolling there is little you can do as the damage is too bad for the rabbit to recover. In those cases, I recommend humane euthanasia.
For Inner Ear Infections: Consult a veterinarian and get the ear swabbed. Bacterial and fungal infections need to be treated differently by antibiotics that require a prescription.
For Ear Mites: Honestly, I’ve never had ear mites in my barn. I’ve been told that people often use Ivermectin to treat it. I’ve heard all kinds of home remedies as well. There are also products you can buy that are specifically to treat ear mites in rabbits. For me, my treatment would be Revolution as is described below for fur mites.
Vent disease: It can show up as scabs on the
genitals or face when the disease is advanced. It can also appear as a lack of fur on the inside of the back legs and belly of the rabbit. It can also be felt in the whisker beds as bumps. In addition, vent can be seen in infertility, miscarriages, and dead litters.
Treatment: Combi-pen, which is a long acting penicillin, can be used. It requires sub q injections once a week for at least three weeks. Injections are at the rate of 1/10 cc per lb. I often give .05 cc for my full grown Hollands and have had no issues. I’ve also given it to pregnant and nursing does without issue. Be sure to disinfect cages and anything else that they were in contact with as you can easily expose them again to the virus. Vent disease can be easily contracted from attending shows or from introducing infected stock into your herd. Since they often don’t show signs for a long period of time, breeders may not be aware that the rabbit they sold you is carrying the disease. Some breeders treat all new stock that enters there barn before using it for breeding purposes for this reason. *Special note: Do not try to treat vent disease with a topical version of penicillin. It is systemic, so you would only be treating the outside scab, but it will still be in their internal organs.
Coccidia: Often results in diarrhea which may
contain blood. This protozoa is often found in rabbits, but can grow out of control, especially in times of stress or when the immune system is compromised. A stool sample may show coccidian in the feces.
Treatment: Corid was used for many years to treat coccidia. However, likely because it was overused it’s been recently found to not be very effective in eradicating coccidia. Toltrazuril is presently being recommended by veterinarians. Although it requires a prescription in the US, it can be purchased online without one. Dosage is approximately .05 cc per lb. One dose orally is all that is required. Sanitizing cages after treatment to prevent rabbits from being exposed again to coccidian is important.
Diarrhea: Can be a combination of runny stool,
but can also include mucus. Mucus is the intestinal way to deal with problems, so often you will see mucus in cases of bad intestinal imbalances. A rabbit’s GI system is a balancing act. Sometimes the bad bacteria outnumber the good bacteria in the gut. Several things can cause this. In babies, it might be what we refer to as weanling enteritis. Simply, the baby moves from mom’s milk to solid foods too quickly and it sets the balance of their gut off. They end up with their backsides covered in a wet mess of diarrhea. It can happen in other age groups as well and could be caused by coccidian (see above).
Treatment: To end the diarrhea, you need to kill off the bad bacteria. I usually use Neomycin orally administered at about .5 cc per lb. several times a day until the diarrhea ends. I’ve also used LA200 at a rate of 1/10 cc per lb. This is given sub q or in the muscle. This should only be given once a day and is more powerful than Neomycin.
Any antibiotic like this should be chased with a probiotic to regrow the good bacteria in the gut as antibiotics often kill both good and bad bacteria. Probiotics include Probios in the tube or powder form, acidophilus, or Benebac. I often used Probios as it’s easy to find in TSC.
Hydration is also key. If the rabbit is dehydrated, they won’t want to eat. I often give sub q fluids in these cases to rehydrate them or keep them hydrated until the diarrhea has stopped. It’s much easier to give a sub q injection than to make them swallow something orally. I use a 20 cc syringe as I don’t want to wait for a drip, nor do the rabbits. I want to leave them looking a bit like a hunchback. For a baby, that may only mean 5-10 cc. For an adult, it could mean up to 60 cc.
A plain diet of hay, rice pellets, or YQ plus can help get them used to eating solids again. I have great luck with using fresh kale, but my rabbits are also accustomed to eating kale (especially in the summer) as their moms have it when they’re pregnant and they have it on occasion for a snack while they’re growing up. In some cases, kale is the first and only thing very sick rabbits in my barn will attempt to eat.
Bloat: Your bunny is hunched and hiding.
When you feel their abdomen, it feels solid rather than allowing you to knead it like dough (as it normally would). Gas builds up in the stomach and isn’t able to pass into the intestines. The bunny may be grinding their teeth due to the intense pain. This is sometimes attributed to too much fur in the system due to molting and grooming. It can also be caused by other variables such as a bacterial imbalance due to issues with moldy feed or poor water quality. Additionally, it can be caused by parasites. If you have multiple cases of bloat, you may need to do some investigative work to figure out why before it affects others.
Treatment: The big danger is that you need to watch how much you put into the gut as you don’t want it to rupture. There is a war in the gut of bad bacteria working to create excess gas. To kill this bad bacteria, I prefer to use shots of LA200 until the gas has gone down and the abdomen is no longer hard. In order to repopulate the gut with good bacteria, I use powdered Probios, a bit of liquid multivitamins to add nutrients since they’re not eating (I use Oasis Vita Drops liquid multivitamins), and a bit of water just to make it able to go into a 1 cc syringe. I’ve also added a liquid infant gas drop to this mixture as well to help break down the gas in the gut to help pass it. I then syringe 1 cc of this into the rabbit after every dose of antibiotics and then about 10 hours later. If you can let the rabbit out to encourage movement, that will help the gas move better. I also give 60 cc of sub q fluids about three times a day (or as long as their body is absorbing it). This liquid is extremely beneficial because it will keep them hydrated, but not have to be forced into the already taxed stomach. It can also help to rehydrate any mass that is blocking the system from moving.
Once the stomach is no longer hard, you may have issues getting the rabbit to want to eat again. In some cases, you may even feel that their intestines are blocked (especially if it was a prolonged event). In these cases, I will use a warm water enema twice a day. I will hold the butt up so that the water can penetrate as far as possible. Then, tilt the rabbit down and massage from the top of the abdomen toward the anus in order to help move any obstructions out. You will often find this results in large compressed fecal matter being ejected. Don’t try to do it again right away though as it seems to take time to move what is above it down the intestines. It requires a few hours in between enemas to be effective. Here’s an explanation of how to give an enema that I used to learn myself: http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/enema.html
Often stasis, or the stoppage of the gut, occurs when you’ve dealt with bloat. See below for stasis treatments.
Stasis: Often called the “silent killer” of rabbits.
More often, we find our older rabbits succumb to this. It is also often during molts when they are feeling “off” or during time periods of heat when they get dehydrated. My trick in my barn to keep ahead of this is that I feed my rabbits Cheerios as an afternoon or evening snack. They have become Cheerio addicts, with only a few exceptions (those tend to gravitate towards wheat Chex instead). If they are excited and eat their snack, I know all is well. If not, I start to offer other healthy snacks like greens to entice them to eat. It’s much easier to see early signs of diet change than to see how many pellets they ate or hay they consumed. Stasis is a stoppage of the gut that can kill a rabbit very quickly, so early detection is often key to saving them.
Treatment: If the bunny is not eating and you’ve offered a smorgasbord of selections of options like parsley, mint, dandelion leaves, plantains, kale, clover, etc., the first thing I do is give sub q fluids. At least 20 cc shot behind the head or up to 60 cc depending on how advanced I think it is. Honestly, no rabbit ever overdosed on having TOO MUCH fluids, so I’d err on the side of more versus less. You can see if they lose that hunchback look or if it migrated down into their leg to know if they need more. Very important: A dehydrated bunny won’t eat.
If you have to force feed, I actually prefer using a pumpkin puree mixture as I feel it moves through the bowels easier than Critical Care. I mix the pumpkin (I keep some in my freezer at all times for this purpose) with some Probios powder and some multivitamins. Add some water if it’s too hard to get into a syringe. They do make syringes for the purpose of force feeding and they are worth the money. They have a larger opening and it’s easier to suck the puree or Critical care into it since it’s not all liquid. You don’t want to make the bunny choke, but at the same time, you also don’t want to take NO for an answer as they need to get something in their gut to get it moving again.
I usually move to a Critical care and Probios mixture after they are successfully eating the pumpkin and begin passing feces. I also keep the smorgasbord in their presence so they have the option to show me that they want to start eating on their own.
Fur Mites: Often we don’t see the mite itself, but what looks like dandruff and often fur loss on the rabbit. Usually it occurs behind the head or on the butt. I know, it’s a bug and you now think you have poor hygiene in your barn. Unfortunately, mites are just reality. They come in on the hay. They can be picked up on show tables. They can also be in your yard where your bunny is playing.
Treatment: For my show string, I often apply Revolution once a month so I don’t have to worry about fur loss in the middle of a show season. Like cats or dogs, it will prevent the mites from becoming a problem. If the mites are already there, you are also going to be treating with Revolution, but it can mean you may need more than one treatment to eradicate the problem. I usually hit them with a treatment and then see a week later if they need another dose. I use the largest dog version I can get as it’s the strongest. The stronger the medication, the less you need for each rabbit. I use this chart to determine how much I need per rabbit.
Some will use Ivermectin to treat mites. I do not. I had a buck in my barn that died due to a reaction to Ivermectin. It kills the parasite by binding to the GABA receptor sites in the brain. Unfortunately, on some animals it also does this to the host. It is irreversible and usually deadly. Revolution is super safe and there are no issues of reactions of overdosing. It can be obtained outside the US without a prescription from numerous sources. I often order mine from Canada.
Fleas: Yes, your bunny can get fleas, just like
your other pets.
Treatment: Revolution treats fleas just as it does mites and can prevent them from being an issue. I also treat my yard with a granular called Ortho Bug-B-Gon in the spring since I let my rabbits out to play in the grass. My cats are also protected so that they don’t bring fleas into the barn when they come for a visit. Most often you get fleas from taking your rabbits outside and letting them down in the grass, or from your other pets introducing them.
Fly Strike: In the summer months, we have to be aware of the danger of fly strike. I use an automatic fly sprayer in my barn to kill off flies so that they aren’t bothering the rabbits. I use the Country Vet Fly Sprayer that will automatically spray from its canister for about a month of coverage before I need to change the canister. I have four in my barn. They are completely safe for the rabbits, but deadly to the flies. In the winter months, I change the fly spray for a cotton smelling deodorizer to make it smell fresher in the barn. However, I do have a retirement home that isn’t capable of being “fly proof” like my barn. The older bunnies are more likely to be messier, so looking at their bottoms for wet areas should be a regular task. Do not let them with wet urine areas, especially mats of dead fur that needs to be pulled out that often will get saturated with urine. These areas are a nesting ground for flies. They lay their eggs, which turn into maggots, which literally will eat into the skin and flesh of the rabbit and kill them.
Treatment: Prevention is obviously the best method. However, if you do find you are dealing with fly strike, you will need to remove all the loose fur and maggots. It’s OK to spot clean that area by running it under luke warm water to wash the maggots off. Be sure to get any eggs (will look like little white specks in groups) and check the dry areas of the rabbit as the maggots will try to escape the water and hide in areas they haven’t yet moved to. Look in scent gland crevices, under the tail, and around the testicles as they like to hide up in these areas that are protected. If they are inside the rabbit, be sure to thoroughly flush them all out. Move the rabbit inside to a location where they cannot get attacked by flies while they heal and no longer have open wounds. If it is a bad case of fly strike, inspect them often for several days to make sure you have all the maggots. Eggs you missed will hatch and those that left the area when you were cleaning will often return to continue their feast. If you have open wounds, you may wish to give an antibiotic like LA200 (1/10 cc per lb once a day) to stave off infection. However, be sure to also give a probiotic (I tend to use paste as it’s easy to use) to repopulate the good bacteria in the gut the antibiotic may kill. Rabbit wounds actually heal surprisingly fast. Just keep the wounds dry and fly free and keep the bunny eating. Stress can cause stasis, so be aware of input and output of your patient.
Bot Flies: Also called Warbles or Cuterebra. These flies leave their eggs on surfaces or on animals directly. The larvae burrow into the skin and live in a hole where they grow up before leaving when they are mature. You’ll see a literal hole in your rabbit and something inside of it moving. This is a bot fly larvae, or warble. Unless it’s in a bad spot like along the spine, it’s usually not fatal. However, you’ll want to remove it. You’re unlikely to deal with this if you have a closed barn and have treated your yard, but it can easily happen for rabbits housed outdoors.
Treatment: If you want to remove it yourself, be sure that you don’t squish it or let it rupture inside the rabbit as it can cause shock and even death in the rabbit. The larvae uses something akin to teeth to grab fast at the bottom of the hole. You will need tweezers to grab it and get it out. Some will use Vaseline to suffocate it and then remove it. I didn’t have a great way to get ahold of the one I dealt with so I put peroxide on it. That hole in the rabbit is what it breaths out of. If you make it so that the larvae has to come up for air, it’s easier to grab ahold when his head pops to the top of the hole. Get a firm hold and pull. It will stretch out the larvae like a slinky and literally pop back into its fat self once it’s outside the hole. Of course, you’re going to kill it after extracting it…unless you always wanted a bot fly as a pet. Thankfully, I’ve only ever had one in a baby one of my first years of breeding, but it was definitely a memorable experience I’d like to not repeat.
Heat Stroke: Rabbits can be susceptible to heat
stroke, just as people are. Rabbits dispel heat through their ears. You can cool down a rabbit who has hot ears by putting some cool water on their ears. Rabbits do not sweat like a person does to cool themselves down. They need to dilate the blood vessels in their ears to cool themselves down. A fan blowing cooler air on them and wet ears can often do the trick. Some put frozen water bottles where the bunny can choose to snuggle against it. Others will use a cool floor tile to put in the cage that the bunny can lay on. A rabbit who has thrown back their head and is panting is a rabbit in serious need of help as heat stroke is setting in. Get them to a cooler location, keep them hydrated, and cool them down immediately.
Urine Sludge: Symptoms: You will find
a thick substance that often coats the underside of the rabbit. It feels gritty in consistency. Thick urine that has too much calcium in it.
Treatment: Increase water intake,
eliminate alfalfa from the diet, increase other grass hays in the diet, and adding dandelion leaves to the diet can reduce water retention and promote urination. If these methods do not work, you may need to see a veterinarian who will likely prescribe a sulfa drug to treat the problem.
UTI: A urinary tract infection is an infection in that area. It can be caused by high calcium levels as well.
Symptoms: bloody in the urine (actual blood, not just an orange color of the urine which occurs when we see when rabbits dispel the excess calcium they don’t need from their diet. It can also be a plant based pigment depending on their diet. Frequent urination, but only in small amounts is a symptom of a UTI. They can also get urine scald around their genitals and on their hind legs. To know if you are dealing with a UTI, you may need to let a veterinarian do a test of the urine and prescribe an antibiotic.
Megacolon: This is something we see most
commonly in charlies (those rabbits resulting from the breeding of two broken varieties). They are often lighter in the amount of color in their pattern. Lightness in pattern, however, does not necessarily mean you have a charlie. A true charlie will only carry the broken gene, which means that even when bred with a solid, it will only ever produce brokens.
Symptoms: megacolon is more common in charlies than other rabbits. This causes part of their large intestine to be dilated larger than it should be. This leads to a paralysis of the movement of the bowels. Often you will see periods of diarrhea intermittently. It can lead them to be underweight, even if they are eating well because their body isn’t absorbing nutrients correctly.
Treatment: Unfortunately, there is no cure for megacolon. You can extend the life of your rabbit by adding probiotics to the diet. Decrease greens in the diet as they often lead to diarrhea. Add extra nutrients with a multivitamin added to their water. Encourage water consumption and exercise to keep the gut moving properly.