Rabbits don’t like to show when they’re feeling under the weather, so how can you tell if your bunny is really healthy and happy? Do your own check-ups in-between vet visits by following our simple, seven-step checklist.
Rabbits often pretend to be healthy even when they're feeling ill or in pain. This is because they don't want to appear weak to predators. But while their clever masking acts may help to ensure their survival as prey animals, they make it difficult for rabbit owners to spot the crucial signs that their pets are unwell.
By giving your rabbit a once-over every month, you will get to know what’s normal for your bunny so that you can easily spot the signs of any condition that requires veterinary attention.
Remember to perform the check-up in a place that is familiar to your rabbit and make sure your rabbit seems comfortable before you begin. Give them a fuss or a treat to get them happy and relaxed, and ideally have their companion close by. Don’t rush the check-up and take extra care if you suspect your bunny is in discomfort or pain.
Here are seven key areas to cover during your rabbit health check. If you come across any causes for concern, be sure to book an appointment with your vet.
Rabbits are renowned for their beautiful, large eyes, but sadly they are also prone to eye problems, such as conjunctivitis and blocked tear ducts. Start your check-up by making sure that your rabbit’s eyes are clean and bright, with equally sized pupils.
A few indicators that something might be wrong with your rabbit’s eyes include redness, squinting and discharge. You may even spot a visible foreign body on the surface of the eye – foreign bodies, such as hay from bedding, are a common cause of rabbit eye problems.
A bump under your rabbit’s eye, or a bulging of the eye, could be an abscess, often as a result of concurrent dental disease. Since abscesses can be extremely painful for rabbits, it is important to seek veterinary treatment straightaway.
Rabbits' teeth grow continuously, with their top front teeth growing by as much as 3mm every week. To avoid dental problems, they need to eat a healthy, high-fibre diet that helps to wear down their teeth. For this reason, it’s generally recommended that they have constant access to grass or hay, along with fresh water. As a rough guide, the portion of hay you feed your rabbit daily should be the same size as your rabbit itself.
When checking your rabbit’s teeth, you will only be able to see the front teeth, known as incisors. But if these are abnormal, it is not uncommon for the less-visible cheek teeth, or molars, to be affected. Look out for overgrown incisors, which can cause injury and infection in the mouth and prevent normal feeding and grooming. These can often become maloccluded and may need to be trimmed by a vet or even removed altogether.
Other signs of dental issues, especially problems with the molars, include:
- Weight loss (rabbits that are suffering from dental problems may stop eating their food).
- Dirty hindquarters (rabbits with sore mouths are unable to groom themselves or a fellow rabbit).
- Runny eyes (overgrown teeth can result in pressure on a rabbit’s tear ducts).
- Abscesses or ‘lumps’ on the face (these can be caused by infected tooth roots).
As well as doing your own dental checks, get your rabbit’s teeth examined at least once a year by a vet. Your Petplan insurance provides dental cover as long as any treatment recommended by your vet is carried out within three months of being recommended.
Watch this video to find out why starting to smell could be a sign that a vet needs to check out your rabbit’s teeth.
3. Skin and fur
Rabbits’ skin and fur can be a good indicator of their overall health. Run your fingers through your rabbit’s fur to check for loss of fur, scabs and dandruff. These can all be signs of a mite or flea infection. Also, look out for any lumps and bumps that might be caused by an abscess, indicating dental disease.
Rabbits are vulnerable to ear problems, including parasites and infections. This is due to the size and many folds within their ears, where dirt can accumulate, leading to secondary infections. Check your rabbit’s outer ears for discharge and feel around the base of the ear for lumps. Also, watch out for a head tilt that might indicate an inner ear infection.
The discomfort caused by an ear infection may also cause your rabbit to go off its food or become irritable or subdued. If your rabbit is scratching its ears more than usual, has patches of missing fur, or thick, brown fluid in its ear canal, it may be suffering from ear mites.
Check your rabbit’s nose for discharge. As rabbits use their forepaws to clean their noses, you may also find wet or dried discharge on the inside of their front legs. Nasal discharge can be an indicator of either dental or respiratory disease, both of which need the attention of a vet.
Domestic rabbits do not have the same opportunities as their wild cousins to wear down their nails. This can result in their nails becoming curled and brittle. Long nails can be torn out of the nail bed, which can cause bleeding and even result in your rabbit dislocating its toes. Generally speaking, your rabbit’s nails should be level with, or slightly past, the fur on its foot.
If you need to trim your rabbit’s nails, choose a quiet room and place your rabbit on top of a table that's covered with a towel. Support your bunny's bottom (ask a friend or relative to help) as you separate each toe to take hold of the nail.
Rabbits’ nails have a blood supply and a nerve called the ‘quick'. When you trim your rabbit’s nails, be sure to avoid cutting as far back as the quick, since this will result in pain and bleeding. If your rabbit has non-opaque nails, the quick should be visible. Otherwise, try shining a torch from behind the nail to identify it.
7. Anus and faeces
Finally, once you’ve finished checking over your rabbit, don’t forget to take a good look at their rear end, especially their anal area, as well as their faeces. While it may be difficult to tell if your rabbit is unwell from their behaviour, their poo holds clues to their general health.
Rabbits produce two different kinds of poo: small, solid pellets that they pass throughout the day, and larger, softer poo, which they pass early in the morning called caecotrophs. You shouldn’t notice the caecotrophs because your rabbit is meant to eat them as they pass from its bottom. While this sounds disgusting to us, it is entirely normal and necessary for rabbits’ overall health, since caecotrophs contain important nutrients produced by bacteria in the gut that could not be digested and absorbed the first time around.
If you notice caecotrophs in your rabbit’s hutch, it can be a sign that your rabbit is unable to eat them due to oral pain or because they are feeling generally unwell. If this happens, you will notice that your rabbit often has a ‘messy bum’. Not only is this a sign of ill health, it also makes them vulnerable to fly strike. In contrast, if there aren't many pellets, your rabbit may be suffering from gastrointestinal stasis, one of the top five conditions for which Petplan receives claims from rabbit owners. You should consult your vet if you notice a change in your rabbit’s toilet habits.
Happy, healthy rabbits
As well as performing regular check-ups on your rabbits, you can also help to keep them bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by feeding them a high-quality fibrous diet including fresh vegetables, providing clean water at all times, and keeping them in a warm comfortable hutch with at least one other companion.
Also, even if they pass their home check-ups with flying colours and you don’t have any specific concerns about their health, it’s important to take them to the vet for a professional check-up, as well as their annual vaccination against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease. In the case of ongoing issues, such as dental disease, a check-up may be necessary every six months.
A check-up by a vet could save you money and anxiety further down the line and usually costs in the region of £20 to £50. Finally, remember that pet insurance will help to cover the cost of treating any ailments that might be afflicting your bunny.
Follow our essential seven-step checklist for making sure that your bunnies are healthy and happy.
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