Rabbits are prey animals by nature and are among the quietest animals on the planet. It can be very difficult to tell when they are sick or injured. They do everything possible to hide their symptoms and they are very good at it. Since weak animals are easy prey for predators, rabbits in the wild have to be very good actors. Domesticated rabbits are the same in that way. In reality, they may be suffering greatly and you would never know anything is wrong.
Know What Normal Looks Like And Watch For Changes
If injured or sick, your rabbit can experience a rapid decline in health. It is critical to quickly recognize small or subtle changes. When you notice something is not right, act quickly. Below is some basic information that can be helpful.
1) FECES AND URINE: Keep a close eye on any change in feces and urine (pee and poop). Pet rabbit owners should get into the habit of checking the litter box for normal elimination each morning and again at night. It is difficult to detect problems with bladder, kidneys and other organs. However, you should establish a routine to make sure the more obvious signs of suffering are not present. For a short, helpful video on normal rabbit feces and urine, CLICK HERE (video will open in new tab so that you can come back to this article when finished).
When inspecting your pet’s droppings, make sure there is nothing in his poop that should not be there (an excess of feces strung together by fur or pieces of carpeting). There should be no pieces of cardboard, plastic, nor should mucous or blood be present. If your rabbits has loose stools, this could indicate a number of different problems. Their feces should resemble little round almost perfect balls (cocoa-puff type poops) and should always be somewhat firm or at least hold their shape when sitting in the litter box. If you ever notice diarrhea, his health will decline very quickly if he doesn’t get help. Finally, if his poops slow down or stop all together, he could be experiencing in gastrointestinal stasis (GI Stasis or “the silent killer”). If any of these things occur and you are inexperienced with these problems, call your veterinarian immediately.
2) BREATHING, TEMP, AND HEART RATE: Rabbit owners also need to be familiar with their pet’s normal heart rate, temperature and breathing. Normal ranges for rabbit vitals are as follows: Heart Rate: 130-plus beats per minute; Respiratory Rate: 30-60 breaths per minute; Temperature: 101-103/104. Your rabbit’s temperature is regulated by his ears. If they feel too hot or too cold, this could mean he is sick or has an infection somewhere. Slow, shallow breathing is cause for great concern. If you see this happening, don’t wait! Call for an emergency veterinary appointment.
3) EATING AND DRINKING: Healthy rabbits eat and drink throughout the day and night. When on a proper feeding schedule, rabbits are typically excited to eat their pellets and/or vegetables. Between meals, your fur baby should be nibbling on hay frequently. If he stops eating and/or drinking or shows no interest at feeding time, it could indicate a serious problem. If he refuses to eat or drink most of the day, call your veterinarian.
4) TOOTH GRINDING: Rabbits lightly grind their teeth together when they are being petted or when they are happy. This is sort of like a cat purring. Hard or louder tooth grinding is something different. It is an indicator of pain. If you see your rabbit grinding his teeth in this way, he might just sit quietly by himself somewhere (be less active). Either way, this type of tooth grinding is good reason to call your veterinarian.
5) DROOLING: If your rabbit is drooling or his chin is wet (not from drinking water), this could indicate a problem with the teeth, or it could be caused by another health issue. Call your veterinarian. Tooth problems cause an inability to eat properly and will cause a series of cascading problems that could threaten your rabbit’s life in a very short period of time.
6) HEAD TILTING, OFF BALANCE AND/OR FREQUENTLY SCRATCHING EARS: If you see your rabbit’s head tilting or he seems off balance, it could mean he has an ear infection which must be treated immediately. Rabbits with ear infections often scratch at their ears, but this is not always the case. If head is tilting and/or your pet appears to be losing his balance, call your veterinarian and have him examined. Early treatment, usually with antibiotics and pain medicine, is key in avoiding serious and permanent damage.
7) BLEEDING, LACERATION TO SKIN OR INABILITY TO STAND, WALK, HOP, ETC: These are signs that your rabbit has been injured. If he is having trouble moving normally, he may even have a fractured spine (a killer of rabbits). Call your veterinarian immediately!
8) LETHARGY: Your rabbit could be lethargic for a number of reasons including dehydration, depression, injury or illness. Dehydration is a common cause. In fact, your rabbit might be limp when you lift him if he is dehydrated, but he might also be seriously ill. If you suspect dehydration and he refuses to drink on his own, you can syringe feed him a little bit of water until you get him to the vet clinic.
IMPORTANT: To avoid seriously harming your rabbit, view this short, helpful video on proper syringe-feeding by CLICKING HERE. Video will open in new tab so that you can come back to this article when finished. Even if water helps, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
9) LIMPING, TROUBLE HOPPING, DECREASE IN ACTIVITY: If your rabbit is limping, hopping abnormally (or not hopping/running at all), or shows obvious signs that an injury may have occurred, call your veterinarian immediately. A rabbit in pain will cause a series of cascading problems such as refusing to eat and drink. Identifying the injury, treating it and getting pain medication will help avoid even worse problems.
10) SKIN PROBLEM/FLYSTRIKE: Myiasis is commonly known as flystrike. Simply stated, this condition occurs when flies have laid eggs on your pet rabbit. Rabbits can get flystrike if they come into contact with an area where flies have laid eggs or where maggots are already present. Rabbits with messy bottoms (due to not cleaning properly), diarrhea, moist fur or open wounds/scratches attract flies and maggots and are more at risk. Flystrike can also occur if your rabbit’s living area is not kept clean/sanitized. Flies will lay eggs in moist areas like spots where water is present, wet or moist towels and blankets, et cetera. This is one of many reasons to keep your rabbit’s living space (including food dishes and water bottles) clean and sanitized.
Fly eggs produce maggots. Once they make contact with an accommodating area on your pet rabbit, maggots begin to eat the animal’s flesh. This condition is not easily treated, but your quick action will give the rabbit his best chance at survival. You can use tweezers to carefully remove any maggots you see on your rabbit, but do not bathe him or immerse him in water. Your veterinarian will need to shave his fur. This is very difficult when a rabbit’s fur is damp or wet. Even when you remove all maggots visible to you, assume some have made their way beneath your pet’s skin where they are not visible. If you see any evidence of flystrike on your rabbit, call your veterinarian immediately.
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