health issues in rabbits
Health and Wellness

27 Surprisingly Common Health Problems in Rabbits

Health issues in rabbits are wide-ranging, so you need to learn about the different types of problems they’re most likely to experience. Rabbits are comparatively frail pets, prone to sickness, injury, and disease. The good news is that most can be resolved with treatment, or even avoided completely.

What are the most common health problems in rabbits? Parasites, such as mites, fleas, and ticks, are highly likely. Many rabbits experience mobility problems, such as arthritis or paralysis. Your rabbit may live with allergies, or bacterial and fungal infections. You’ll also need to monitor their eyes and teeth for potential problems.

Be vigilant about checking your pet rabbit for signs of ill health. As a prey species, rabbits will seek to hide or disguise any physical problems or illnesses for their own protection.

Most Common Pet Rabbit Health Issues

Rabbits can develop illnesses if not cared for properly, and their small and frail bodies are easily injured due to knocks and falls.

The first thing to do after adopting a rabbit is to find a vet that treats rabbits. The House Rabbit Society lists these by state. Finding a healthcare professional with experience in this species is critical. Not all vets understand rabbit health as most specialize in dogs and cats.

1) Allergic Reactions

Rabbits can be allergic to anything in their environment. This could be their food. It could be a product used to clean their hutch. It could even be the grass they exercise in, if they’re unlucky. There are two prominent symptoms of an allergic reaction in a rabbit:

  • Dry sneezing. Your rabbit will undertake the physical mannerisms of sneezing, and make the appropriate noise. There will be no discharge from the nose, though.
  • Skin problems. Like any human or animal, allergies can affect a rabbit’s skin. They may develop a rash, hives, or hot spots. They will also itch, and scratch more regularly.

Learning what triggers a rabbit allergy is usually a case of trial and error. Remove different things from their home environment one at a time until the symptoms of an allergy cease.

2) Arthritis and Joint Problems

As rabbits grow older, they’ll become less mobile. This is primarily because senior rabbits become prone to arthritis.

As we all know, rabbits hop rather than walk. This places significant pressure on their joints, causing wear and tear. Eventually, a rabbit’s body struggles to keep up the demands placed upon it. Common symptoms of rabbit arthritis include:

  • Limping, or any other form of unusual gait.
  • Reluctance to move or exercise, especially in cold weather.
  • Urine scalding, as the rabbit cannot move their hind legs while eliminating.
  • A messy bottom, as the rabbit cannot maneuver to clean themselves up.
  • An unkempt coat, as the rabbit is not flexible enough to clean themselves.

Most rabbits older than 6 will experience arthritis, but it can develop earlier. Combat the condition with muscle massage, and supplements that boost collagen production.

Keeping your rabbit a healthy weight will also help a great deal. Overweight rabbits place increasing pressure on their joints.

3) Bacterial Infection

Bacteria are the nemesis of many rabbits. Rabbits have a range of bacteria in their bodies, which largely lay dormant. When activated, though, they can make your pet sick.

Bacterial infection in rabbits often takes the form of snuffles. This is a catchall term for a cold in rabbits. Snuffles can be a minor inconvenience, but it can also be life-threatening. It all depends on the general health of your rabbit. Common symptoms of a bacterial infection include:

  • Constant streaming of the eyes and nose.
  • A staggering gait, as though the rabbit is disoriented.
  • Struggling for breath.
  • Tilting of the head.
  • Swelling around the face and mouth, and possibly drooling.
  • Stains on the fur and paws. This is the discharge that your rabbit sneezed. They may have smeared it all over themselves while cleaning.

If your rabbit has a bout of snuffles, watch them carefully. If they stop eating or drinking, see a vet. Some rabbits bounce back quickly, but others can rapidly deteriorate. Antibiotics may be required to treat the infection.

Also, be aware that bacterial infections spread like wildfire among rabbits. If two rabbits share a hutch, one will pass snuffles onto the other. This is something to bear in mind if one rabbit has a weak immune system.

4) Cancer

Like all animals, rabbits can get cancer. There are multiple types of tumor that can affect your rabbit. By far the most common is uterine adenocarcinoma, or cancer of the uterus.

Obviously, this condition only impacts female rabbits. Unfortunately, it’s extremely common. It’s believed that over three-quarters of unspayed females develop it by the age of 5. Such rabbits are also prone to mammary cancer. Spaying a female at a young age drastically reduces their cancer risk.

The University of Miami discusses the importance of spaying and neutering in more detail. We cannot stress enough how important this can be for your pet’s health.

5) Digestive Issues

The rabbit digestive system is complex and delicate. You need to ensure that your rabbit eats the right foods. Failing to do so can cause an intestinal blockage. This is painful, and often fatal.

Intestinal blockages can be avoided by ensuring your rabbit eats enough fiber. This keeps your digestive tract happy, and ensures everything works as it should.

Rabbits also eat other things. They swallow their own fur, and oftentimes, their bedding. If they don’t have enough fiber, this cannot pass their digestion. This, in turn, prevents the rabbit from eating, This can be fatal in as little as 24 hours.

In the event of intestinal obstruction, you’ll need urgent professional help. A vet will remove the foreign object. This can be an intrusive and expensive procedure, though.

6) False Pregnancy

If your spayed female rabbit is acting hormonal, they may be experiencing a false pregnancy. This is a condition in which a rabbit thinks they are expecting a litter, even if they’ve been spayed.

False pregnancy can occur in any female of breeding age. It’s usually caused by being mounted by another rabbit in a display of dominance, or stress. They’ll ovulate, and believe themselves to be pregnant for around 18 days.

A false pregnancy results in the same behaviors as a genuine pregnancy. Your rabbit will be emotionally volatile and hungry, and display nesting instincts, such as making a nest with hay. This lasts until around 18 days after ovulation. After this, their hormones return to normal.

rabbit illness signs

7) Flea Infestation

Fleas are the bane of many pet’s lives. Rabbits are no exception to this rule. The fleas that feed on cats and dogs will happily infest your rabbit.

The result will be the same. Your rabbit will itch furiously, and be left in significant discomfort. In addition, some rabbits are allergic to flea bites. This is known as flea bite hypersensitivity, and it causes serious damage to their skin.

If you notice fleas on your rabbit, treat them ASAP. Start with a fine-toothed comb dipped in alcohol. This will remove and drown any fleas.

If this doesn’t resolve the issue, purchase a topical remedy from a pet store. This treatment must be designed for rabbits. Flea treatments for cats and dogs are often toxic to rabbits, as they are considerably smaller.

Once you’ve removed the fleas, you’ll need to clean and disinfect your rabbit’s hutch. Fleas are stubborn, and can live in the environment. Wash everything in the hutch with an antibacterial solution, and provide new hay and bedding.

8) Flystrike

Flystrike is arguably the most horrifying condition that any rabbit can live with. It’s a result of unsanitary habits, especially involving the rabbit’s bottom.

You will notice that rabbits eat their own poop, plucked from the fur on their rear. This is an important part of digestion. They gain fiber from eating these poop pellets, known as cecotropes.

If your rabbit has a prolonged messy bottom, they’ll attract flies. These flies will then lay eggs in the rabbit’s fur. These eggs hatch as maggots, which start eating the rabbit’s flesh. Eventually, the maggots will work their way inside your rabbit. Your pet will be eaten from the inside out.

If you spot flies in your rabbit’s hutch, take them to the vet. A professional will remove eggs or maggots from your rabbit’s fur before it’s too late.

Of course, prevention is better than cure, though. Keep your rabbit’s rear clean at all times. They’ll usually take care of this themselves. If they’re unable to do so, you’ll need to take action.

9) Fungal Infections

As well as bacteria, some rabbits can experience fungal infections. This is likely if your rabbit lives in damp and humid conditions. These allow fungi to grow and flourish, and infect your rabbit.

Ringworm is the most common example of a fungal infection. It manifests as a number of angry, red circles on your rabbit’s skin. Other types of fungal infection can impact upon rabbits, though.

If a rabbit gets a fungal infection, you can purchase topical treatments from a pet store. Ensure that your rabbit’s hutch is sanitary, and enjoys a steady flow of air.

10) Glaucoma and Vision Problems

Rabbits have large and expressive eyes. This means that they can be prone to issues with their vision. As rabbits use their senses of scent and hearing more, you may not immediately realize this.

Glaucoma is the most serious issue involving a rabbit’s eyes. The condition is caused by excessive pressure on the eye. Eventually, this leads to blindness.

Unfortunately, glaucoma is a silent condition, with few symptoms. An annual health check should shed light on any warning signs.

A rabbit with glaucoma may produce excessive tears though, or none at all. The latter leads to dry eyes. There are other concerns that surround a rabbit’s eyesight, too. These include:

  • Ulcers on the cornea
  • Conjunctivitis, aka Pink Eye
  • Foreign objects trapped in the eye

Observe your rabbit’s eyes, and ensure they’re healthy. They should be bright, clear, and have pupils of equal size. In the event of squinting, inability to open an eye fully or cloudiness, seek help.

11) Impact Injuries

Rabbits have frail bodies and bones, which are easily damaged. They can also be a little devil-may-care in their approach to personal safety. If a rabbit is spooked, they’ll look to escape a situation. This may involve leaping from a height.

Managing the risk of impact injuries is important for rabbit owners. You must ensure your rabbit trusts you before you handle them. Failing to do so can result in them jumping out of your arms.

You’ll also need to watch and manage rabbit-child playtimes carefully. Not all rabbits enjoy being held or cuddled. In fact, many outright reject it. If your child struggles to carry a rabbit’s weight as they squirm and may fall.

You should also ensure than a rabbit’s home environment is safe. Rabbits are curious and explorative. If your pet loves to jump from sofa to armchair, leave cushions on the floor. This breaks their fall, not a limb, if they lose their footing.

As Frances Harcourt-Brown explains, broken legs in rabbits are difficult to manage. The treatment varies on the severity of the break. Some rabbits recover fully, but others need their leg amputated.

12) Limb Paralysis

In some unfortunate cases, your rabbit may lose control of their limbs. This is more common in the hind legs. Paralysis can be caused by arthritis, injury, or infection.

If your rabbit is dragging their back legs, get them seen by a professional. Paralysis is dangerous. The rabbit may develop urine scalding, as they cannot move their legs when they pee.

The remedy for paralysis depends on the cause. Sometimes, medication helps. You may be able to rectify the issue with a massage. In extreme cases, amputation is the only answer.

13) Loss of Appetite

Rabbits live to eat. Most rabbits will chew on hay all day every day, and do anything for a treat.

If your rabbit has lost interest in food, it’s a serious concern. Many rabbits die within 24 hours of refusing to eat. Their tiny bodies lack sufficient food reserves to last that long.

Common reasons for rabbits refusing to eat include dental pain, internal obstructions, and bacterial infections. Each of these explanations requires further investigation.

14) Loss of Fur

If large bald patches are appearing in your rabbit, they have a health issue.

The most common example of this is mange. This is a condition caused by mites, which feast on your rabbit. Fortunately, mange can be treated.

Barbering is of greater concern. This means that your rabbit is tearing out lumps of their own fur. This behavior is common in pregnant rabbits. They use their fur to line a nest for their young.

If your rabbit is not pregnant (or experiencing a false pregnancy), they are likely stressed. Barbering is a coping mechanism for anxious rabbits, and it becomes a compulsion. This stress must be managed, and the behavior eradicated.

Health Problems in Rabbits

15) Mite Infestation

Mite infestations often affect your rabbit’s ears. They could be anywhere on your rabbit’s body, though. Pay particular attention to your pet’s neck, back, and tail.

A sign of mites in your rabbit is flaky skin. This is referred to as walking dandruff, because the dandruff seems to move. What you’re seeing as small mites crawling around your pet’s fur.

If you suspect that your rabbit has mites, your local pet store will have a range of treatments available here. Just make sure you buy something designed for rabbits or small animals.

In some cases, mite infestations need to be handled by a professional. Your rabbit will be treated through an injection, or a topical ointment.

Like fleas, mites are stubborn and lay eggs. This means that, after clearing up an infestation, you’ll need to do a thorough clean. If any eggs survive, you’ll struggle with infestation all over again.

16) Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis is a bit of an outlier on this list, as it’s comparatively rare in the United States. The disease is so lethal that it would be remiss not to mention it, though.

Myxomatosis is a rabbit-specific viral infection. It’s as contagious as it is deadly, which means it must be taken seriously. Myxomatosis causes a painful end for rabbits, without fail.

It’s unlikely to happen in the United States. This means that no vaccine is available as standard. Vaccinating is compulsory in other countries though, most notably Australia and the UK.

If you’re worried about myxomatosis, be particularly vigilant about parasite control. The only way a rabbit in the U.S. will contract it is through fleas and ticks. If you keep parasites off your rabbit, you should have nothing to worry about.

17) Obesity

We all love our pets, and that often means we spoil them. Rabbits are also masters of begging, as they have a real sweet tooth. You need to be strong though, and resist those adorable wide eyes.

Obesity is a major problem for rabbits. The heavier they are, the more pressure they place on their joints. This, in turn, makes them reluctant to exercise. That becomes a vicious cycle. The less they move, the heavier they get.

Your rabbit can eat unlimited hay without repercussions, so ensure they have a constant supply. Beyond this, limit treats and ensure they do plenty of running. Rabbits are happier when they’re healthy, anyway.

18) Toxicity

Rabbits are very curious animals, and they like to explore the world with their mouths. This, naturally, leaves them at risk of ingesting toxins.

Some everyday food and products are poisonous to rabbits. Watch your pet while they’re running free. If they are eating something new, stop them until you’re sure it’s safe. For example, you shouldn’t feed your rabbit potatoes and bread.

You’ll also need to ensure that you use rabbit-safe products when cleaning your rabbit’s hutch. When in doubt, buy specialist products from a pet store.

19) Sore Hocks (Bumblefoot)

Bumblefoot sees a rabbit develop open sores on their feet. The condition is common in heavier rabbits, especially if their hutch has a wire floor. The sores, which are painful and dangerous, are opened by excess pressure on the paws.

If your rabbit has bumblefoot, the open sores must be treated. Apply an antibiotic remedy, and wrap up the foot. If left untreated, an infection will occur. This could eventually be fatal.

You’ll also need to understand why your rabbit developed sore hocks. They may need to lose weight. Their hutch floor may need a softer layer. In most cases, both are true.

20) Splayed Leg

Splayed leg is a condition in which a rabbit cannot retract one or more of their legs. Usually, this issue is hereditary. It can sometimes occur following a major injury, though.

Rabbits with splayed leg can still live a full-and-happy life. They adapt. Alternatively, you could look into making a sling. Just show your rabbit extra care and attention.

Some vets will say that a rabbit with splayed leg must have it amputated. Always seek a second opinion, in such cases. It can be a warning that the vet lacks sufficient rabbit-specific knowledge.

21) Stress and Anxiety

Rabbits are a prey species, and they know it. They’re constantly on the lookout for predators that would do them harm.

You need to ensure that your rabbit trusts you implicitly. Remember how much bigger you are than them. You could hurt them with a minimum of effort. Ensure that your rabbit feels safe.

Rabbits also need a strict schedule to remain calm. Stick to a regimented routine for feeding and exercise. Once your rabbit understands that their needs will be met, they’ll be content.

Loneliness and boredom also stress out rabbits. Rabbits are a social species, and they prefer to live with their own kind. Wherever possible, adopt rabbits in bonded pairs.

If this isn’t an option, make sure that your rabbit feels like part of the family. You’ll have to shower them with attention. Also, ensure they have plenty of entertainment in their hutch.

pet rabbit health problems

22) Tear Duct Problems

We discussed vision problems previously, but issues with the tear duct are a little different. Usually, these are caused by a problem with the teeth.

Rabbits only have one tear duct. It’s housed lower in their face, close to the gums. This means that the root of their teeth may irritate the tear duct. This means their eyes will stream constantly.

Alternatively, a rabbit’s tear duct can become blocked. This means they will not produce tears at all. This will lead to dry eyes.  This, in turn, can cause abscesses and crusty eyes.

These can be awkward to treat, but action must be taken. Your pet will be uncomfortable, and risks eventually losing their eye. Surgical intervention will likely be required. Eye drops will not rectify a problem with the tear ducts.

23) Tick Infestation

Ticks are nasty parasites that can make a rabbit’s life miserable. These small arachnids attach to a rabbit and feed on their blood. This can leave a rabbit feeling weak.

What’s more important is that ticks often carry disease. They may have fed on the blood of an infected animal. If that’s the case, they can pass a condition on to your pet.

Ticks can be avoided by using a preventative medication. Just ensure this is designed for rabbits, not cats or dogs. If you do spot a tick on your rabbit, remove it immediately.

How do I manually remove a tick on a rabbit? Grasp the tick’s head in a pair of tweezers and pull it straight out. Do not grab the tick by the body. It will likely burst, and spill potentially infected blood everywhere. Don’t twist the tick, either. This may leave parts of it behind.

24) Tooth Problems

Rabbits can be prone to issues with their teeth. These are not the dental issues we associate with most pets. Rabbits tend not to struggle with tooth decay, or bad breath.

Despite this, rabbit teeth never stop growing. This means they need to be filed down, or they’ll become misaligned. This will cause pain. They may also refuse to eat as a result.

Overgrown teeth can also grow upward. This will result in the root of the tooth placing pressure in the eyeball or nose. Discharge from either orifice without any sign of bacterial infection often denotes overgrown teeth.

As long as your rabbit is eating enough hay, they should manage their teeth. Constant gnawing will file their teeth appropriately. In some cases, dental intervention is needed. A vet can file rabbit teeth down under anesthetic.

25) Trouble Breathing

Rabbits are obligate nasal breathers. This means that they must breathe through their nose. If your pet is gasping for air through their mouth, something is wrong.

Most often, a rabbit breathes through their mouth because their nose is blocked. This may be due to a bacterial infection, i.e. Snuffles. It may be a trapped foreign object, though.

Shine a torch into your rabbit’s nose. Do they have a piece of hay, or similar, trapped in the cavity? If so, remove it with tweezers. If not, seek professional advice. Breathing difficulty must be addressed.

26) Urinary Tract Infections

Rabbits can sometimes be prone to urinary tract infections. These are especially common in rabbits aged between 3 and 5.

Unsanitary living conditions can often cause a rabbit UTI. If you fail to clean a hutch sufficiently, bacteria will live in their hay. This can enter the urethra, and cause ill health. This is also likely if your rabbit does enjoy enough exercise.

UTIs can also be caused by an excess of calcium in your rabbit’s diet. Do not feed alfalfa hay to an adult rabbit. Switch to timothy or meadow hay once they reach 6 months of age. Symptoms of a urinary tract infection in a rabbit include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • A reluctance to eliminate, or expressions of pain while doing so
  • Incontinence
  • Urine scalding
  • Constant, small dribbles of urine

The UTI may be treated with antibiotics. A more holistic approach will also be advised. Ensure that your rabbit enjoys enough time outside their hutch. Change their hay and litter regularly. Also, make sure your rabbit drinks enough water.

27) Urine Scalding

Urine scalding (wet tail) occurs when rabbits pee directly onto their fur, or lay in their own urine. The latter happens more often than you may think. For reasons best known to themselves, some rabbits like to relax in their litter tray.

As the name suggests, urine scalding sees a rabbit’s waste burn their skin. It’s painful, and can be dangerous. Urine scalding can open sores in a rabbit’s skin, which invite infection.

Urine scalding may be caused by immobility in your rabbit. Check that they can move their hind legs appropriately while they pee. If they can, watch their rabbits. They may be lying in their own waste.

Rabbits can be stubborn, so you cannot necessarily stop this. Just concentrate on removing urine-stained litter and hay. If you clear these up twice a day, you’ll reduce the risk of urine scalding.

Here are some tips and advice on how to keep your rabbit happy and healthy.