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Here are some of the common health problems that your rabbit may suffer from. If YOU give your rabbit proper care and attention, hopefully it will remain healthy.  Most diseases result from the lack of proper care, unsanitary living conditions, bad ventilation, or too much, too little, or improper food.  If your rabbit does not respond to the treatments suggested here, call the veterinary surgeon. 

Rabbits can rapidly go down hill after developing an illness so prompt attention and a trip to the vet's is recommended if your pet becomes ill.

Overgrown incisors

The rabbit's front teeth, the incisors, continue to grow throughout life, so that wear is always made good.  This is a great advantage in the wild, but can become a problem for captive rabbits who may be fed rather soft food and have little or no access to bark.

In severe cases the incisors grow so long as to make feeding impossible.  Either they slowly lever the jaws apart, or an unopposed incisor will grow until it locks into the opposite jaw.  This occurs when, as sometimes happens, one incisor falls out.

To keep the incisors in trim, rabbits need both hard food and a gnawing block.  Greenstuffs such as kale and Brussels sprouts are best fed on the stem, which is tough enough to offer some resistance to the incisors, and root vegetables should be fed whole to rabbits big enough to manage them.

Any wood will serve as a gnawing block, but for choice a newly cut log with the bark left on is preferable.  There is no danger of the rabbit swallowing splinters.  When gnawing, the cheeks are drawn into the diastema, the space between the incisors and the cheek teeth, and this forms a barrier.  

I have had several rabbits, that despite being given the correct food and wood to chew on, have suffered from overgrown teeth. In this case I have had to take the rabbit to the vet to have the teeth cut as it wasn't something I personally felt comfortable with doing. At one vet's they were able to laser the teeth which causes less stress for the rabbit. In extreme cases, your vet may recommend that the rabbit's teeth are removed.

Overgrown claws

In the wild the rabbits' claws are worn down naturally by burrowing; in captivity they may need clipping.

Owners often wisely prefer to let a veterinary surgeon, or an experienced rabbit keeper, cut the claws the first time, but once seen demonstrated, the procedure is not difficult.

Using a pair of animal nail clippers, available in shops, which sell pet-care accessories, the overgrown, nail should be cut straight across.  Care has to be taken to avoid cutting into the blood and nerve supply, which can be seen in a pale coloured rabbit by holding the paw to the light.


Obesity, like so many rabbit disorders, is the result of poor management . Rabbits shut up for long periods in a confined space are most at risk. They need far more freedom to exercise, and possibly a small adjustment to their diet: more greenstuffs, and less high calorie foods such as grains, balanced food pellets and bread.

The largest breeds tend to develop a dewlap under the chin.  The does are most prone to this, and although the dewlap may look ominously like a goitre, it is in fact a roll of fatty tissue.  A small one is to be expected in breeds as large as the New Zealand White and the Flemish Giant.  Smaller breeds should maintain their neat build throughout life.


Correctly known as contagious rhinitis.

A respiratory tract condition, similar to the common cold in man, is known throughout the rabbit world as snuffles.  This is a highly infectious disease, and the danger is that it may lead to pneumonia.  Rabbits displaying the two most obvious symptoms of snuffles, sneezing, and a discharge from the nose, should be isolated well away from other rabbits and veterinary help sought.

The nasal discharge can become thick and yellow as the disease progresses. The official info is that kept warm and dry, rabbits frequently recover by themselves.  In severe cases, the use of suifa or penicillin or one of the mycins is usually effective.  

However, in my experience the chances of recover are quite slim :-( I have only had one rabbit that survived snuffles, the rest have been treated by the vet but eventually died. If you have better news then please let me know!

Constipation and diarrhoea

Constipation may be a simple dietary disorder, cured by feeding more greenstuffs; diarrhoea may be cured by withholding greens for twenty-four hours and feeding only hay and water.  When persistent, or when combined with other symptoms, both conditions may indicate more serious illness needing veterinary diagnosis.

A warm mash of boiled potatoes with the skins left on, or clover leaves mixed with bran, can help to alleviate this condition.  A modest increase in the amount of greens that you feed to your pet may also help.  Clean fresh water should always be available.

Sometimes a little drained boiled rice does wonders for the sufferer.


Wounds are usually inflicted as a result of two rabbits fighting.  The combatants should be given separate quarters and the wounds bathed with a mild antiseptic lotion.  Serious wounding needs veterinary attention.


This ear ailment is sometimes not noticeable externally.  If your pet is shaking its head constantly or scratching at its ears, or if you notice any signs of inflammation, it should be examined for canker.  For treatment, begin by wiping out the ears with hydrogen peroxide applied with a cotton tipped swab.  Afterwards, dust the ear with an appropriate antibiotic.  Avoid using preparations that are formulated for dogs.  If you are uncertain about selecting the right medication, consult your vet.


Rabbits which are seen to display symptoms of discomfort and irritation making them scratch, may be infested with fleas.  These tend to cluster around the head, and particularly the neck, where the dark spots of their excreta may be noticed.  Fleas can be destroyed by the application of an insecticide powder available from a veterinary surgery or pet shop.  Make sure that none gets into the rabbit's eyes.  

Fleas reproduce by laying eggs in the host animal's bedding, or on the floor.  It is therefore impossible to eradicate them without burning every last straw of the bedding and the floor litter, scrubbing out the hutch and the grazing ark and thoroughly sluicing down all other areas in use.  Any crack can harbour the eggs, and in a few days - two to twelve in summer, longer in winter - the larvae will emerge, and the life cycle begins again.

The rabbit flea has achieved some notoriety over the last twenty-five years as carrier of the virus that causes myxomatosis.  During an outbreak the great majority of tame rabbits are safe.  Veterinary advice should be taken about any felt to be at risk on account of the proximity of wild rabbits.  An injection of vaccine will give immunity within three days and last approximately one year.


Similar discomfort, and scratching, is caused by an infestation of lice.  Unlike fleas, lice lay their eggs - known as nits - in the fur of the animal host.  The eggs are white and secured to the fur by a natural adhesive.  They show up particularly well on dark-coated rabbits, but will be noticed on any fur during grooming.

Lice can also be destroyed by a specially prepared insecticide powder supplied by a veterinary surgeon.  It is effective, however, only when the maker's instructions are followed exactly.  Several applications are necessary to eliminate the succeeding generations of lice emerging from the nits.


Rabbits are frequently troubled by several different mites.  The ear mite can cause a condition generally known as ear mange, or car canker.  Any rabbit showing symptoms of irritation and distress that make it scratch the ears and shake the head, or those with a powdery brown matter in the ears need prompt veterinary treatment.

Forage and harvest mites also attack rabbits.  They burrow into the skin and set up an area of intense irritation that the rabbit will scratch until it is raw. This condition, usually known as mange, must also receive veterinary treatment.


Sometimes ticks attach themselves to rabbits and feed on their blood for several days.  Once fully engorged, the ticks will drop off naturally, but they cannot be pulled off whole while still alive.  The head remains firmly embedded in position.  They can be killed by cutting off their air supply for about thirty minutes with a smear of vaseline, fat or butter.  Afterwards it is possible to pull them away cleanly using a pair of tweezers.

Eye infections

Domestic rabbits are rather susceptible to eye problems, primarily infections caused by dust and/or other flying matter that accumulates in the tear ducts.  As a result of the blockage caused by the dirt, fluid fills the eye pocket and subsequently flows down the rabbit's cheeks.  What owner can bear to watch his pet weeping?  Prevention of dust accumulation should be stressed, as a cure is never as easy as prevention.  Often only one eye is affected, although some unfortunate rabbits suffer an infection in both eyes.  Eye baths, prescribed by a vet, are frequently required to treat the infection.  The skin and fur around the eyes, likewise, may be affected.  Draughts may also be responsible for eye infections.


A rabbit well cared for and properly fed rarely encounters this serious illness.  Keep the rabbit's environment consistent, including the ambient temperature; sudden changes in temperature diminish a rabbit's natural resistance.  A listless, unhappy, unhungry bunny requires your attention, as these are signs of pneumonia, in addition to mucus around the mouth and nasal passages.  The assistance of a vet is essential, as most rabbits die within a few days of contracting the illness.

Sore hocks

Sore hocks is a condition normally caused by insufficient bedding in the hutch.  Tender, cracked and possibly scabbing skin covers the infected hind limb where the fur has been rubbed away.  Since the smaller rabbits have larger foot padding on the hind feet, the larger breeds are more typically affected.  Cleaning and applying an antiseptic ointment help the rabbit to recovery.  Veterinary advice is also recommended.

Slobbers, Hutch burn and Scabby face

These three problems are serious and you should take your pet to the vet if you suspect that it has any of them.  Slobbers is caused by abscesses of the mouth and the rabbit drools continuously Little can be done for slobbers, and the affected animal will need to be put down.  Hutch burn, commonly known as vent disease, is caused by dirt contacting the sex organ of the rabbit.  The infected organ then becomes scabby and later purulent.  Not surprisingly, infected rabbits exhibit a great reluctance to mate (which is fortunate for its partner, who could become contaminated). if the rabbit licks its infected private parts, a scabby face and mouth may result.  A vet should be contacted as soon as possible.


This is a particular problem for longhaired rabbits in the summer.  Flies lay their eggs in the soiled fur under the tail.  The maggots hatch out 12-24 hours later and burrow into the flesh.  Flystrike can lead to death, so check every day to make sure your rabbit, its hutch and its bedding, is clean and fresh.  

I have experienced this for myself and lost 2 rabbits to this problem. It literally happens overnight. The most common time of the year will be summer when it is warm and ideal temperatures for flies to strike.

It  is quite a distressing site to see as the rabbit will be covered in maggots around its back end and these quite literally crawl up inside the rabbit and kill it.

You need to seek immediate medical attention (even if this means calling a vet out at the weekend or at night) as the rabbit will surely die if the maggots are not removed immediately.  You can provide temporary relief by bathing the rabbit in cool water and trying to kill as many of the maggots as you can.

The risk of Flystrike can be minimised by stepping up cleaning regimes in summer and checking rabbits at least twice a day. Rearguard (avavilable for vets) prevents maggots developing so can save a bunnies life!


A microscopic, internal parasite is responsible for this common, but very serious disease of the liver.  The organism is present in the faecal pellets, and so can be transmitted from one rabbit to another, and particularly from a doe to her kittens, in a dirty hutch.

Symptoms of coccidiosis are a yellow, jaundiced look, persistent diarrhoea and extreme weakness.  Without treatment the rabbit becomes emaciated, yet develops a pot-bellied appearance due to enlargement of the liver.  Death is due to exhaustion.

It is necessary to isolate a suspected case of coccidiosis, and to seek veterinary help immediately.  Drugs can effectively control the disease if it is diagnosed and treated professionally without delay.