Is your rabbit acting a little off lately? Have you noticed subtle changes in behavior that leave you wondering if something is wrong? Rabbits are masters at hiding illness until it becomes severe. So as a rabbit owner, it’s critical you know the telltale signs that your bunny may be under the weather. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the top 17 ways to discern if your rabbit is sick and needs medical attention. From shifts in appetite, to changes in poop, to new lumps and bumps, you’ll learn what to watch for and how to respond. We’ll also provide tips to find a qualified rabbit vet, prevent disease, and identify common rabbit illnesses. Read on to become an expert at detecting the signs of sickness in your pet rabbit!
1. A change in eating habits
A rabbit's appetite can be a good indicator of their health. Rabbits are creatures of habit and typically eat around the same amount each day. If your rabbit is not eating as much as usual or has lost interest in their favorite foods, this could signal an underlying issue. Some signs to watch for include:
- Not finishing meals or leaving a lot of pellets uneaten in the bowl
- Loss of appetite over 12-24 hours
- Disinterest in favorite snacks like fruits or veggies
- Eating less hay than normal
If your rabbit stops eating entirely for over 12 hours, this is considered a medical emergency requiring immediate vet care. GI stasis, dental issues, infections, and other problems can cause inappetence in rabbits. So a change in eating habits, especially decreased intake, should not be ignored. Contact your vet promptly if you notice your rabbit is not eating normally.
2. A change in their poop
A rabbit's poop provides important clues about their health. You'll want to monitor your rabbit's litter box and watch for any of these troubling changes in their poop:
- Smaller or fewer fecal pellets than normal
- Very large or oddly shaped fecal pellets
- Difficulty passing stool, straining, or dribbles of urine
- Diarrhea – loose, watery stool
- Blood or mucus in the stool
- Complete lack of fecal pellets over 8-12 hours
Gi stasis is a dangerous condition where the gut slows down or stops, caused by issues like stress, dehydration, dental problems, or diet changes. The first symptom is often smaller and fewer poops. Diarrhea or bloody stool can indicate parasites, bacterial infections, intestinal disease, or other problems requiring veterinary treatment. If you notice any abnormal changes in your rabbit's poop, schedule a vet visit right away.
3. The rabbit is sitting differently
Subtle changes in your rabbit's posture or sitting position can signal an underlying issue. Here are some unusual positions to watch out for:
- Hunching in a ball for long periods
- Sitting with hips or front feet not squarely on the ground
- Reluctance to hop up on furniture or climb stairs
- Side or stomach laying instead of upright loaf position
If your rabbit seems to have discomfort sitting normally, is unstable, or changes their resting position, one possible cause is musculoskeletal pain. Sore hocks, arthritis, abdominal discomfort, and other problems can alter a rabbit's posture. Trekking down to flattened flooring or inability to groom properly are other signs of pain or mobility issues. Schedule a vet visit to pinpoint the cause.
4. Changes in their energy levels
Rabbits are naturally active creatures. If your energetic bunny starts acting lethargic, sleepy, or indifferent, an underlying health problem may be brewing. Signs of low energy in rabbits include:
- Lying down or sleeping more than usual
- Not getting excited for favorite activities like playtime or treats
- Moving slower or reluctance to hop and explore
- Hiding or isolating themselves more often
Pain, GI stasis, infections, dental disease, cancer, and other serious conditions can sap a rabbit's normal energy. If your rabbit's energy seems lower than normal, monitor them closely and contact your vet, especially if other symptoms develop. Lethargy along with appetite or bathroom changes is particularly worrisome.
5. LOUD tooth grating
Loud, sustained tooth grinding is always abnormal in rabbits. Occasional soft tooth purring when content is normal, but consistent loud grinding can signal dental problems. Signs of tooth issues include:
- High-pitched grinding or teeth chattering that persists
- Dropping food while eating
- Decreased appetite or odd chewing motions
- Facial swelling or mouth sores
Rabbit teeth grow constantly and require alignment for proper wear. Misaligned teeth (malocclusion) causes overgrown teeth and painful sharp points digging into the mouth. Ongoing loud tooth grinding indicates your rabbit is in pain and needs a vet exam. Dental problems left untreated can lead to starvation, so prompt veterinary care is crucial.
Excessive drooling or wetness on your rabbit's face and front paws is always abnormal. Common causes include:
- Dental disease such as tooth roots digging into the jaw
- Mouth injury or ulcers
- Oral abscess or infection
- Blocked tear ducts
- Toxin ingestion that causes nausea
Drooling indicates your rabbit is having serious mouth pain or illness requiring veterinary attention. Be sure to monitor for reduced eating and lethargy as well. Extended drooling can lead to dangerous dehydration. Seek same-day vet care if drooling persists more than a few hours.
7. Very hot or very cold ears
A rabbit's ears play a role in temperature regulation. Ear temperature outside the normal range can signal illness. Warning signs include:
- Hot, feverish ears much warmer than normal
- Ice cold ears that feel room temperature or cool
Hot ears generally indicate fever, often from an infection. But sometimes dehydration or heat stroke can also cause abnormally high ear temperatures.
Cold ears can signify shock, low blood pressure, or hypothermia. Illness and stress can cause dangerously cold ears in rabbits.
Check your rabbit's ears frequently. Seek prompt vet care if they feel significantly hotter or colder than usual. Monitoring ear temperature helps detect fevers and other issues needing medical treatment.
8. Lack of balance
A healthy rabbit normally has good strength and balance. But neurological conditions, injuries, and illnesses can disrupt your rabbit's coordination. Signs include:
- Wobbling, swaying, or leaning to one side
- Trouble righting themselves if flipped over
- Circling or head tilt
- Hopping in one direction repetitively
- Sudden rolling or flipping over
Underlying causes range from inner ear infections to stroke, brain tumors, head trauma, and more. If your rabbit suddenly loses balance or seems unable to control their movement, seek emergency vet care right away. Rapid treatment is vital with neurological issues.
9. Snotty nose
Thick discharge from your rabbit's nostrils is always abnormal. Causes include:
- Pasteurella or upper respiratory infections
- Irritants like dust or ammonia
- Dental disease
Snotty, crusty noses indicate illness in rabbits. Bacteria like Pasteurella can lead to pneumonia, so respiratory infections require prompt medical care. Make an appointment if you notice nasal discharge, congestion, or excess sneezing.
10. Mouth breathing
Rabbits are obligate nasal breathers – they must breathe through their nose. Open-mouth breathing is a red flag signaling respiratory distress. Causes include:
- Pneumonia or lower airway disease
- Heart failure
- Painful oral disease
- Overheating or heat stroke
Rapid or labored mouth breathing requires emergency vet treatment. It suggests your rabbit is struggling for oxygen and needs medical intervention right away. Don't delay care if your rabbit keeps their mouth open to breathe.
11. Abscesses or bumps
Noticing any new lumps, bumps, or swellings on your rabbit warrants a vet visit. Potential causes include:
- Abscesses from wounds or dental issues
- Infected anal glands
- Tumors or cancerous growths
Abscesses are pockets of pus under the skin often needing antibiotics. Some masses may be harmless, but others can be cancerous. Identifying the exact cause requires fine needle aspiration or biopsy. Make an appointment with your vet promptly if you find any unusual masses on your rabbit.
12. Change in urinating habits
Rabbits normally urinate frequently and litter train readily. Any deviation in normal urination patterns is a health red flag, such as:
- Straining, dribbles, or difficulty peeing
- Blood in the urine
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Increased frequency of urination
- Lack of urine production for over 8 hours
Potential causes range from bladder stones and sludge to UTIs, cancer, kidney disease, and gastrointestinal issues. Monitor your rabbit's litter habits closely and record any abnormalities. Seek prompt veterinary care if you notice any signs of difficulty, pain, or other changes in urination.
13. Not interested in their favorite treats
Rabbits are very food-motivated creatures. If your rabbit suddenly refuses favorite treats like bananas, carrots, or raisins, an underlying problem is likely to blame. Possible causes include:
- Dental disease causing mouth pain
- GI slowdown or stasis
- Loss of appetite from illness or stress
- Pain from injuries or arthritis
Do not force treats if your rabbit seems disinterested. Their appetite is a good barometer for health. Seek veterinary advice if treat refusal persists along with other symptoms like lethargy or bathroom changes. A rabbit off their feed is a red flag for potentially serious health issues.
14. Visibly enlarged stomach
A noticeably large or swollen abdomen in rabbits can have several troubling causes:
- Bloat from gas buildup or GI stasis
- Bladder stones or obstruction
- Enlarged organs like liver or spleen
- Tumor or abnormal masses
- Fluid buildup from heart failure
An expanded upper or lower abdomen that appears large, taut, or distended often signals an underlying medical problem. But sometimes bloat resolves on its own after passing gas or stool. Seek same-day veterinary care if the swollen abdomen persists or worsens.
15. Excessive ear scratching
It's normal for rabbits to occasionally scratch at their ears and face. But frequent, intense scratching or head shaking can stem from the following:
- Ear mites
- Wax buildup
- Ear infection
- Irritation from flies or mange
- Foreign object trapped in ear canal
Watch to see if scratching is confined to one ear versus both. Seek vet advice for an exam and possible medication if excessive scratching continues. Left untreated, ear issues can advance to head tilt and other complications.
16. Matted or balding fur
A rabbits soft coat should appear clean and full. Danger signs in their fur include:
- Matted clumps of urine or stool
- Bald patches where fur is missing
- Excess shedding with tufts of loose fur
- Dandruff or flaky skin
- Evidence of external parasites
Lack of grooming, dental problems, arthritis, obesity, and skin disorders can cause fur issues. Urine scald, ringworm, mites, and mange also trigger hair loss. Schedule a vet visit if you notice significant changes in your rabbit's coat for diagnosis and treatment.
17. More aggressive than usual
While occasional nipping can be normal rabbit behavior, increased biting, lunging, and aggression are problematic. Potential sources include:
- Pain from an undetected injury or illness
- Fear from stress or anxiety
- Territorialness as hormones fluctuate
- Rabies or neurological conditions
- Predatory instinct triggered by movement
Aggressive rabbits need behavior modification training. But first, underlying health issues should be ruled out by a veterinarian. Pain, illness, and fear are common drivers of unexplained aggression in rabbits. Medical intervention may be needed alongside training.
What to do if your rabbit is ill
If your rabbit is displaying any symptoms of illness, take the following steps without delay:
- Call your rabbit-savvy vet or an emergency clinic if outside normal hours
- Describe all symptoms in detail and make an appointment
- Withhold food temporarily if symptoms of GI stasis
- Keep the rabbit calm and quiet in a small space
- Offer water and hay if tolerating food normally
- Gently rub the belly to stimulate gut motility
- Apply warm compresses to swollen or painful areas
- Monitor litter box habits, appetite, and activity level
- Follow vet instructions for supplementary care at home
Waiting too long to seek care can be fatal for rabbits, who hide illness well in the wild. So err on the side of caution and make prompt appointment if anything seems off with your rabbit's health, behavior, or normal routine.
Having an experienced rabbit veterinarian is key for your bunny's healthcare. Here's what to look for in a qualified rabbit vet:
- Extensive knowledge of rabbit physiology and diseases
- Board certification in exotic animal medicine
- Experience treating many rabbit cases
- Current with newest protocols and research
- Offers advanced diagnostics like radiology and bloodwork
- Capable of performing rabbit surgeries or has referral options
- Understanding of rabbit behavior and handling techniques
- Committed to continuing rabbit medical education
A general practice vet may see some rabbit cases, but a true rabbit expert is ideal for optimal care. Do your research to find the most qualified rabbit-savvy vet in your local area.
Have critical care on hand
Keep a supply of critical care powder or cans on hand to syringe or force feed your rabbit if their appetite decreases. Major brands include Oxbow and Supreme Science Selective. Critical care provides complete nutrition to keep the gut moving and prevent dangerous stasis when rabbits go off feed. Having some ready to mix and feed can buy time until your vet appointment.
Best Practices to prevent rabbit illnesses
You can help keep your rabbit healthy by following these proactive care tips:
- Annual checkups to detect issues early
- Spay/neuter around 6 months to prevent cancer
- Balanced diet with hay, pellets, veggies, limited fruit
- Unlimited fresh water changed daily
- Large living space for exercise
- Sanitize litter box weekly
- Provide enrichment toys and activities
- Groom brush weekly to prevent mats
- Nail trims as needed every 6-8 weeks
- Monitor weight weekly; avoid obesity
- Socialize regularly, avoid stress
- Puppy-proof home for safety
- Research signs of illness specific to rabbits
- Establish relationship with rabbit-experienced vet
Preventative care greatly reduces risks of health problems in rabbits. Being attentive to changes in normal behavior, appetite, and elimination habits is also key to early illness detection and treatment.
Common rabbit illnesses that you should be aware of
Here are some of the most common health conditions seen in pet rabbits that owners should be knowledgeable about:
Dental Disease: Overgrown teeth and roots due to misalignment and genetics
GI Stasis: Dangerous slowdown of the gut motility leading to bloat and toxins
Upper Respiratory Infections: Contagious bacteria like Pasteurella causing sneezing, discharge, pneumonia
Ear Mites/Infections: Parasites and bacterial overgrowth causing intense itching, head tilting
Urinary Tract Issues: Sludge, stones, infections, bladder cancer from too-small pellets and lack of water
Obesity: Excess weight straining the heart, lungs, joints, and metabolism
Osteoarthritis: Joint degeneration from aging, inactivity, or injury
Cancer: Reproductive cancers prevalent if not spayed/neutered
Diarrhea: From diet changes, antibiotics, parasites, or digestive issues
Rabbits are prey animals that hide illness well in the wild to avoid appearing weak. Knowing the common health issues they face allows you to recognize symptoms early and seek prompt veterinary care for the best outcome. Monitor your rabbit closely for any deviation from normal habits as a clue to underlying health problems. With attentive owner and access to rabbit-experienced veterinary care, rabbits can live a long and healthy life as pets.