Safely Treating Wet Tail in Rabbits (Urine Scalding)

Wet tail is a painful and potentially fatal condition that strikes terror into the hearts of rabbit owners. The sight of a beloved bunny suffering scalded, urine-soaked skin is heartbreaking. As the ammonia burns worsen, the risk of deadly flystrike looms. Swift action is needed to soothe their pain, heal the wounds, restore dignity, and save a life. Don’t despair. With attentive nursing care guided by an experienced exotics vet, most rabbits fully recover from wet tail’s ravages. This article clearly explains wet tail’s causes, symptoms, emergency treatments, and at-home nursing techniques. Arm yourself with knowledge to battle wet tail and keep your rabbit healthy and happy. Read on to learn how.

What is Wet Tail in Rabbits?

Wet tail, also known as urine scald or urine burn, is a condition seen in rabbits where the skin around the bunny's bottom becomes inflamed, irritated, and soggy from prolonged contact with urine. It most commonly occurs when a rabbit has diarrhea and the loose stools result in more soiling of the hindquarters. However, it can also happen in rabbits with normal stools if they are unable to properly clean themselves due to obesity, arthritis, or other mobility issues.

Wet tail is extremely painful and distressing for rabbits. The ammonia and enzymes in the urine cause chemical burns on the skin, leading to open sores, peeling, and intense irritation. Rabbits experiencing wet tail will often vocalize when urinating or sitting down due to the discomfort. They may stop eating normally due to the pain. Severe urine scald can become infected or attract flies, which can ultimately be fatal if left untreated. That's why it's so important to address wet tail promptly in pet rabbits.

What Are the Symptoms of Wet Tail in Rabbits?

There are several telltale signs of wet tail in rabbits to look out for:

  • Dampness and redness around the hindquarters and tail – This is usually the first noticeable symptom. The fur will be stained yellow or brown from the urine. The skin may look scalded or peeled.

  • Discomfort when urinating or sitting – Rabbits with wet tail will often cry out when peeing or sitting down. They avoid putting pressure on their sore bottom.

  • Loss of fur around the hindquarters – Prolonged urine scald causes fur loss around the backside. The skin will appear irritated or wounded.

  • Strong odor – Due to the accumulation of urine on the rabbit's fur, there will be a pungent ammonia smell.

  • Straining to urinate – Struggling or vocalizing when peeing may indicate a urinary tract infection.

  • Blood in the urine – Blood in the urine is a sign of infection or severe irritation.

  • Lack of appetite – The pain from wet tail can cause rabbits to go off their food.

  • Diarrhea – Loose stool is a common cause of wet tail as it sticks to the fur easily.

  • Damp bedding – Check the rabbit's housing for urine-soaked bedding.

Seeking prompt veterinary care is crucial if you notice any of these wet tail symptoms in your rabbit. Leaving urine scald untreated can have fatal consequences.

What Are the Causes of Wet Tail in Rabbits?

There are several potential causes for a rabbit to develop wet tail:


Overweight rabbits can struggle to properly groom their hindquarters. The excess fat around their backside also puts pressure on the area, making it more prone to urine scald. Obese rabbits are at high risk for wet tail.

Arthritis and Joint Pain

Rabbits rely on flexibility and agility to reach and clean their bottom area after urinating. Arthritic rabbits have stiff, sore joints that make grooming very difficult. The immobility leads to urine-soaked fur.

Urinary Tract Infections

A UTI causes rabbits to pass more urine more frequently. The constant dribbling of urine in the fur leads to scalding. Rabbits with UTIs may also leak urine while sleeping.

Injury or Trauma

Back, hip or leg injuries make it impossible for rabbits to properly urinate in the litter box or groom themselves. The urine gets trapped in the fur. Never immobilize a rabbit's hindlegs or tail.

E. Cuniculi

This neurological parasite impairs a rabbit's balance, mobility and urinary control. Rabbits with E. Cuniculi often develop urine scald due to incontinence issues.

Neutering Complications

Rabbits who were improperly positioned during sedation for their neuter surgery can develop nerve damage. This nerve damage leads to partial paralysis and urine dribbling.

Knowing the root cause of your rabbit's wet tail will guide the proper treatment approach. Schedule a vet visit if the cause is unknown.

Why Does Wet Tail Need to be Treated?

Treating wet tail is critical for several reasons:

  • Relieve Pain – Wet tail is intensely uncomfortable for rabbits. Prompt treatment stops the burning and stinging.

  • Prevent Infection – Bacteria rapidly multiply in the warm, moist environment created by urine scald. This can lead to dangerous secondary infections.

  • Stop Tissue Damage – Ammonia burns cause dead skin cells and open wounds. These need to be treated to heal.

  • Reduce Risk of Flystrike – Flies are attracted to the odor of urine-soaked fur and lay eggs in the damp area. Flystrike is often fatal.

  • Improve Quality of Life – Rabbits with wet tail stop eating and grooming. Treatment restores normal activity.

  • Save Lives – Sepsis can develop if urine scald goes untreated. Rabbits can die from dehydration, starvation or flystrike.

Seeking prompt veterinary care gives wet tail sufferers the best chance of recovery and prevents minor cases from becoming life-threatening emergencies.

What is Flystrike and Why is it So Dangerous?

Flystrike is a major risk for rabbits suffering from wet tail. Here's what you need to know about flystrike:

  • Flies are attracted to the strong ammonia odor from urine-soaked fur. They swarm and lay eggs on the damp, dirty area.

  • The eggs rapidly hatch into maggots that begin feeding on the rabbit's wounded skin.

  • Maggots release toxins that quickly become systemic. Significant tissue damage also occurs.

  • Severe pain, blood loss, and sepsis develop as maggots burrow deeper.

  • Flystrike can kill a rabbit within 24 hours. It is considered a medical emergency.

  • Prompt vet treatment, pain control, antibiotics, fluids, and maggot removal are required.

  • Prevention is key. Keeping rabbits' cages clean and dry is crucial. Check for fly eggs daily.

  • Rabbit hutches should be placed away from compost piles and manure to avoid attracting flies.

  • Any rabbit with wet tail is at high risk for flystrike until the urine scald is fully resolved.

Be vigilant about checking for fly eggs and maggots in any rabbit with wet fur or skin. Flystrike is a rapidly fatal condition warranting emergency veterinary care.

Treatment of Wet Tail in Rabbits

Treating wet tail involves a combination of medical care and home nursing:

  • Pain medication – Drugs like meloxicam help relieve discomfort during the healing process.

  • Antibiotics – Antibiotics treat and prevent secondary skin infections caused by urine scald.

  • Anti-inflammatory medication – Steroids help reduce swelling and irritation.

  • Probiotics – Probiotics restore gut flora balance for rabbits with diarrhea.

  • Maintaining hydration – Subcutaneous or IV fluids treat dehydration from diarrhea.

  • Removing fecal matter – Gently trim away any stuck feces around the tail.

  • clipping fur – Shaving urine-soaked fur helps the skin heal and stay dry.

  • Cleaning the area – Using a gentle rabbit or puppy shampoo, rinse away urine residue. Avoid harsh chemicals.

  • Barrier cream – Petroleum jelly or diaper rash ointment protects newly exposed skin.

  • Dry bedding – Ensure bedding stays clean and dry to prevent re-scalding.

  • Elizabethan collar – An E collar prevents licking or chewing of irritated areas.

  • Monitoring for flystrike – Check fur and skin for fly eggs several times a day.

With prompt, aggressive treatment at the first signs of wet tail, most bunnies make a full recovery. Patience and attentive at-home nursing care are key.

Wet Tail Treatment at Home

Caring for a rabbit with wet tail at home involves:

  • Hand feeding – Syringe feed recovery food and fresh greens if your bunny won't eat.

  • Hydration – Provide extra fresh water. Give oral electrolytes for dehydration.

  • Clean cage – Disinfect and deodorize the hutch then provide soft, dry bedding.

  • Elizabethan collar – Prevent licking or chewing of painful areas.

  • Skin rinses – Gently wash the bottom with saline solution. Rinse away urine residue.

  • Dry thoroughly – Absorb moisture with cotton pads then use a blow dryer on a low setting.

  • Diapering – Place a baby diaper or rabbit diaper over the area if diarrhea is present.

  • Barrier ointment – Apply petroleum jelly or diaper rash cream to protect the skin.

  • Pain medication – Give prescribed doses of Metacam or other drugs exactly as directed.

  • Probiotics – Give oral probiotics to support healthy gut flora.

  • Check fur/skin – Monitor closely for signs of fly eggs or infection.

  • Vet follow-up – Book follow-up vet appointments to monitor progress.

Avoid putting any oils, ointments, or home remedies on the inflamed skin without your vet's guidance. With attentive nursing at home, most cases of wet tail can fully heal.

How to Clean Urine Scald in Rabbits

Gently cleaning the affected skin is an important part of treating wet tail in rabbits. Here are some tips:

  • Use lukewarm water – Hot water can further irritate. Lukewarm water soothes inflammation.

  • No harsh soaps – Choose a very gentle puppy or rabbit shampoo. Or use just water.

  • Light scrubbing – Use gauze, a soft cloth or cotton pad to lightly scrub caked urine away. Don’t rub hard.

  • Rinse thoroughly – Ensure all soap residue is fully rinsed off. Remaining residue can further aggravate the skin.

  • Dry well – Gently pat away moisture then blow dry on a low setting. Be cautious of burned skin.

  • Cotton balls – Use cotton balls dabbed in saline solution to spot clean the area between full washes.

  • Remove debris – Carefully snip away any stuck fecal matter around the tail and genitals with small, blunt scissors.

  • Check skin – Examine the area during cleaning for signs of wounds, infection or maggots.

  • Repeat – Clean the area 2-3 times per day, or more frequently if very soiled.

Avoid using wipes or baby diaper creams unless approved by your vet. Gently cleaning with plain water is safest as the skin heals. Keeping things clean and dry is key.

Should I Amputate My Rabbit’s Tail to Resolve Wet Tail?

Tail amputation surgery is sometimes performed as a last resort on chronically affected rabbits, however it has risks and disadvantages:

  • Infection risk – Amputation leaves an open wound vulnerable to bacteria. Serious infection could develop.

  • Chronic nerve pain – Severing nerves can lead to long term neuropathic pain.

  • Loss of function – The tail is essential for balance, climbing, and temperature regulation.

  • Recurrence – Urine scald may still recur. The underlying cause needs to be addressed through other treatment.

  • Permanent disfigurement – Loss of the tail leaves an unnatural appearance.

  • Surgical stress – Anesthesia and surgery are inherently risky, especially for small rabbits.

  • High cost – Amputation and aftercare is more expensive than conservative treatment.

  • Owner reluctance – Most owners prefer to attempt all other options before amputation.

More well-tolerated treatments like weight loss, pain management, probiotics, and frequent cleanings are preferable first steps for wet tail. Tail amputation should only be a last resort when all else has failed and euthanasia is the only other option.

How Can Wet Tail in Rabbits be Prevented?

While wet tail in rabbits cannot always be completely prevented, the following tips will reduce the likelihood:

  • Maintain ideal weight – Prevent obesity through proper diet and exercise. Obese rabbits cannot properly groom.

  • Cleanliness – Spot clean cages at least once a day. Change out all bedding completely 1-2 times weekly.

  • Proper litter habits – Spay/neuter rabbits and provide ample litter boxes to encourage good bathroom habits.

  • Probiotics – Use daily probiotics to promote healthy gut flora and digestion, preventing diarrhea.

  • Nutritious diet – Feed a balanced diet high in hay and leafy greens for good GI health. Avoid sugary treats.

  • Brush fur – Help keep the backside fur clean and urine-free by regular gentle brushing.

  • Sanitize – Use gentle rabbit-safe disinfectants when washing food bowls, litter boxes, and cages.

  • Avoid dampness – Ensure the cage or hutch is fully covered to keep rain out. Avoid drafts. Use absorbent bedding.

  • Check fur – Examine fur around the backside and tail daily for urine staining.

  • Fly control – Use fly traps, put hutches away from compost piles, and eliminate standing water sources.

With attentive husbandry and care, wet tail can often be avoided in pet rabbits altogether. But if it does occur, early treatment greatly improves recovery outlook.


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