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Health Checks at Home: How To Guide

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Health Checks at Home: How To Guide Empty Health Checks at Home: How To Guide

Post by Happy Hoppers on Wed Jun 18, 2008 8:29 pm

Health checking: Bunny MOTs

It is very important to check your rabbit over regularly, every few days or so. This not only helps ensure your rabbit is in excellent health but also allows you to spot any symptoms of disease or medical problems early on, giving your bunny the best possible chance of recovery. Although vets will usually perform a complimentary health examination for newly registered rabbits, there are many things you can do at home to make sure your pet is happy and healthy.

We recommed giving your rabbit a MOT once a week to spot any problems early.

The eyes should be bright and display no discharge, swelling or spots.

What to look for:
• Increased tear production – this is the most common symptom of eye problems and leads to problems in itself. If the skin of a rabbit stays wet for too long, irritation can occur and result in the fur matting and then literally ‘rotting away’.
• Changes in iris colour
• Pigmentation of the sclera – this could be caused by melanomas (cancers) on the whites of the eye.
• Persistent redness
• Cloudiness of the cornea
• Irregular edges to the pupil

Possible eye conditions include:
Corneal ulcers – where the covering of the eye becomes scratched or infected resulting in weeping eyes. These can often be treated with eye drops and subconjunctival injections.
Blocked tear ducts – this can be caused by dental problems (swollen tooth roots), inflammation, infection, foreign bodies becoming lodged inside the tear duct and also pasteurella. Pasteurella is a bacterium which is always present in rabbits, but which, at times of heightened stress can cause respiratory tract infections or “snuffles”. This can lead to conjunctivitis (see below) and blocked tear ducts, clogged with dried discharge. Prolonged periods of infection can also cause scar tissue to form thus narrow the ducts themselves.
Conjunctivitis – an inflammation of the protective layer covering the eye caused by foreign objects, scratches or infection. This condition is often secondary to tear duct problems, myxomatosis or upper airway infections such as pasteurella.
Retrobulbar Abscess – an abscess behind the eye. Symptoms of this will include increased tear production and “cherry eye” (where the third eyelid (or nictitating membrane) becomes visible and inflamed, usually resulting in the eye taking on a bulbous appearance and the rabbit being unable to blink). This is often successfully treated by surgery and an aggressive course of antibiotics.
Myxomatosis – acute conjunctivitis leading to blindness is the most common, and often the first symptom of this deadly disease. Other symptoms include lumps, scabs and/or puffiness around the head and genitals. This is a life threatening illness and if you suspect your rabbit has contracted myxomatosis you must get them to the vet immediately.
Cancer – often presenting pigmented spots on the sclera (or “white” of the eye).
Cataracts – a clouding of the cornea, usually related to the age of the rabbit but also linked to EC granuloma's forming on the lense. Cataracts progress gradually and can often become so opaque that they allow very little or no light at all to pass through, resulting in blindness. They are not a life-threatening condition and, although there is a complex and little performed surgery option to remove them, most rabbits can function well with cataracts, having adapted to their blindness as the cataracts slowly developed.

The ears should be clean, free from cuts, debris and dirt; the skin should be pink (not red) and not hot to the touch. There should be no wax build-up or flakiness.

What to look for:
• Head shaking or scratching – this could be a sign of ear mites
• Flaky skin or a waxy build-up
• Cuts and scratches – this could be caused by scraps with other rabbits..

Possible ear problems:
Mites – also known as Psoroptes cuniculi. The mites feed on the blood of the rabbit, most easily accessible through the thin skin of the ear. The cause irritation, inflammation and are very easily transmitted through direct contact. A trip to the vet is necessary to kill the mites and you will need to thoroughly sterilise the rabbit’s cage and living area.
Inner ear infection – often accompanied by a head tilt and discharges of pus. This usually clears up with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers.
Cuts/bites – most probably caused through fighting with another rabbit. Consider having your bunny neutered to reduce aggression and make sure the wounds are clean and free from infection.


There should be no sign of scabs, swelling or discharge.
What to look for:
• Sneezing – a sign of a possible Pseudomonas, Pasteurella or Staphylococcus infection, or “snuffles”.
• Discharge – possible sign of an upper respiratory tract infection. If the discharge is thick and white, a culture and sensitivity (C& ) test will usually be taken to ascertain the best course of antibiotics for your rabbit.
• Foreign bodies – sometimes strands of hay or other debris can become lodged in a rabbit’s nasal passages, leading to infection. Check that there are no obvious signs or foreign bodies.
• Scabs – “scab nose” is a condition caused by infection due to improper cleaning of a rabbit’s housing. This leads to rabbits sitting around in their own urine, developing “urine scald” which can become infected. If this infection spreads to the nose it can cause nasty scabbing and discharge. Scabs can also be a symptom of myxomatosis or rabbit syphillis aka Vents Disease.
• Swelling – a possible symptom of myxomatosis.
• Loud breathing/wheezing – a possible sign of a lower respiratory infection such as pneumonia.

Possible nasal conditions include:
Pasteurella - or similar bacterial infections. Usually treated with specific antibiotics these will often clear up successfully but may reoccur frequently.
Myxomatosis – this may show as a lump, bump, scab or swelling of the nose. Please note Vents Disease can also cause nasal scabbing.
Pneumonia – a lower respiratory tract bacterial infection which has reached the lungs. This is much harder to treat than an upper respiratory tract infection such as “snuffles” and a rabbit will often be seen gasping and tilting its head backwards in an attempt to get more air into its lungs. This is treated with drugs such as aminophylline to relax the airways, as well as antibiotics and drugs to help loosen the mucus that has accumulated in the lungs (e.g. acetylcysteine)
Foreign bodies – such as hay, seeds etc. These should only be removed by a qualified vet as you could cause your rabbit more harm than good. A course of antibiotics may follow depending on the irritation and/or damage the object has caused.
Dental problems – the most common cause of “snuffles” is, perhaps surprisingly, undiagnosed dental problems. Make sure your rabbit’s teeth are healthy.

A rabbit has three sets of incisors (front teeth) and five sets of molars (back teeth).
Health Checks at Home: How To Guide Tooth_pic_1Health Checks at Home: How To Guide Tooth_pic_2

*images from http://www.mybunny.org/info/dental_problems.htm *

A rabbit’s teeth are quite unlike human teeth – they grow continuously throughout the rabbit’s life and need to be in constant wear against each other in order to remain a manageable length. Good quality roughage such as hay is vital for ensuring that a rabbit’s teeth remain healthy and do not overgrow. Sadly, overbreeding and a poor diet early on results in many rabbits developing “malocclusion”, or misaligned teeth, forcing them to spend their entire lives with dental problems requiring regular treatment.

Many rabbits do not like having their teeth checked so you will need to have your bunny on a non-slip surface, secured with one hand whilst gently pushing back the lips with the other hand. In this way you can check that the incisors (front teeth) are aligned and not wearing unevenly, curling or split. The molars (back teeth) will require the use of an otoscope and are usually examined at a vets.

Sadly, dental problems are usually for life and often a ‘dental bunny’ will have a require regular appointments at the vets for check-ups and dental work. Dental problems can very painful, preventing a rabbit eating, so it is vital that you regularly check your bunny’s teeth.

Things to look for:
• Excessive drooling and 'fiddling' – this can be a sign that something is wrong, especially if your bunny cannot or is reluctant to close their mouth. It may be that the teeth are wearing unevenly, causing sharp spikes (or “spurs”) which are lacerating the oral tissue and leading to infection. Rabbit's also often grind and fiddle with their mouth if they are uncomfortable.
• Loss of appetite/weight loss – this is another telltale sign that something is wrong as rabbits are grazers and, as a result, are eating pretty much all of the time. If your bunny is off their food, it could be that sharp teeth are making it too painful to eat.
• Uneven wear – this could be anything from “diagonal” teeth (indicating that one side of the mouth is wearing faster than the other) to more obvious overgrown incisors which “curl” either into the mouth (usually lower incisors) or off to either side (in a sort of “Y” shape).
• Bumps in the lower jaw line – have a feel of your bunny’s lower jaw line. In a healthy rabbit, although not perfectly straight, you should not feel any obvious lumps or bumps. These are a sign of maloccluded molars.
• Bad breath – this could be due to an infection within the mouth.
• Discharge – rabbits should not drool and if there is any discharge from the mouth, either clear or cloudy, it is a sign of a potential problem.
Tooth problems include:
Incisor Malocclusion – where teeth do not wear evenly causing uneven growth, often into the oral cavity. This can be genetic (for instance the Netherland Dwarf is particularly prone to this condition) or as a result of a poor, low fibre diet in early life. This means that the teeth wear at different rates and so do not meet normally, and therefore continue to wear at different rates. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. Incisors can be trimmed without sedation at the vets but should never be clipped at home. You can buy “tooth trimmers” for rabbits but there is a real danger of splintering the tooth, causing more trouble for the rabbit and, most probably, resulting in a trip to the vet anyway so we do not recommend you perform this procedure yourself.
Molar spurs – a result of molar malocclusion. Spurs are sharp areas on the molar teeth which cut into the cheek, causing pain and abscesses. Molar spurs will need to be trimmed under general anaesthesia.
Elongated roots – again these occur as a result of maloccluded teeth, when molars do not wear down against one another. As a result there is no space within the mouth for them to grow, so the roots grow down into the jaw causing palpable bumps, and sometimes bone abscesses. Elongated roots are treated by filing down the molars to encourage normal wearing again. This is done under GA and there is often a marked difference just hours after the operation. A high fibre diet is needed post-op to encourage the molars to wear evenly in future.
Abscesses – infected sores often caused by molar spurs or sharp points of teeth cutting into the surrounding cheek area. These can often become so bad that they appear on the outside of the cheek as large, open sores. Small abscesses can be treated by flushing the area with antiseptics and administering a course of antibiotics but if the abscess is severe, surgery may be required to remove the infected tissue and pus.
Blocked tear ducts – caused by overgrown upper molar roots pushing against and subsequently blocking (either partially or completely) the tear duct. See “Eyes” section for the consequences of this.

It is important to remember that if your bunny has had dental problems, they are unlikely to completely return to “normal” and it is important that you have regular check up appointments with your vet to catch any recurring problems in their infancy before they cause too much pain or stress to your rabbit.

Yes, bunnies need pedicures too!
What to look for:
• Overgrown or curling claws.
• Bald hocks (or heels) (although a small circular bald patch is normal).
• Foreign objects lodged between toes.
• Cuts, scratches, broken nails.

Possible problems:
Overgrown claws – this might not sound a big deal but rabbits' claws can become very overgrown and uncomfortable, especially if housed on soft ground or in too-small a hutch.
Sore Hocks (pododermatitis) – where the fur on the underside of the back foot wears away. Sometimes this will form calluses and have no further problems but often sore hocks will lead to inflammation and infection, sometimes being worn to the bone! Rexes are especially prone to this condition as they have very fine fur which can often be rubbed away by carpeting. Wire-bottomed cages, wet bedding, dirt litter trays and an overweight bunny can all contribute to sore hocks. They are treated with topical antiseptic, anti-inflammatories and a course of antibiotics. Severe cases may also require analgesia.
Broken/removed nails – these can lead to infection and are often overlooked due to the furriness of bunny-feet. If you notice any exposed quicks (nerve & blood supply to the claw) or open wounds then a trip to the vets is advisable.

Things to look for:
• Stuck faeces
• Wetness
• Staining
• Bald areas/sores
• Discharge
• Swelling, lumps or scabbing

Possible problems include:
Urine scald – this happens when a rabbit has been sitting around in its own urine, often because its hutch is not cleaned out regularly enough or when the rabbit has developed a urinary tract infection. Urine scald results in loss of fur around the genital area and exposed, red, irritated skin which can become infected. Urine scald is treated with antiseptic and antibiotics and is usually a very painful condition for a rabbit to suffer.
Abscesses/infection – Possibly due to urine scald or cuts and scratches that have become infected. These will need treatment with antiseptic and a course of antibiotics.
Flystrike – a very real danger in the summer! See below.
Myxomatosis – a fatal disease, see a vet immediately.
Rabbit Syphilis- aka Vents Disease which is sexually transmitted infection and requires antibiotic treatment.

Last edited by Sooz on Thu Nov 17, 2011 7:14 pm; edited 7 times in total
Happy Hoppers
Happy Hoppers

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Number of posts : 6477
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Health Checks at Home: How To Guide Empty Re: Health Checks at Home: How To Guide

Post by Happy Hoppers on Wed Jun 25, 2008 7:25 pm

One of the biggest killers in the summer, flystrike is a condition whereby flies will lay their eggs in loose stools around a rabbit's bottom, which then hatch into maggots, literally eating the rabbit alive and causing it to go into shock. It can present incredibly quickly, often an apparently healthy rabbit can be dead 24 hours later as fly eggs can turn into maggots in a couple of hours in warm weather.

Flies are attracted to damn, soiled fur so if your rabbit is ‘at risk’ (see below) then it is advisable to ‘Rearguard’ your rabbit (see “Flystrike” article) and ensure their bottom is as clean as possible. A vet will advise you on this.

At risk rabbits include:
• Incontinent rabbits
• Old or arthritic rabbits (they cannot clean their bottoms properly and so faeces builds up)
• Overweight rabbits or those with large dewlaps (again, cannot reach to clean their bottoms)
• Rabbits who have diarrhoea
• Rabbit who have just eaten too many greens/grass (they will be producing more caecotrophs than usual. These are usually eaten but if there is an excess they will often become stuck to the rabbit’s bottom)

If you suspect flystrike get your rabbit to a vet IMMEDIATELY as it can develop very quickly and needs urgent treatment.

Rabbit Urine
Rabbit urine comes in many different colours. Do not be surprised if your rabbit’s urine has a chalky appearance, this is just a rabbit’s way of ridding its body of excess calcium salts. Urine can range in colour from pale yellow all the way through to dark orange (and even red if they have been eating beetroot!) but if there is any sign of blood in your rabbit’s urine get them to a vet immediately. Likewise, ‘sludgy’ urine (sometimes it is as thick as toothpaste) is a sign that the salts are crystallising within the urinary tract and necessitates a vet visit. Any straining or apparent discomfort whilst urinating is an issue that needs addressing, likewise with incontinence. These could be signs of urinary tract infections, kidney problems or even E. cuniculi, all of which require veterinary treatment.

This should be shiny and full. Things to look for;
• Parasites
• Dandruff
• Flaky or inflamed skin
• Bald patches.

Possible conditions include:
Mites – typically found in the ear (see “Ears” above), these can cause sores and irritated skin.
Fleas – can cause anaemia if the rabbit is infested with a large amount of fleas but fleas can usually be treated with commercial flea powder, as recommended by your vet.
Ticks – similar to mites, these attach themselves to a bunny’s skin (usually the ears) and feed on its blood. They transmit many diseases through their saliva but can be treated with powders.
Allergies/Eczema – can be helped with antihistamines and/or steroid creams.
Mange – caused by the Cheyletiella mange mite, this condition results in dandruff-like skin, itchiness and fur loss. It can be treated with medicated shampoos prescribed by a vet but more serious cases may need drugs
Fungal infections – such as ringworm. These can be caused by continuously wet skin and are treated with anti fungal creams containing Miconazole Nitrate.

Rabbits can have allergies too! Things to watch for are:
• Scratching
• Sneezing
• Wheezing
• Runny eyes or nose
• Fur loss

Rabbits can have food allergies, which usually present themselves as itching of the skin. To identify which food is causing the allergy you can cut your rabbit back to a simple diet of pellets and hay for a few days and gradually start introducing back the other foods. A vet visit is always advisable if you suspect any allergy.

Rabbits can also have contact or inhalant allergies. These can be anything from the disinfectant you use in your hutch to an allergy to airborne pollen (hayfever). A vet will help you determine just what it is your rabbit is allergic to.

General Healthcheck
Some other things to monitor regularly:
Grooming – although rabbits are fastidious creatures, they will sometimes need a little extra help with their grooming, especially during a moult. Apart from stimulating blood circulation and removing trapped hairs, this is a great way for bunny and owner to bond and many bunnies will reciprocate by ‘grooming’ their owners in return. Daily grooming is required for long haired breeds such as the Angora. Soft-bristled and slicker brushes are recommended and grooming should start at the head and progress down the body. Check for wounds or sores under matted fur as they can often be hidden away.
Weight – an overweight rabbit leads to a whole range of problems such as arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, sludgy urine, sticky bottoms and an increased risk of flystrike. The following list shows some popular bunny breeds and their ideal weights although it is not a comprehensive breakdown and you are advised to research your own rabbit's ideal weight yourself:

Tiny - 2-4 lbs - Dwarf Hotot, Jersey Woolly,Netherland Dwarf, Lionhead

Small - 3 to 5 lbs - American Fuzzy Lop, Dutch, Himalayan, Holland Lop, Mini Rex
Medium - 4 to 7 lbs - English Angora, English Spot, Florida White, Miniature Lop
Large - 6 to 10 lbs - American Sable, Belgian Hare , French Angora, Harlequin, Hotot, Rex
Giant - 9 lbs and over - English Lop, Flemish Giant, French Lop, Giant Angora, New Zealand

Healthcheck at the vets

Most vets will provide this service free of charge with a veterinary nurse. When you take your bunny to the vets for an ‘M.O.T.’, make sure they checks the following:
• Eyes (bright with no discharge)
• Teeth (including molars with an otoscope)
• Ears (no mites, ticks or skin problems)
• Bottom (no stickiness or discharge)
• Coat (shiny with no sign of fleas or dandruff)
• Claws (these will often require a trim which should be included)
• Weight
• Chest (checking the heart with a stethoscope)
• Abdomen (palpating to make sure there are no internal problems)

Before vaccinating your vet should always perform a thorough healthcheck as it is not advisable to vaccinate a rabbit unless it is 100% healthy.

Vaccinations & Worming
It is very important to vaccinate your rabbit against the two main diseases affecting bunnies: VHD and Myxomatosis. They are both easily transmitted and even houserabbits can contract either illness simply by contact with you if you have recently travelled to or through an infected area. Therefore it is vital that you ensure your rabbit’s vaccinations are up to date, especially when summer is approaching. Immunity does not last forever though, and will slowly diminish over time so boosters are vital in order to ‘top up’ your rabbit's resistance to these diseases.

VHD needs an annual booster to ensure continuous protection.

Myxomatosis vaccines can be administered every 6 months. It is advisable to book your rabbit’s myxi vaccine around March (and subsequently September) each year to ensure their immunity is strong throughout the summer.

You should also consider worming your rabbit, especially during the summer months, if your rabbit is housed outside or if your rabbit will be in contact with any strange rabbits (for example in a boarding kennels). You should visit your vets for a consultation where they will most likely prescribe Panacur. This can be administered up to four times a year and the treatment involves a nine day course of oral syringing. Panacur can also help protect against E. cuniculi. We recommend routinely worming your rabbit 1-2 times a year.

PDSA (2007) ‘F.A.Q. Rabbits – What are the common diseases rabbits get with their eyes?' (http://www.pdsa.org.uk/page257_4.html)

Astrid M. Kruse (2001) ‘Windows to the Bunny Soul:Your Rabbit's Eye Health’ (http://www.rabbitnetwork.org/articles/eyes.shtml)

Margaret A. Wissman (2006) ‘Rabbit Medicine’ (http://www.exoticpetvet.net/smanimal/rabbit.html)

“Tippy & Alfred” ‘Symptoms & Prevention of Ear Mites in Pet Rabbits’ (http://petcaretips.net/ear-mites-pet-rabbit.html)

Dana Krempels ‘Runny Eyes, Runny Nose. What do They Mean?’ (http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/sneezing.html)

Sari Kanfer (2002) ‘Dental Problems in Rabbits’ (http://www.mybunny.org/info/dental_problems.htm)

Owen Davies and Dr Linda Dykes (2002) ‘Dental Problems in Rabbits’ (http://www.houserabbit.co.uk/resources/content/info-sheets/dental_disease.htm)

Holly Nash (2008) ‘Pododermatitis: Sore Feet and Hocks’ (http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?cls=18&cat=1800&articleid=3066)

Galen’s Garden (2006): ‘Fly Strike (Miasis)’ (http://www.galensgarden.co.uk/herbivores/health/flystrike.php)

CottonTails Rescue ‘Mucoid Enteritis in Rabbits’ (http://www.cottontails-rescue.org.uk/gutstasis.asp)

San Diego House Rabbit Society (2006) ‘Is Your Bunny Sick?’ (http://www.sandiegorabbits.org/health/sick.html)

PETCO Animal Supplies, Inc (2008) ‘Rabbit Allergies’ (http://www.petco.com/Content/ArticleList/Article/13/21/967/Rabbit-Allergies.aspx)

Laurie Stroupe (2008) ‘Different Breeds of Rabbits, Rabbit Breed Descriptions’ (http://www.pet-rabbit-care-information.com/best-rabbit-breed.htm)

Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund ‘First Aid Kit for Rabbits’ (http://www.houserabbit.co.uk/resources/index.php?section=veterinary.html#f_a_kit)

MU College of Veterinary Medicine (2002) ‘Miscellaneous Diseases’ (http://www.radil.missouri.edu/info/dora/RABBPAGE/mis.htm#IV)

“Charky & Ash’s Homepage” (2005) ‘Rabbit References’ (http://homepage.mac.com/mattocks/morfz/rabrefs.html#entero)

Wikipedia (2008) ‘Domestic Rabbit’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_rabbit)

This Document is Copyright © Helen Coulson, HappyHoppers Forums Uk. June 2008.UK. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.[/quote]
Happy Hoppers
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Number of posts : 6477
Registration date : 2008-06-14


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