Preventive Health Care for Rabbits

Companion Animals November 05, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Rabbits may not need vaccinations like dogs and cats do, but it is still important to provide routine health care, such as annual check-ups and weigh-ins and to establish an association with a veterinarian who is familiar with rabbits. You may be able to provide much of the preventive health care yourself, including proper grooming, good nutrition, and suitable housing. But it is a good idea for you to have a veterinarian who is familiar with rabbits when a problem arises.

 

It is recommended that all new rabbits receive an initial exam by a veterinarian.  This allows the vet to determine if the rabbit is in good overall health and to discuss health concerns or care questions you might have.  In addition, this exam will allow you to get to know the veterinarian and the veterinarian to get to know your rabbit.  It will serve as an important baseline to know what is normal for your animal.  Generally, rabbits do not need vaccinations in the United States.  However, the veterinarian can tell you if there are vaccinations recommended for your location.  This initial visit is a good time to discuss spaying or neutering your rabbit or reproductive concerns if you plan to breed your new rabbit.

 

After the initial examination, annual check-ups are recommended for your rabbit. An annual exam includes a thorough visual examination, measurement of weight, examination of a stool sample, discussion of your animal’s normal behavior and food intake, and possibly a blood draw to check for parasites, signs of infection, or changes in organ function. Some veterinarians may recommend check-ups every six months once your rabbit is over 7 years old. More frequent professional exams can help prevent or detect impending conditions that can develop more quickly in an older animal.

 

The best protection against illness is providing a clean environment for your rabbit.  A rabbit’s water should be changed daily and leftover food should be cleaned out of the rabbit’s cage each day.  Litter pans should be changed every three days.  The cage should be cleaned with a mild disinfectant approximately once a week.  This should help to cut down on infectious agents in your rabbit’s environment. 

 

Providing proper nutrition for your rabbit will help ensure a healthy immune system.  A healthy diet and hay will improve your rabbit’s overall health and prevent disease.  To learn more about proper nutrition for your rabbit, see “Choosing a Diet for Your Rabbit” and “Choosing Hay for Your Companion Rabbit."

 

Daily observation and handling of your rabbit, as well as monitoring it for changes in behavior will help to detect illness earlier.  Common signs of illness or pain in rabbits include: changes in appetite (including water consumption); weight loss; abnormal or hunched posture; reluctance to move; increased aggression; tooth grinding; crying or grunting (especially when urinating or defecating); poor coat appearance; skin lumps, bumps, and lesions; dropping food; and changes in texture and amount of feces. If you suspect your rabbit is sick, it is important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Immediate veterinary care can also go a long way in preventing further complications.  Because rabbits are prey animals, they tend to hide signs of illness as long as possible to keep from attracting attention from predators.

 

Rabbits housed outdoors may be exposed to worms or other internal parasites, as well as external parasites. Indoor rabbits are less likely to be exposed.  You should discuss the ideal deworming schedule with your veterinarian.  Some breeders recommend you deworm your rabbit once every six months, but talk to your veterinarian or a reputable local breeder to determine the ideal situation where you live.  If you notice worms in your rabbit’s stool, take your rabbit, along with a stool sample, to the veterinarian to have it analyzed to see what type of worm is present and to ensure it is properly treated.

 

To prevent disease transmission between rabbits, make sure that all new rabbits are housed separately (quarantined) from other rabbits for at least two weeks to observe the new rabbit to make sure it’s healthy and eating properly.  Many diseases will spread rapidly through rabbits housed close together.  If you notice signs of illness, such as the ones outlined above, remove your rabbit from the area where other rabbits are housed and clean its cage thoroughly. If necessary, take it to the vet for further workup. Watch carefully for signs of illness in your other animals.

 

It helps to understand the basic signs of disease and common diseases to be best prepared for any possible health concerns you may see. 

Diseases and health concerns:

 

Parasites:

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.