Rabbit Health Check

The health of their little darlings is of course particularly important to most rabbit owners. But many are unsure how often this should be checked and what exactly needs to be considered during the so-called health check for rabbits. After all, the small four-legged friends are very sensitive, not always trusting and some symptoms could be overlooked or even misinterpreted. Gender, age and individual history also play a major role in examining the animals to see if they are really well and if they are not missing anything.

Rabbit health at a glance

Rabbits look so cute that many new pet owners don’t even think to consider possible medical conditions. However, pets are not just toys, they are sensitive creatures that need to be kept in a species-appropriate manner.

As long as no abnormalities are noticeable, a layman assumes that everything is fine. However, the savvy rabbit connoisseur will take a closer look to check on health, not just heart and soul.

This regular check is the only way to identify and treat certain symptoms in good time. Sometimes the way to the vet is unavoidable, but the care is and remains in the hands of the rabbit owner. They know their roommates best and can usually interpret the smallest irregularities better than a stranger can. After all, every rabbit is an individual with its own character and certain quirks. For general health, however, all rabbits require equally species-appropriate and caring care.

Proper keeping and care of rabbits

Rabbits are lagomorphs and while not scientifically rodents, their teeth and behavior resemble those of rodents and burrowers. At the same time, they have a great urge to move, are curious and very dependent on their social structures.

That’s why rabbits should never be kept individually just to make them more trusting of humans or to try to socialize with guinea pigs, for example. None of these can replace a conspecific. Group housing is one of the essential prerequisites for the healthy development of rabbits.

Furthermore, of course, they need an appropriate rabbit hutch or enclosure in which they can find everything they need for species-appropriate keeping:

  • sufficient exercise and employment opportunities;
  • varied materials for claw care and to care for the teeth;
  • fresh drinking water every day and species-appropriate feed;
  • Retreats for sleeping and resting;
  • escape-proof and accident-proof rooms or outdoor enclosures;
  • Litter for nibbling and building nests;
  • Protection against wind, direct sunlight, heating and chimney air as well as against cold and wet;
  • Outdoor enclosures must be winterproof, i.e. insulated with dry bedding;
  • Fur, claws and teeth are some of the most important details that should be addressed in rabbit care. For the most part, the animals take care of this themselves. For example, by nibbling and scratching at the natural materials made available to them. These can be solid pieces of wood, strong ropes, but also cardboard rolls, coconut shells or linen fabrics. The feed gives them more opportunities to maintain their health.

Feeding and nutrition of rabbits

The classic, firm carrot is just one part of a healthy rabbit diet. Any veggies that are good for nibbling will help keep your teeth healthy. At the same time, the nutrients it contains ensure optimal health from the inside out.

If the rabbit is adequately supplied with vitamins as well as roughage and essential trace elements, digestion can easily contribute to well-being. Pollutants or even toxins would immediately throw the natural digestive processes out of balance and make the animal ill. A balanced diet with vegetables, fruit, herbs and grasses is all the more important.

In order to tame the rabbits, to encourage them to play rabbit games and not least because they look so cute, many rabbit owners reach for treats. There is nothing wrong with that, but the amount should be deducted from the daily feed ration. Otherwise there is a risk of obesity and an unbalanced diet. A rabbit that has eaten its fill of treats will hardly want to nibble on the hay and may even scorn dry food.

On top of that, food with grain and sugar content should be avoided as a matter of principle, this simply does not belong on the rabbit’s natural diet. Rabbit food can also be put together wonderfully individually: dandelion, kohlrabi leaves, lamb’s lettuce, celery, parsnips, cucumbers, apples, strawberries – all of this can be found in your garden at home or at least in your local supermarket.

It is also advisable to adjust the feed seasonally. In winter it can be a little less but all the more valuable and the room can also be cooler – this hibernation helps the rabbits to regenerate.

What behavior is normal for rabbits?

Rabbits absolutely need social contact with their peers. They love to snuggle up, play and build nests together. Small arguments and conflicts are also part of it. This is how the hierarchy and territorial claims are clarified. But that only strengthens the social behavior again.

If a rabbit isolates itself from the group, this is definitely not normal. Basically, they are much more likely to seek contact. They are curious, like to move and also like to have fun with some people. Cuddling not only gives them affection, grooming and body heat are also important factors in being together.

In addition to the rustling and nibbling noises, direct rabbit sounds are rarely heard. Instead, they communicate primarily through body language. They often lie around relaxed, look for food or stand up on their hind paws to get a better overview of the situation. Rabbits are primarily flight animals, no matter how domesticated they are. Any impending danger means stress for them and in the long run such situations can significantly damage their health.

The stress factor in the rabbit hutch

Anyone who has observed a stressed rabbit will quickly realize how much such a situation gets to them. The excitement associated with this is sometimes like panic.

If a rabbit senses danger, it warns the others by stamping or tapping its hind legs. Then it’s time to flee and hide as quickly as possible. In no time it’s dead quiet in the enclosure. If rabbits have no way of escaping, they become rigid. It takes a while for them to calm down again, but the “trauma” remains. In small doses, such a riot may not be a problem. However, the more often the animals suffer from stress, the faster they become ill. There can no longer be any talk of feeling good.

In particular, loud music, shaking, fireworks, bright lights, raging children and hectic movements are part of everyday life for us, but unsettle rabbits so much that they get stressed out. However, this cannot always be avoided. One more reason to regularly check the well-being and health of the rabbits.

This is how the rabbit health check works

Since we perceive certain situations differently ourselves, it is sometimes difficult for us to put ourselves in the position of the rabbits. Only through experience, intensive observation and dealing with them does a rabbit owner learn how his darlings “tick”. Technical literature and the exchange with other rabbit owners and breeders also form a further basis. Not only beginners can get important advice here, but also the experts among themselves.

Rabbit diseases are sometimes recognized quite late or when the symptoms are already so noticeable that it can be assumed that the disease is also in an advanced stage. The smallest fluctuations in the rabbit hutch, deviations from normal behavior or tendencies towards irregularities can easily be overlooked or even misinterpreted.

Well, the typical rabbit owner doesn’t stand at the enclosure every minute and follow the activities of his animals. That’s why there’s a rabbit health check – a routine check-up that takes a preventive look at certain attributes, regardless of whether the first signs are visible or not.

Recognize behavioral problems

The basic check can be carried out at the same time as the daily feeding. Count once to see if everyone is still there and then it’s on to the details:

  • Are the animals alert? Rabbits should alert as soon as there is fresh food. If an animal isolates itself, doesn’t respond when spoken to, or even when food is held in front of its nose, something is wrong. Also, they should not sleep at feeding time. Too much sleep can be the result of malnutrition or organic diseases. The rabbit may be in pain and withdrawing because of it.
  • How do the rabbits move? In the healthy rabbit stall there is hopping, gnawing and scratching. When they are fed, everyone usually rushes over curiously. However, if an animal moves abnormally, limps, tilts its head or appears to be in pain, immediate action must be taken. Loss of balance, coordination disorders and similar abnormalities in movement patterns are also best recognized during feeding. Because then the urge to rush to the food is greater than the urge to avoid the pain by sitting still. However, a reluctance to exercise can also be a sign of digestive problems or that social coexistence is disturbed.
  • Are there conflicts among each other? Imbalances in the group can also be easily identified when feeding. If the hierarchy is not clearly clarified, this is where conflicts are most likely to arise. Sometimes an animal is kept completely away from the food and needs extra care. Signs of having to restructure the group sometimes arise from the arguments.

For all these reasons, daily feeding is important. In order for the hunger and thus the urge to move to be large enough, the animals should not have fresh food available permanently in the period before. Only in this way is feeding a real highlight and encourages the rabbits to leave their comfort zone. Furthermore, rabbit owners should also monitor the feeding themselves.

Check feed intake and emptying

One part of the body that needs special attention is the teeth. When eating, it is best to observe whether hard pieces are being avoided, for example because of a toothache. Some animals also eat far too little, while others devour all sorts of things.

Problems can also arise when individual rabbits refuse certain food, spit it out again or bury it somewhere. A so-called food diary can be very revealing in such cases. It is logged which rabbit ate what and when. Amount of feed, composition and behavior should also be noted in note form. It may be possible to draw conclusions from this as to whether one of the animals does not tolerate certain food, reacts sensitively to it or is disadvantaged in some way by the group.

At the same time, everything that comes in has to come out again. The faeces of the rabbits must also be checked. Fortunately, this is not particularly unpleasant, after all, rabbits do not lay cow dung or other calibers. The small droppings are relatively easy to check. The consistency should be firm but soft, dark green to brown-black in color and not smell unusual. Rabbits should not be denied the fact that the droppings are sometimes taken up directly from the anus. This is caecal feces that still contain many important nutrients. This may seem gross to us, but it is important for the rabbit’s health.

If the droppings are noticeably different, i.e. too soft or thin, slimy, dry or otherwise strange, samples can be sent to selected laboratories. There the feces are checked for parasites and certain signs of indigestion or organ damage.

The same applies to the urine. Unusual coloring, blood in the urine, excessive urination, or perhaps even hard-to-find urine spots are a sign of possible kidney or urinary tract disease. The urine can also be tested as a sample by a laboratory.

Since at least two rabbits live together in the barn, it is not always possible to clearly identify which droppings come from which animal. Ideally, this can be observed shortly after feeding. In this way, any pain when urinating or whether the rabbit is behaving unusually can be recognized at the same time.

External characteristics and signs of illness

But some animals also hide their problems. Showing weakness is seen as a certain doom in nature, because injured prey is killed first for the sake of simplicity. Therefore, some of the signs can be deceptive. Behavior can change in a matter of minutes, or maybe the next day everything seems fine again – when it isn’t.

In addition, some diseases have peaks and then subside again. Others progress insidiously without clearly recognizable symptoms. Also, not every rabbit responds equally to pain and discomfort. Some withdraw and isolate themselves from the group, others become aggressive and bite their fellows.

Taking a closer look at the rabbits is therefore also part of the health check. Here, however, it is sufficient to go into detail once a week:

  • Weight control: This is particularly important for young and old animals. Because of the dense fur, even radical weight loss or weight gain cannot always be seen immediately.
  • Check skin and coat: Is the coat soft and supple or is it disheveled or even dull? And the skin – is it clean, scaly, red, or dry to cracked? By answering such questions, the rabbit owner can better assess the rabbit’s health. The skin works like a digestive organ and eliminates toxins, reacts to allergy-causing substances and much more. Illnesses can be easily identified here. Likewise parasite infestation, such as by mites.
  • Examination of the eyes, ears and mouth: This type of examination is primarily about the mucous membranes. Irritation or discoloration is always a sure sign that there is a problem. Weeping, swollen eyes, scratched ears because they itch so often or swelling in the mouth area are also alarming signals.
  • Teeth, Claws, Paws: Teeth and claws are subject to constant wear and tear. This is normal and a good thing. If the claws are too long, grow incorrectly or, on the contrary, are too short, there is a need for action. The same applies to the teeth. There is also a risk of caries and other dental diseases. The paws, in turn, should be soft. If the claws are not healthy, the paws will inevitably suffer too.
  • From the head to the flower: Last but not least, the rabbit’s health check includes feeling the body. Swelling in the joints, sensitivity to pain, hardened areas or other abnormalities can be identified more easily the more regularly this examination is carried out. Then the rabbit owner gets a good feel for the physique and what exactly to look out for. In the case of female rabbits, the teats in particular must be checked. Finally, a look at the genitals and the anus is also part of the health check.

What to do if the rabbit is sick

The rabbit health check is mainly based on observation. Taking a close look, developing a feeling for the animals and gaining experience – that is what makes a responsible rabbit owner. Preventively, the health check is the best of all measures. But it does not prevent one of the four-legged friends from falling ill.

If complications are discovered during observation and palpation, the next question naturally arises as to what to do next. Since the signs were recognized early on, the owner can still do a lot to contribute to the well-being by adapting the conditions of species-appropriate husbandry.

For example, if the claws are too long, it helps to offer the rabbits specific scratching materials, to encourage them to play games where they have to scratch their way through, or, if in doubt, to use claw scissors.

Food intolerances can be managed relatively well with alternatives. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trying out what the rabbits like and what they don’t. Sometimes the feeding bowl is unsuitable or the feeding place is poorly chosen.

Animals with behavioral problems should be observed more closely. Gut feeling often decides when to intervene. Aggression and isolation are two extremes that deserve further investigation. If it’s because of the sympathy for the conspecifics, maybe swapping with another group will help. However, it can also be based on psychosomatic illnesses or simply on pain that is being attempted to be compensated.

Especially when there is increased stress in the group, this spreads to all other rabbits. Excessive tension, permanent willingness to flee and the well-known shock rigidity affect the animals in the long term in such a way that their life expectancy actually decreases. If social interaction is affected, a veterinarian could perhaps help with individual symptoms, but the keeper must first and foremost become active and ensure relaxation in the rabbit hutch.

When does the rabbit have to go to the vet?

If the animal gets worse and worse despite all efforts or all of a sudden, it must be presented to the responsible veterinarian as soon as possible. He will also carry out a health check on the rabbit, feel it, observe it and check it for sensitivity to pain. On top of that, he will listen to the heart to determine whether there is an arrhythmia or cardiac insufficiency, and examine the airways more closely.
If there are no external wounds or other signs, the veterinarian will try to find out more about the living conditions and the history of the keeping by questioning the owner. Rabbit owners should be really honest in such conversations. Better to admit a mistake and help the rabbit now than to deepen your guilty conscience even further.

Blood counts, fecal and urine analyzes or ultrasounds are also carried out in the veterinary practice, depending on the suspicion. Based on the evaluations, the doctor can then make an exact diagnosis and suggest treatment measures. In most cases, the targeted administration of medication is sufficient, sometimes a change in feed or the rabbit requires special housing conditions.

House rabbits in particular often seem to suffer from respiratory diseases because they can’t stand the dry air from the heating, plus the dusty hay and they start coughing. Moving to the outdoor enclosure would be ideal, but is not always possible. If not even the vet can help, the rabbit has to be handed over to a keeper with an outdoor enclosure.

However, the dry cough should not be confused with the rabbit cold. Purulent nasal discharge, watery eyes, and rattling breathing sounds are reminiscent of the human flu at first glance – but in rabbits it is more like an epidemic. The common cold is highly contagious. If one rabbit is affected, the whole group usually has to be treated. This also applies to parasites such as fleas, autumn grass mites, and tapeworms. Although home remedies for the treatment of rabbits are repeatedly touted, the owner only really plays it safe after consulting the veterinarian.

The better rabbit owners prepare themselves with their own regular health checks on the rabbit, the sooner the veterinarian can help and the little darling can recover quickly.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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