rabbit health Dec 05, 2019

Protecting rabbits from pain, injury and disease

Good health is an essential part of good rabbit welfare. A vet can advise you about routine health care for your rabbit.

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Healthcare for rabbits

A vet can tell you how to care for your rabbit's health. Ask the vet about:



internal and external parasite control for a rabbit

You should only give medicine when prescribed or recommended by a vet for your rabbit.

As the person responsible for your rabbit’s welfare you should consider:

prevention of disease; there are vaccines that are designed to protect rabbits from diseases such as Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) - both of these diseases are usually fatal and your rabbit should be vaccinated (your veterinary surgeon can provide information on the prevention of diseases)

provision of a healthy balanced diet

provision of the right environment that minimizes the risk of injury and disease

prompt action if a rabbit becomes ill or shows a change in its behavior

checking your rabbit daily

You should keep your rabbit away from wild rabbits or areas where wild rabbits have been.

Illness and rabbits

Healthy rabbits are alert with bright eyes, dry nostrils and clean, shiny coats. Droppings in their resting area should be small, firm pellets. You should ask a vet if your rabbit shows any signs of illness or a change in behavior.

Rabbits are prey animals and, to avoid attracting attention from predators, they often do not look ill until they are very unwell. They can become worse very quickly, so you need to act quickly.

Indications of illness may include:

a change in behavior, such as sitting still and hunched up

a change in eating and drinking habits, such as a lack of appetite or drinking more than normal

signs of injury such as a swollen limb or walking in an abnormal way

signs of disease or illness, such as leaking from the eye, ear or nose, difficulty in going to the toilet or diarrhea

finding soft pellets (droppings) on the ground

any change in behavior such as becoming aggressive or wishing to be more alone more often

signs of pain, such as not wanting to be touched on parts of its body

teeth grinding


difficulty with breathing, especially if your rabbit is breathing through its mouth rather than its nose

redness on skin around belly, bottom or on underside of feet

Contingency planning for rabbits

It is important that your rabbit(s) are registered with a veterinary practice and that you understand the out of-hours system that that veterinary practice operates. That will  make sure that suitable veterinary help is available at all times should an emergency occur.

Grooming for rabbits

Rabbits naturally moult (shed fur) at the end of the winter and summer. Variable temperatures in Northern Ireland and central heating cause many rabbits to moult constantly. Regular grooming is needed to keep your rabbit comfortable and prevent it swallowing lots of fur as this can cause a blockage of the bowel.

Rabbits with a short coat should be groomed weekly. Longhaired rabbits should be groomed at least once a day to avoid mats and tangles. Longhaired rabbits can also be clipped by a vet or pet care specialist.

Rabbits' nails

Rabbits' nails should be kept a suitable length. Rabbits' nails wear down naturally when they exercise on hard surfaces or when digging. How often your rabbits’ nails need to be trimmed depends on where your rabbit is kept.

Dental care for rabbits

Your rabbit’s teeth will grow continuously throughout its life. Dental health relies on a diet high in hay and grass which will wear down its teeth.

Check your rabbit’s front teeth to make sure that they are not misaligned or overgrown. Rabbits’ front teeth grow constantly throughout their lives and if they grow too long they can be very painful and feeding can become difficult.

Only a vet should fix misaligned or overgrown teeth. Back teeth cannot be seen easily and should be checked by a vet. They can be misaligned and grow sharp spurs which can cause pain to your rabbit when it eats.

Dental problems can cause a poor appetite, runny eyes, a wet chin or drooling. If your rabbit is showing any of these symptoms you should take it to see a vet quickly.

Neutering of rabbits

You should consider getting your rabbit neutered. The benefits of neutering can be discussed with a vet. Neutering prevents unwanted baby rabbits and provides other advantages.

Rabbits that are not neutered tend to show problematic behavior and may suffer health problems.

If a female rabbit is not neutered it can:

be aggressive to other rabbits

try to make a nest by digging, which can damage its nails

develop a life-threatening womb infection or cancer

If a male rabbit is not neutered it can:

be aggressive to other rabbits

spray urine

mount other rabbits and animals

Un-neutered rabbits prevented from breeding may suffer frustration causing behaviour problems.

Rabbits are very sociable animals, and should be provided with a companion where possible. The best and most natural group is to have two rabbits, one neutered male and one neutered female. Animals that have not been neutered might not be able to be kept with other rabbits.

The age when rabbits can be neutered varies with the rabbit’s gender and breed. Females are usually neutered when they reach sexual maturity, at the age of four months, and males at the age of three months.

If you are considering breeding from your rabbits, you need to make sure that the welfare needs of the parents and their potential offspring are met. Ask your vet as necessary. You should make sure you have found suitable homes for the baby rabbits and you should avoid unplanned pregnancies.

A female rabbit can produce between four to 12 babies per litter, and will become pregnant again soon after she has given birth. If kept with an un-neutered male, the female may have six litters a year, potentially 72 babies.

Identification of rabbits

You should not allow your rabbit to escape. However, if it does escape and is found, a permanent identification such as a microchip will assist in re-uniting you with your rabbit.

What to do if your rabbit is missing

You should contact any local animal welfare charities, veterinary practices, and rescue centers to see if your rabbit has been handed in. You may also wish to put up notices locally where legally allowed.

Diet, housing, normal behavior

Find out more about a suitable diet for rabbits, housing rabbits and normal behavior patterns:


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