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Health Conditions to Watch for

Health Conditions Arising From Lack of Exercise

Even though it may seem like a rabbit can get some exercise in their cage, they really need a proper exercise regime to avoid developing physical and behavioral disorders. Below are some of the problems and symptoms you can expect from a lack of proper exercise.

  • Pododermatitis (“Sore Hock”): Pododermatitis happens when the underside of a rabbit’s foot become inflamed with ulcerations. This is usually caused by obesity or damp flooring. Because of the increased pressure from obesity, additional wear is placed on the footpads. If the rabbit is too obese to clean itself, urine and stool can build up on the hindquarters and feet, causing an inflammatory skin disease. If a rabbit is in a small area or a small cage, it may be forced to sit in a wet area. Urine is one of the worst wet spots that a rabbit can sit in, causing serious burns and ulceration of the feet. It’s also important to give your rabbit different surfaces to interact with. Squares of fake fur or fleece work well. They are washable, non-toxic to the rabbit and absorbent. Due to the fact that they are not washable and sometimes more abrasive than flooring, carpet squares are not advised. Absorbent pelleted bedding (non-toxic, eatable, and compostable) is a great material to use in the litter box, rather than kitty litter (abrasive and potentially fatal when eaten).
  • Behavioral Issues: When a rabbit is caged without much exercise, they may be lethargic or even more aggressive, chew objects in their cage, chew the cage itself, chew their fur (over grooming). This can happen in well-exercises rabbits as well, but it will happen less when rabbits have “constructive” toys and somewhere to play. A great tool to use to give your rabbit space is dog exercise fencing panels. You can create a larger and safe exercise area and you can also use non-wax flooring under the enclosure to protect the floor surface from your rabbit’s claws. Some toys you can use are tree branches, unvarnished/unpainted wicker baskets, toilet paper tubes and paper towel rolls, and cardboard boxes.
  • ​​​​​​Poor Muscle Tone: a lack of exercise will create poor muscle tone and failure to properly move. One of the biggest risks is the heart muscle. If a rabbit has a weak heart muscle, and then uses it vigorously in times of danger, severe stress or trauma, it may faint or even die from cardiac failure. Similar to taking an extremely out of shape and obese person and making them run a marathon, their heart wouldn’t be able to take the stress and they would collapse. Allow your pet to exercise regularly and often to safely and successfully handle anything life throws at them.
  • Obesity: If your rabbit isn’t getting enough exercise or is eating a diet excessive in calories, obesity will be a likely outcome. This can cause stress on the vertebrae and the cardiovascular system and/or pododermatitis (inflammation of the foot). Obesity can cause folds of fat to grow around the rectal area or dewlap, which can get in the way of grooming, interfere with eating nutrient-rich cecotropes (more on cecotropes here(feeding page)), and cause skin disease. To avoid obesity, feed your rabbit healthy grass hay and fresh foods while avoiding high starch/sugar snacks and commercial pellets   
  • Poor Bone Density: Osteoporosis (bone-thinning) is found in humans and it’s also found in animals, specifically, rabbits. As with humans, it’s important for rabbits to be exercised daily to create healthy bones. Rabbits in small cages have a higher likelihood to develop osteoporosis, resulting in the spine or long bones that can break easily when a rabbit is active, jumps, or runs.
  • Gastrointestinal and Urinary Function: If a rabbit isn’t able to exercise, it can start to develop abnormal bodily waste elimination tendencies. With proper exercise, urination and defecation happen more frequently. Prolonged holding of urine and stool can cause gastrointestinal shutdown, urinary tract stones, and “sludgy” urine.

Bladder Stones and Urinary Sludge

In all ages and breeds of rabbits, cystic calculi (bladder stones) and hypercalcinuria (bladder sludge) can develop. Sludge and stones can form in both kidneys and the ureters (the tubes that transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder). This happens when a mineral called calcium carbonate increases in volume or clumps together to form the stones. Normally, a rabbit is able to digest calcium to absorb and process it in its system, mostly to maintain bone and muscle. But because of evolution, rabbit bodies have adapted to absorb as much calcium as is present in their diet, regardless of how much their body needs, and excess calcium is processed through the kidneys and urine. This is unlike humans, cats, and dogs who absorb only as much calcium as the body needs currently and any excess is removed from the body through the GI tract, bile, and excreted in feces. Therefore, it is important to be aware of your rabbit's diet and blood calcium level to determine if it is having any urinary tract stones and sludge.

Causes

  • High Digestible Calcium Diet - If your rabbit eats a high calcium diet, it's only natural that more will have to be excreted. 
  • Genes - Based on family history of the rabbit, it may be more likely to experience these problems
  • Bladder Disease - The lining of the bladder can be affected by bladder disease, including infections, tumors, and benign growths, which cause inflammation of the bladder wall, ultimately forming stones
  • Less Frequent Urination Because of Inactivity - When a rabbit sits around all day, it may not drink as much water and thus, will urinate less frequently
  • Insufficient Water Intake - If the rabbit is not able to drink due to an overturned bowl or if it doesn't know how to drink from a bottle, a lack of water could cause the rabbit to urinate less frequently, thus building up more concentrated calcium in between each time it empties its bladder
  • Kidney Disease - This could cause changes in the kidneys' ability to process calcium, thus causing stones to form
  • Improper and Unused Toilet Area - Rabbits can be particular about their toilet area to the point where, if they are confined to a small space, they will hold their urine much longer than they would if they had a more open area

Signs

  • Bloody Urine - Normal rabbit urine ranges in color from light yellow to deep orange-red ("rusty" colored) because of various plant pigments. Blood in the urine would cause the color to be a consistent and uniform bright to dark-red color. Typically the amount of blood in the urine is not enough to visibly see it without a microscope or a test. (Uterine disease can also be mistaken as urinary stones and sludge, so make sure to have your veterinarian check your pet to be sure)
  • More Frequent Urination than Usual - If your rabbit's hindquarters are continually damp or if you see your rabbit "dribble urine." Note: other diseases can lead to urine staining including spinal disorders, arthritis, injuries, nerve damage, sore hock, obesity (unable to clean hindquarters) and reproductive disorders are some of them.
  • Loss of Appetite and Depression - Because of the stone causing pain, discomfort, or complete blockage of the urethra, the rabbit can develop kidney failure, resulting in severe depression and death within a short time. Depression and loss of appetite in a rabbit is considered an emergency and it's critical to call your veterinarian immediately
  • Difficulty Urinating - If your rabbit is continuously struggling to urinate, passing a smaller amount than usual, it is important to bring it to have a doctor examine your pet. Consider it an emergency if your pet is struggling to urinate with no urine coming out and have a vet check your pet immediately.
  • Sludgy Urine - Sludgy urine tends to stick to the fur around the hindquarters, as it has calcium carbonate crystals in it. There will be a gray or white residue on the fur as it dries and it will have the consistency of chalk or very fine sand. Normally there will be a small amount of this material from a healthy rabbits urine, but it will not stain its fur. Even when a rabbit passes a stone, you should take your pet to your veterinarian to make sure there aren't any more stones that need to pass, because it's much more common for a rabbit to have multiple stones than just a single stone.

Diagnosis 

  • History and Symptoms - Understanding the history, behaviors, and tendencies of your pet is critical for the veterinarian to diagnose your animal
  • Physical Examination - Your veterinarian will evaluate your rabbit to determine the cause of the symptoms such as skin lesions, anemia, dental disease, weight loss, and heart or lung abnormalities
  • Urinalysis - Our vets will test the urine of your animal to verify the diagnosis of the specific abnormality that is present in your pet
  • Radiography (X-rays) - The most important and definitive test to perform on your pet. The bladder area, urethra, ureters, and kidneys will be examined
  • Ultrasonography - Internal organs can be evaluated and diagnosed using ultrasound technology by our veterinarians
  • Serum Biochemistries - This blood test examines different body chemistries, ultimately reporting on the health of various organs in the body. This test is especially important to understand the health of the kidneys and blood calcium level
  • Complete Blood Cell Count (CBC) -  This blood test looks at the white and red blood cells, platelets numbers and abnormalities in your pet's body.

Treatment

  • Diuresis (Increase Water Intake) - This step is critical to treat urinary disease because more urine will be produced with increased water, ultimately decreased the chance of stones being created and returning in the future. We recommend mixing tap water with distilled water one to one to use as the drinking water. Fluids can be administered subcutaneously, intraperitoneally, orally and intravenously. 
  • Surgery - If your rabbit has bladder calculi/sludge, they may need to be surgically removed. Over time, these calculi will grow and the likelihood they will block the urethra increases, eventually becoming life-threatening. Typically the hospital stay is between one and four days. There may be other factors that contribute to the overall health of the pet that determines whether or not it is accepted for surgery
  • Vitamin C or Cranberry Tablets - To accelerate healing of damaged urinary tract tissue after surgery or catheterization, chewable vitamin C tablets can be given to the recovering rabbit. In addition, studies report that cranberry juice has alpha D-mannopyranoside to prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder wall and it's a great source of vitamin C. Rabbits can be supplemented with cranberry tablets based on their vitamin C content at 25 to 50 mg of vitamin C per pound of body weight one to two times daily.
  • Antibiotics - Antibiotics can be prescribed after surgery or catheterization, especially if a bladder infection is suspected
  • Catheterization and Flushing the Bladder - To treat severe bladder sludge, we may need to anesthetize the bunny, and place a catheter in the bladder, and flush the bladder with saline to dilute the sludge. After the sludge is diluted, it's suctioned out into a syringe and after multiple repetitions, the sludge is significantly reduced.
  • Analgesics (Pain Relievers) - These can be utilized after surgery or catheterization, with the length of time being determined by the procedure that is performed on the patient. After the rabbit is able to move without discomfort, eat well, and urinate normally, analgesics can be discontinued.

Prevention

  • Increased Water Consumption - We recommend water consumption as the number one way to prevent urinary calculi. By diluting the urine, the likelihood of stone formation is heavily decreased. Fresh leafy greens have plenty of water in them. By supplementing your pet's water with natural fruit juices and healthy sweet flavoring substances. Test it first with your pet to see if it will drink it on its own. If your objective is to get your pet to drink more water, you can use just enough to improve water consumption. Possible juice choices include grape, apple, cherry, and pineapple juice and pear, peach, or apricot nectar.
  • Remove Commercial Food, Pellets, and Alfalfa Hay from the Diet - By removing additional calcium beyond what a pet needs on a daily basis, you will also reduce the likelihood of future problems. Commercial pellets have high digestible calcium and in general, we do not recommend them because of other problems such as obesity and gastrointestinal tract disorders. (Warning: if your pet has only eaten commercial food, don't completely remove it from your pets food source until your pet has proven that it will eat grass hay and fresh greens first)
  • Feed Large Amounts of Fresh Leafy Greens - The high nutrient content and fiber from leafy greens will help your pet's digestive system and urinary tract function optimally. In addition, leafy greens also contain a high water content. Check out our LEAFY GREEN SECTION HERE!!!!
  • Exercise - As a pet exercises more, it will drink more water and thus urinate more frequently.
  • Routine Veterinary Checkups - As your pet heals or grows, routine checks are imperative. We recommend urinalyses to be performed several times for first few weeks following surgery or catheterization to spot any infections or an increase in mineral formation. Physical examinations performed post-surgery to determine healing of the bladder and radiographs performed within six months of the initial treatment can discover stones or sludge in the urinary tract. Make sure to follow your veterinarian's regimen for healing and recheck visits.

Dental Problems

Rabbit owners must pay extra special attention to their teeth and diet because of the prevelance of dental problems and dental disease. Check out our detailed section on dental problems by visiting the rabbit dental care page. If you have any questions please give us a call or schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians.

Vestibular Disease

In the rabbit's sensory system lies a component called the vestibular system. This contains the inner ear labyrinth, the brain's medulla and the vestibular nerve. This system properly controls the rabbit's movements and motor functions. Vestibular disease can be caused by a variety of different things including degenerative diseases, inflammation, compromised immune system, lack of proper nutrition, infections, trauma, tumors, or toxicity - usually lead poisoning. This disease is also known as "head tilt" because in most instances of the disease the rabbit's neck muscles contract and its head will tilt. In addition to its head tilting, other symptoms are a loss of balance, the rabbit falling over, nasal and eye discharge, signs of ear infection, fever, and eye injuries. By undergoing a thorough physical, blood, visual, and/or urine examination on your rabbit, as well as asking you detailed questions about recent behavior and incidents, a proper diagnosis and treatment can be obtained.

Parasites

Just like with dogs and cats (and even humans) parasites can get picked up by your furry bun-bun friend. Make sure to educate yourself on the various parasites to look out for or ask your veterinarian how to protect your pet from these. Our recommendations include keeping your rabbit indoors and cleaning its habitat daily, provide fresh high-quality grass hay, throw away food or water that is contaminated by feces, examine your rabbit with a flea comb to check for parasites and schedule routine veterinary checkups. Below are some parasites to look out for.

  • Worms: Pinworms are the most common, but your rabbit may also get whipworms, stomach worms or roundworms. Symptoms are typically weight loss or difficulty gaining weight.
  • Encephalitozoon Cuniculi (E. Cuniculi): This tiny parasite can live inside a rabbit's body. Typically, the spores will be released into the body causing inflammation and affecting the organs, often the brain, spinal cord, and kidney. Treatment usually involves giving an oral dewormer, and reducing inflammation with anti-inflammatory drugs. To verify if a rabbit has E. cuniculi, a veterinarian can perform a blood test.
  • Fleas: These bugs will suck blood from rabbits which can cause itching, skin irritation and hair loss. Talk to your veterinarian if you suspect your pet has fleas.
  • Ticks: Ticks are much less common in rabbits, but they can transmit dangerous diseases. If you see a tick, use tweezers or a tick removal tool to remove it by firmly grasping the head (as close as possible to the rabbit's skin) and pull it straight out. To kill the tick, place it in rubbing alcohol.
  • Mites: There may be fur and ear mites in rabbits with scabs near the ears and face, a thinning coat or scaly dandruff. Mites are treated by veterinarians with an anti-parasite medication and topical ear ointments to deal with secondary infections.
  • Coccidia: Common symptoms are diarrhea, weight loss, lack of appetite or dehydration. This parasite may affect the liver or the intestines. In young rabbits, it's critical to treat this quickly to avoid fatalities
  • Flystrike: As strange as it might sound, flies, and more particularly, maggots, pose a serious threat to rabbits. (more often outdoor rabbits) If a rabbit is unable to clean itself and has excess feces or urine on its body, flies may land there and lay their eggs. Once the larvae hatch, they consume the external feces and urine and next will even go to healthy skin to continue feeding. If the larvae get to the flesh, they can produce toxins that cause shock. If you notice your rabbit having seizures or itchy skin, indifference or laziness (caused by shock), make sure to get to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Cancer

There are many different forms of cancer that exist in both males and females and it can occur in any organ. As a rabbit grows older, the chances of cancer increase. The word "cancer" refers to malignant tumors, which is typically an abnormal growth of new tissue and can spread to the rest of the body. There are also benign tumors that do not spread to other areas of the body. In rabbits, the most common types of cancer (uterine cancer and cancer of the mammary glands) appear in unspayed female rabbits. This is why we highly recommend spaying your female rabbits, especially before two years of age to prevent cancer and have optimal behavior impact. If your rabbit exhibits signs of blood in the urine or straight blood that is independent of the urine, or during a routine examination by a veterinarian, an abnormally large or lumpy uterus may be discovered. If a rabbit has an advanced stage of uterine cancer, it will spread to the rest of her body (possibly taking one to two years until it is terminal) and manifest in symptoms such as lessened appetite, breathing difficulties, weight loss, and body weakness. The only known cure as of now is to spay the rabbit while taking into consideration the metastatic spread and progression of the cancer into the rest of the rabbit's body from the original location. 

For cancer of the mammary glands, it is often difficult to discover in the early stages and may appear as a lump or the rabbit will exhibit signs of swilling or slightly blood-tinged discharge from the nipple. If the cancer metastasizes, it may spread to other organs, in which case the rabbit may experience weakness, weight loss, equilibrium problems, anorexia, or it may stop playing, exercising, grooming, or behaving normally.

Male rabbit's risk of testicular cancer increases with age, which can be noted by enlarged testicles and weight loss as the cancer spreads, that's why we recommend neutering at the appropriate age.

If you are concerned about your rabbit exhibiting any of the symptoms of cancer, make sure to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian today.

Treating Gastrointestinal (GI) Stasis in Your Rabbit

GI stasis in rabbits is the slowing or complete halt of movement of food through the digestive system. It may be caused by over-ingestion of hair during self-grooming in the heavy coat shed of spring or fall, anesthesia, or by virtually any serious illness. Left untreated it can be fatal, but with treatment rabbits usually make a full recovery within 3-7 days. Very rarely, a complete blockage (by a foreign body or a furball) may occur and require surgery.

With proper diagnosis, you can administer the following to your rabbit, and call us if you have difficulty obtaining or administering any of these solutions. Also, call if you have not seen an improvement in appetite, stool production (size and number), and energy level within 24 hours.

Prescriptions

  • Metoclopramide (a.k.a. Reglan) is a stimulant to the muscle of the GI tract, improving passage and digestion. The gradual weaning off is important to prevent relapse. Please call us if you observe any diarrhea or agitation while your rabbit is on this medication.
  • Probiocin is a supplement to assist beneficial digestive bacteria in the GI tract. It should be refrigerated. To administer proper dosage, visit your veterinarian to create a regimen for your pet. Abrupt discontinuation is fine.
  • Simethicone (a.k.a. Mylicon drops, found on the human infant care aisle of your grocery store or drug store) helps the passage of gas in the GI tract and therefore helps alleviate cramping and pain. To administer proper dosage, visit your veterinarian to create a regimen for your pet. Abrupt discontinuation is fine. 
  • Papaya juice Papaya juice and pineapple juices (unsweetened) help hydrate and energize your rabbit and break down dried-up food and hair sitting in the stomach so that it may be passed. To administer proper dosage, visit your veterinarian to create a regimen for your pet. Abrupt discontinuation is fine. Open cans should be refrigerated and the two juices mixed in a syringe only just before administration.
  • Vegetable baby food helps provide much-needed nutrients, water, and fiber until your rabbit is eating well on its own. Fruits, yams, potatoes, corn, etc. contain too much sugar/starch and must be avoided. To administer proper dosage, visit your veterinarian to create a regimen for your pet. Open jars should be refrigerated. 
  • Specific pain medication may be administered, especially if your rabbit is grinding its teeth or stretching out in an abnormal way. 
  • Antibiotics may be indicated if your rabbit’s GI stasis may be related to infection.
  • Subcutaneous fluids may be indicated to maintain hydration and soften the intestinal contents to aid in passage.

Offer your rabbit its favorite foods, INCLUDING hay, pellets, and fresh vegetables, but AVOIDING nuts, fruit, cereal/grain, bread, pasta, yams, potatoes, and corn (ie NO CARBS). Gassy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radishes, peas and lima beans) should be kept to a minimum.

Please keep your rabbit in a stress-free, temperature controlled (60-80 F) environment; ideally separate from other rabbits (adjacent hutches are fine). Clean the enclosure at least once a day while your rabbit is ill so that appetite and stool production can be monitored and reported to us when we call for a progress report.

Increasing exercise can be helpful, so encourage your rabbit to hop around or play (but don’t stress it by chasing). Gentle abdominal massage may also be helpful and can be done several times daily for 5-10 minutes.

Schedule An Appointment to Discuss Your Pets Health Concerns

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