Common problems and diseases of Rabbits

by Dr. Francesca Brown


There are a number of common conditions that pet rabbits are seen with. In many cases these can be avoided by ensuring a suitable environment and diet is provided. Below we have detailed a selection of common rabbit conditions. The list is not exclusive. If you have any concerns about your rabbits health you should make an appointment to see us.


Overgrown Teeth (Malocclusion)


Like rodents, rabbits teeth grow continuously. If they are not worn down by the food the rabbit eats, they will become overgrown very quickly.


Why does it occur?

This can occur if an incorrect diet is given to the rabbits. Some breeds tend to be genetically predisposed making them more likely to develop problems if the diet is less than adequate.


How do I know if this is happening?

Both the front incisors and the back molars can get overgrown. While it is possible to see the front incisors easily at home, checking the back molars is more problematic because the mouth is so small and cannot be opened like a cat or dogs. We can often get a hint that the back molars are overgrown by moving the lower jaw from side to side but to tell for sure, the rabbit would need a general anaesthetic to enable the back molars to be viewed.



Image source wikimedia commons


Signs of the teeth being overgrown

These include dribbling, which if left can lead to skin infections around the mouth and dewlap; not eating; and pus coming out of abscesses on the cheeks. Pus from the eyes can often be related to teeth rather than a primary eye infection too.


What should you do?

Book an appointment to bring your rabbit to us as soon as possible.


What will we do?

It depends on the extent of the problem.


If it is only the teeth affected with no abscesses or other more major problems, the teeth are likely to be filed or burred back to a suitable length. This always requires anaesthetic or sedation if it involves the molars and may require it for the incisors depending on the rabbit and the extent of the problem.


In some cases teeth need to be removed.


If there are abscesses then these can be very difficult to treat and often eventually lead to euthanasia.


Avoiding teeth problems

Make sure you choose rabbits that do not have a history in their family line of teeth problems. Then make sure that the diet you feed your rabbit is that recommended as best for a rabbit. Finally make sure your rabbit eats items from the whole range of food offered. If it picks out certain items only then you may have to get advice on what is best to feed your rabbit.


Adhering to this advice will not prevent a rabbit from developing teeth problems but it will increases your chances of avoiding these problems.


Ear Infections


This is commonly caused by ear mites. The scientific name for the rabbit ear mite is Psoroptes cuniculi.


The ear mites cause severe itching - imagine having mites running around in your ears! This causes the rabbit to scratch which causes more damage and inflammation to the ear. Secondary bacterial infection often follows the underlying mite infection due to the damage to the ear caused by the scratching.


Signs you will see in your rabbit include head shaking and ear scratching. Following the scratching you will then see inflammation of the ear along with weeping and scabbing around the ear canal.


Rabbits that are scratching their ears need to be seen by one of our veterinarians. We will determine the cause and whether there is any secondary infection and then advise treatment options. All treatment options require a veterinary prescription.


Hairballs (aka Wool block)


This is caused by overgrooming. Overgrooming can be due to boredom. Angora rabbits are at increased risk due to their fur type.


Unlike cats, rabbits cannot vomit up fur balls. The fur balls sit in the stomach or intestines and cause rabbits to go off their food, which can lead to dehydration or diarrhoea.


Fur balls can be prevented by grooming your rabbit to remove all loose hairs and ensuring that they have a high fibre diet.


If you suspect your rabbit has fur balls, giving them extra hay or pineapple or papaya juice may help. You can also use feline fur ball treatments, but as this is off label use you should consult your veterinarian before trying it.

If you do try remedies at home and it does not alleviate symptoms quickly, you should consult us as soon as possible.


Sore hocks (aka pododermatitis)


The most common cause of these is long periods on a hard surface in a rabbit hutch. This causes pressure sores which then get infected causing pododermatitis. Sometimes this is due to poor design, in other cases it is the rabbits preference to sit in these hard areas.


Trauma can also cause this condition, as can urine scalding on the hind legs. Urine scalding occurs if a rabbit does not stand up to urinate or sits in areas where it urinates.


Another cause of pododermatitis is damp and dirty hutches. This can be a combination of inclement weather conditions and/or infrequent cleaning or simply poor quality hutches.


The signs you would see are hair loss, swelling and ulceration around the hocks.


Early cases can be treated by cleaning the hutch, providing thick bedding and ensuring the rabbit is maintained at a normal weight. Obesity reduces movements which increases the incidence of pododermatitis.


If these early cases fail to resolve with your intervention or continue to progress, they must be seen by one of our veterinarians as soon as possible.


We will treat any infection or underlying disease if present and also advise on weight control and the rabbits environment - that is its hutch and diet.


Don't leave it - if you notice this condition and it isn't resolved by these simple measures or is already well advanced when you notice it, don't delay - book an appointment to see us as soon as possible.




Ringworm, contrary to popular belief is a fungus and not a worm. So treatments for worms do not rid an animal of ringworm.


Ringworm lesions show as bald encrusted areas and are spread from rabbit to rabbit and indeed rabbit to human as ringworm is a zoonosis.


Ringworm is mildly itchy so scratching can lead to secondary bacterial infections too.


If you suspect you rabbit has ringworm make an appointment to see one of our veterinarians as soon as possible. We will be able to confirm the presence of ringworm or other disease and then prescribe the best treatment option.




Snuffles is a bacterial disease in rabbits (as opposed to a viral disease as it is in cats). It is highly contagious and caused by the bacteria Pasturella.


It is spread by contact with other infected rabbits and causes discharges from the nose and eyes, and sneezing and snuffling noises.


If you suspect you rabbit has snuffles, make an appointment to see one of our veterinarians as soon as possible.




Rabbits get upset stomachs and intestines leading to a condition called enteritis (which means inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract). It causes depression, diarrhoea, dehydration (which young rabbits in particular, are highly susceptible to because they are much smaller), along with weight loss and inappetance.


Because rabbits are hind gut fermenters, they rely on the correct balance of bacteria in their guts to be able to successfully digest food.


The most common cause of enteritis includes a diet change or coccidiosis.

Consult one of our veterinarians if your rabbit has diarrhoea or is off its food quickly, so treatment can start before it gets dehydrated.


Fly Strike


Fly strike is caused when flies lay their eggs in damaged skin. The eggs hatch into maggots which eat the damaged flesh.


Apart from seeing the maggots, rabbits affected by fly strike are depressed, uncomfortable and may have seizures.


Rabbits with wet fur, dirty bottoms or wounds are at high risk.


This condition needs treating urgently. Consult us immediately if fly strike is noticed.


Fly strike can be prevented by ensuring that your rabbit is able to stay clean and dry. As part of your every day care, your rabbit should be checked over for any signs of wet fur or faecal contamination that may increase their risk to fly strike. This can then be dealt with quickly to avoid fly strike.


Rabbit Calicivirus


This is a viral disease that is spread by contact with infected rabbits. It is highly contagious and basically causes rabbits to bleed out.


The signs seen before death are lethargy, being off food, fever and spasms. Death is the end result in most cases. There is no cure for this disease. A veterinary clinic will offer supportive treatment if this is deemed appropriate, but there is still a very grim prognosis.


Vaccinate your pet rabbits annually to avoid this disease.



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