How to Treat a Sick Rabbit

vet holding a sick rabbit.

Providing a healthy diet and lots of love and attention go a long way in ensuring that your rabbit remains in good health. Like other pets, though, rabbits can still get sick despite receiving the best of care. Although you can’t prevent your bun from falling ill, knowing how to treat a sick rabbit allows you to address the health issues your pet suffers from promptly and increases his chances for a quick recovery.  

Looking for more information about rabbit care? Check out what to do if your rabbit’s not pooping, common rabbit eye problems and do rabbits need a bath?

vet checking a sick rabbit.

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Know the Symptoms    

Rabbits have this quirk that sometimes makes it difficult for their humans to tell if something’s wrong with them. Because buns are predatory animals, they instinctively hide signs of illness or injury to avoid alerting predators to their weakened state. That’s why you need to be vigilant and carefully observe your fur baby for signs that they’re not feeling well. 

Some of the common symptoms of sickness in rabbits include the following:  

  • Loss of appetite – see this post  
  • Lethargy or low energy level  
  • Tooth grinding  
  • Nasal discharges or difficulty breathing  
  • Lack of coordination or head tilting  
  • Poor skin or fur condition  
  • Aggression  
  • Lumps or abscesses in the body  
  • Changes in their poop’s appearance  
  • Changes in urination pattern or their urine’s appearance

Treating a Sick Rabbit    

The treatment your bun needs will depend on the health issue he’s facing. If you think that your pet is sick, seeking prompt medical attention is the best recourse. That being the case, we recommend that you find a vet you can trust at the outset. Please note that not all animal doctors are well-versed in treating rabbits, so it’s best to ascertain that your pet’s doctor understands rabbits.  

While you wait to take your bun to the vet, try to keep your fur baby warm and hydrated. A syringe comes in handy in giving him water. It’s a good idea to keep a bag of Critical Care, a powdered food formula for rabbits, for those times when your bunny won’t eat. The formula is mixed with water and fed with a syringe.  

vet holding a sick rabbit.

5 Common Rabbit Ailments 

1. GI stasis  

Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is a potentially dangerous condition where the movements of a rabbit’s gut slow down or stop altogether. As a result, bacteria in the gut start to multiply and cause painful gas in the stomach. The bacteria can also produce toxins that, left untreated, can lead to organ failure and, in extreme cases, even death.  

GI stasis usually occurs when rabbits stop eating. Lack of food in the stomach changes the gut’s pH level and favors the proliferation of gas-inducing bacteria.   

Aside from the common symptoms of lack of energy and appetite that occur when a rabbit is sick, a bun with GI stasis may pass small or deformed poop, have loose stools, and you may hear a gurgling sound coming from their stomach.  

To treat GI Stasis, your vet will provide supportive care. Depending on what’s causing the condition, the treatment may include rehydration, syringe feeding, pain relievers, drugs that enhance food movement in the gut, anti-inflammatory medicines, or antibiotics if a bacterial infection accompanies the ailment.  

2. Overgrown teeth or malocclusions  

Your bun’s teeth never stop growing. That’s why it’s essential to grind those pearly whites down by letting him gnaw on fibrous food. If not kept trimmed, the molars can reach a length where your rabbit can’t close his mouth. Overgrown teeth not only make it painful for your pet to chew, but they can also lead to dental infections.   

You may not be able to detect malocclusions in your bun’s teeth if you don’t look into his mouth. But consider the condition if you see the following signs: drooling, refusal to eat hay, and lumps under the chin.  

Your vet will need to trim the rabbit’s teeth down under general anesthesia to correct the condition.  

3. Snuffles  

Snuffles is a term that refers to the symptoms of respiratory infections in a rabbit. Bacterial infection in the tear ducts and sinuses is the common cause of this ailment.   

The symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, drooling, and matted fur on his paw that occurs because rabbits usually wash their face after sneezing.  

Treating snuffles usually involves the use of antibiotics after the vet determines the exact type of bacteria behind the infection.  

4. Flystrike  

Flystrike is more common during warm weather. It is a horrifying and disgusting condition caused by the green bottle fly that lays its eggs, usually on your bun’s bottom. After the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on your rabbit’s flesh. Flystrike is dangerous as maggots can kill your pet quickly (within 24-48 hours).  

You may not notice the maggots on your bun’s body, so you won’t be able to tell that he’s suffering from flystrike. But you can hazard a guess that your rabbit has this terrible condition if, along with lowered energy levels and lack of appetite, you notice a strong smell coming from the hutch. Your bun may also dig into the corner of their cage in an attempt to dig away from the pain.  

Getting rid of the maggots is the only way to treat flystrike, so you need to promptly take your bun to the vet if you see signs of the creatures on your pet’s fur.  

5. Hairballs  

Rabbits are clean animals. They are constantly grooming themselves, and as a result, they end up swallowing a lot of fur. Usually, this poses no problem as they eliminate the hair along with the digested food. Trouble occurs when the strands clump up in the gut.   

Rabbits can’t cough up hairballs the way cats do, and if the fur blocks the digestive tract, it can cause GI stasis. As such, the symptoms for hairball are similar to that of GI stasis, except for one difference. With hairball, you may notice that your bun’s droppings are strung together and have a lot of fur. 

Medicines that enhance the movement of the gut may help provide relief to your bun. In some cases, surgery may be called for to remove the blockage.   

Illnesses are part of any pet’s life. In knowing how to treat a sick rabbit, you won’t feel helpless or agitated if you see that something seems to be wrong with your precious fur baby.  

More about Rabbit Care

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