Meet my Rabbits and Kits

fatal illnesses ( In the UK they vaccinate against these )

I don't know where you come from, but here in the UK we vaccinate our rabbits against two main illnesses:

Viral Haemorragic Disease (VHD) - Very few symptoms, normally the first you know of it is you discover your rabbit dead in the hutch one morning.

Myxomatosis - A nasty disease, symptoms include swollen head, crusty eyes with discharge, and general signs of depression.

Both these diseases are almost impossible to treat and so the best method is to prevent them by use of a yearly vaccination. Consult your vet for details.

Another common one to watch out for, especially in the summer, is flystrike. This is where flies lay their eggs in the rabbits anal/genital area which in turn hatch into maggots and eat the rabbit alive. To prevent it, clean your animal's accomodation regulalrly, treat it with a safe insecticidal disinfectant (your pet store or vet will recommend one) and regularly check your rabbits anus and genitals for faeces that have become stuck to the fur, as this attracts the flies. If it has any, clean it with cotton wool and warm water and then apply a disinfectant powder. Hope this helps!


Snuffles is one of the most common diseases that strikes domestic rabbits. Almost every rabbit breeder or long-term rabbit owner has dealt with or is at least familiar with this devastating respiratory disease. This disease is very contagious and can also affect the eyes, ears, and other organs. If detected early, it can be treated, but it can become chronic or fatal if left untreated. This article will help rabbit owners identify, understand the treatment, and prevent snuffles in their own rabbits.


Snuffles is a general term describing a group of upper respiratory signs. While there can be different causes of these infections, the most common and generally accepted cause of snuffles is infection with the bacteria Pasteurella multocida. There are several different strains of these gram negative bacteria and depending on the strain that infects a particular rabbit, the signs can be either mild or severe. Some strains are commonly found in the nasal tract of rabbits, but may not cause infections unless the animal is stressed or has a suppressed immune system.


The signs of snuffles can be varied, but are usually associated with the upper respiratory tract. Many infected rabbits will initially develop a watery nasal discharge followed by sneezing and then a thick, whitish to yellowish nasal discharge. These infected rabbits will often make a loud snuffling or snoring sound due to the fluid and mucous in their nasal tracts. Because rabbits groom their faces with their front paws, infected rabbits will often have discharge and mats on the inside of their forepaws.

The disease can also travel to their eyes causing conjunctivitis and a resulting discharge, or it may travel to their ears causing ear infections. These ear infections can then cause 'torticollis' (wryneck - twisting of the neck), head shaking, scratching, a head tilt, disorientation, circling, or inability to stand. The infection will sometimes clear up in the nose, but be persistent in the ears. In some severe cases, a rabbit may develop pneumonia or bacteremia (the bacteria enter the bloodstream). In a few cases, abscesses may form under the skin, in joints, or in the internal organs.


Snuffles is generally treated with antibiotics for 14-30 days. Antibiotics commonly used include enrofloxacin (Baytril), ciprofloxacin, and trimethoprim sulfa. Rabbits need beneficial bacteria in their intestine to aid in digestion and they often need to be supplemented with these bacteria during and after antibiotic treatment; therefore, these drugs should only be used under strict veterinary guidance. In severe cases, supportive treatment consisting of fluids and supplemental nutrition may need to be given as well.

If the strain of Pasteurella multocida is a mild one and the immune system of the infected rabbit is strong, the symptoms may be mild and the animal will recover without treatment. However, if the strain is aggressive or the animal has a weakened immune response, the disease can be severe, chronic, and even fatal. The goal with treatment is to use an effective antibiotic at the first signs of infection. If the infection goes for days or weeks without treatment, it is likely that it will become chronic and very difficult to eliminate. In most cases, the signs of the disease may disappear, but the bacteria are usually still present, only in smaller numbers. Even in cases that are treated early, some animals will still develop chronic infections in their sinus passages that require long-term treatment, or even lifelong treatment to keep them under control.


Snuffles is a very contagious and difficult disease to treat, so prevention plays a very critical role in trying to control and eliminate this disease. Breeders need to take special precautions including strict sanitation and quarantine procedures. For the pet rabbit owner, the best prevention is to select a healthy rabbit. When choosing an animal for purchase, make sure that she is free of all signs of infection, including a runny nose. When choosing a young rabbit, the mother and all the litter mates should also be free of all signs of disease. If you purchase from a breeder, it is also wise to observe all the rabbits on location and make sure snuffles is not present.

The disease can be present in the nasal cavities without the rabbit showing any signs of disease, so a healthy-appearing rabbit can still develop signs later if he is stressed. Reducing stress is also very important in helping a rabbit avoid infections and reducing the severity of the disease if he does become infected. Common causes of stress in rabbits include poor nutrition, improper housing, chilling, overcrowding, or aggression from other rabbits. To prevent stress, provide the best possible housing. Offer a variety of fresh vegetables and free choice timothy hay in addition to a properly formulated pelleted diet. Also, avoid letting your rabbit come into contact with other rabbits, particularly if they are sick. Because this disease can be transmitted through secretions on your hands and clothes, be very careful when handling other rabbits, and always wash your hands and clothes after handling a rabbit other than your own.

Snuffles is a disease that can have devastating consequences to rabbits. Because it is so contagious and widespread, rabbit owners need to be aware of its signs and seek veterinary attention at the first sign of illness. By understanding the disease and taking precautions against it, rabbit owners can help reduce both the severity and incidence of this disease

 Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

One of the most common diseases pet rabbits are vulnerable to is RHD or Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease. Symptoms are quite varied that some signs are easily detected like foamy, bloody nasal discharge. However other indications that the rabbit exhibit while infected with RHD is flipping excitedly inside the cage out of distress, rapid and substantial weight loss, and lethargy. Unfortunately the condition is often fatal by the time the symptoms are evident to the owner.

RHD is caused by a virus called calicivirus. It was initially detected in China but later spread across the continents of Europe and lately in U.S. In the US it was first detected in 2000 and since then the spread of the disease had been to states such as Iowa, Indiana, Utah and New York. With such a rapid spread, it is time to spread the awareness of the disease among the pet owners.

In terms of treating the disease, though vaccines are available, sadly none of them had been proven completely effective and the jury is still out for a more reliable one. Another sad fact is, once diagnosed with RHD there is no effective cure, especially if the disease is advanced. However they can be supported with medications to alleviate the condition.

But a relief is that this virus can be detected by some screening procedures through a blood test. This provides the opportunity for the rabbits that are pets and homes and those that are available for adoption to be screened for the virus.

Calicivirus, the cause of RHD can remain dormant in the body of the rabbits for months in suitable environment. Transmission is more likely during this dormant period. The longest reported survival of the virus is more than 3 months at 4C/39F. Transmission is through contact, mainly by consuming the feces of virus infected rabbit. So earlier detection is imperative and once diagnosed the infected rabbit must be kept isolated from the others and the mucus or feces should be disposed and should not be reachable to other pets. So far the virus is not detected to spread through any other methods. Disinfectant such as Environ and Formalin are identified as controlling the rapid spread of virus in the household. Even sodium hydroxide present in bleach is shown to have some effect.

RHD virus is so far not reported to become active in other pets such as cats and dogs and human beings. Even few species of rabbit such as jack rabbits and other wild breeds do not contract the virus. Often it is hard to control transmission of a fatal virus when a wild animal is a carrier since the chances of exposure to feces are high while they are migrated. In the case of pet rabbits, use of litter boxes help control the transmission of virus to other rabbits.

The disease is so severe and a close observation of the symptoms such as lethargy, unusual loss of appetite and tremors help in earlier detection and further transmission may be controlled. Once the virus is active, the rabbits become seriously ill and die in a few days. The mortality rate is between 30% and 90% so death is not a foregone conclusion. Once the symptoms of RHD are prominent, keep the pet isolated and visit a vet at the earliest.

Gastrointestinal Stasis Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

When the gastrointestinal tract of the rabbits exhibits sluggish motility the condition is called Gastrointestinal Stasis. The movement in the gut slows down or stops resulting in severe pain and even death. It is an emergency when the rabbits stop eating, and should be provided intensive supportive therapy at the earliest.

The causes for Gastrointestinal Stasis may be a hair/fur ball in the intestine or infection, gas, or even dental problem. The rabbit diet should essentially consist of around 25% of fiber and sufficient fluid intake. Lack of fiber or fluid can be a major factor to aggravate Gastrointestinal Stasis. Grassy grains, oat hay and timothy hay are few natural fiber rich rabbit foods. When the diet lacks fiber the movement in the gut slows down and simultaneously leaves the undigested food and hair balls in the intestinal tract.

The blockage in the guts is severely painful for the rabbits and often life threatening. Moreover the stagnant matter in the intestine promotes breeding of harmful bacteria that swamps on the good ones thereby creating an imbalance. A common type of harmful bacteria is clostridium which produces harmful and painful gas when they are in extreme numbers. They gradually produce excess of toxins that may even damage the liver. If the condition is left untreated they may get seriously ill and may die in a day or two. That explains the importance of identifying the early symptoms of gastrointestinal stasis which is mainly absence of feces, lack of appetite and lethargy.

Healthy rabbits produce copious and frequent feces. Basically the feces produced by rabbits are of two types. First type is called cecotropes that are soft, mucus covered and often greenish. Rabbits normally eat them and they are rich in nutrients. Though this sounds gross, it is an indication that the rabbits are healthy. If they fail to produce cecotropes or refuse to eat them it may be an indication of intestinal discomfort. If the condition does not improve in 12 hours, the pet must be taken to a vet immediately. The second type is round, dark pelleted feces. A healthy rabbit produce these normally quite frequently. Failure to produce them for more than 12 hours should be an indication that an emergency vet visit is required.

The vet may perform some common physical tests like palpating the abdomen, to check intestinal activity and also checks the temperature. A healthy rabbit’s body temperature should be between 101-103F/38.3-39.4C. An alteration of this range indicates infection. Once diagnosed with Gastrointestinal Stasis the treatment depends on the level of severity. Fluids and enzyme treatments may be administered to break up trapped matter in the intestine. The most commonly used intestinal motility agents are Reglan and Propulsid. It is better to avoid administering medicine at home, since forceful feeding to rabbits may accelerate its stress and eventually aggravates the condition. In extreme cases surgery may be the only option.

When the condition is in the beginning stage, physical methods to relieve the block may also be observed. One such method is abdominal massaging to get the stagnant matter moving in the intestine and to reactivate the digestion. However this should be performed only by a professional unless if it is an emergency situation where the vet is not accessible. In that case, carefully massage around the abdomen using your fingers with gentle and slow movements. Stop if the rabbit exhibits pain or distress. To provide relief from pain due to gas, Simethicone may be administered. However, it doesn’t cure the actual cause. Sometimes administering enema shows improvement, but unless a vet is inaccessible, it is not advisable not to try at home.

Every rabbit owner should be aware of the symptoms and risks involved in gastrointestinal stasis that is common among pet rabbits and the emergency treatment it warrants. It is better and quite possible to prevent the condition by providing the rabbits with proper diet that has sufficient fluid and fiber and also a stress free environment