Examining your Rabbit

The aim of this section is to give you some simple ways to check the health of your rabbit. Vets use these techniques as part of their clinical examination.

Weight

Keeping a close eye on your rabbit’s weight or body condition can help you to pick up problems at an early stage

  • Gaining too much weight can be bad for your rabbit’s health. Most commonly, weight gain is caused by too much energy dense food and not enough roughage such as hay and grass.
  • Losing weight or failing to grow normally can be a sign of health problems or dental problems.
  • Weighing your rabbit most vets have specially developed scales, which they will be happy for you to use.
  • Condition scoring is a good way to check your rabbit is the correct weight. Ask your vet or nurse to do this for you to get an accurate score. You can look for the main points yourself:
    • Ribs: You should be able to feel them with light pressure. There should not be a fat layer over the ribs.
    • Hip bones, shoulder blades: you should only be able to feel these if you apply moderate pressure.
    • Dewlap: This is the fold of skin under the chin; it is usually only present in female rabbits. In overweight rabbits it can become enlarged. Dewlaps can persist when an overweight rabbit looses weight – ask your vet for advice.

Coat condition

Different breed of rabbits have very different coats but in general they should look clean, and the skin should look healthy underneath. Here are some common problems you can look out for:

  • Greasy coat: This can be a sign of a skin infection, you should visit your vet.
  • Areas of baldness. There are a number of factors to consider if a rabbit has bald patches:.
    • If the skin is itchy, for example due to mites or allergy, rabbits can scratch and bite at themselves, pulling fur out.
    • In certain conditions the fur falls out by itself.
    • Some hormone problems prevent the hair growing normally. Old hairs that fall out naturally are not replaced.
  • Backend A dirty back end is a sign of health problems in rabbits. It is also dangerous as it can make the rabbit prone to ‘Fly Strike’ or maggot infestation. Seek veterinary advice. If you see any maggots this is an emergency situation and you should contact your vet immediately.

Teeth

  • The teeth should be growing straight and should be clean, smooth and white in colour.

  • Overgrowth. Rabbit’s teeth continue growing throughout their lives. When rabbits eat a natural, healthy diet, rich in fibre their teeth grow straight and are ground down evenly as the rabbit chews. Nowadays, many rabbits eat packaged / dry rabbit food which does not require much chewing; this can lead to the teeth overgrowing or wearing incorrectly causing sharp spurs to develop. Spurs cause painful ulcers in a rabbits’ mouth. Overgrown teeth or an ulcerated mouth can prevent the rabbit from eating and grooming itself normally.
    Another cause of distorted teeth growth is calcium deficiency. Rabbits fed exclusively on the classic mixed ‘rabbit food’ can become deficient in calcium because they tend to pick out the tasty bits, leaving behind the pellets that are high in calcium and Vitamin D.
  • Drooling. A normal rabbit should not drool excessively. If you notice a damp or stained patch under your rabbits mouth contact your vet immediately.
  • Anorexia. If you notice that your rabbit has stopped eating or has stopped grooming itself this could be a sign of dental problems and you should contact your vet.

If you notice any of the above problems you need to see your vet for advice. Dental work, usually under general anaesthetic, may be required.

Ears

  • The ears should look clean. There should not be any pain when you gently feel around the base of the ear.

Eyes

The eyes should be:

  • Clear
  • Wide open
  • There should be no swelling
  • No discharge
  • The pupils should be the same size

Breathing

  • Rate: This is the number of breaths that your rabbit takes per minute when resting. It is usually between 30-60 breaths per minute in rabbits.
  • Effort: Watch the abdominal area, if there is exaggerated movement as your rabbit breathes in or out it could be a sign of breathing difficulties.
  • Difficulty: If you notice your rabbit having any difficulty breathing you need to contact your vet immediately.
  • Lips: If you notice a blue tinge to your rabbit’s lips contact your vet immediately.

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