We all love our rabbits and want to provide the best care possible for them. When you bring your rabbit to your local animal hospital for a yearly wellness exam, your veterinarian will give you all the information you need to keep your rabbit happy and healthy. This will hopefully prevent most late night visits to the animal ER. When your rabbit does need lifesaving emergency care, recognizing that need is the first step to saving your rabbit’s life.

Clients call us every day asking questions like these: “Can this wait until tomorrow?” “Will my rabbit get worse if I wait to bring him in?” “Is my rabbit in pain?” “What can I do at home instead of bringing my rabbit in for an exam?”

The answer we give these bunny owners is “When is doubt–bring your rabbit in for an exam!” If your rabbit is not acting normally, he or she needs to be seen as soon as possible. Here is a list of abnormal conditions your rabbit may show that tell you your rabbit needs an immediate examination:

  • -not eating or not defecating
  • -any loose stool
  • -animal bites — even if minor or without any marks that you can see
  • -bloody urine or straining to urinate
  • -open mouth breathing
  • -maggots
  • -lethargy
  • -possible poisoning
  • -head tilt
  • -possible heat stroke
  • -even minor appearing things such as drooling and limping

​Why is pain so important? Rabbits have a very unique gastrointestinal tract. Pain decreases their gut motility, causing gas to build up — this causes more pain, which causes an even slower gut. This leads to GI stasis – a killer of rabbits! It is very important to know that GI STASIS IS A SYMPTOM, NOT A DISEASE! The most common cause of GI stasis is pain — from any source. Painful people are usually easy to detect; they cry, scream and complain.

Rabbits do not do that because they are a prey species. In the wild, the rabbit making noise or acting differently is the first one to be targeted by a predator. So what does a painful rabbit look like?

Rabbit pain signs can be very difficult to detect. Many bunny owners miss the subtle signs their rabbits are giving them:

    • -grinding teeth
    • -mild lethargy (sleeping more)
    • -squinting, unfocused, or sunken eyes
    • -hunched posture
    • -rapid breathing
    • -decreased eating or defecation

Your drooling rabbit could have something simple like a small point on a molar that is just bothering the tongue, or she could have a major tooth abscess. Your limping rabbit could have just a broken toe nail or a fractured limb. If your rabbit is lethargic and his breathing is fast and shallow, he could be suffering from a heat stroke or heart failure or shock. Only a veterinary exam will be able to distinguish the causes of these symptoms. So many things cause the SAME SYMPTOMS in rabbits. This is why it is difficult to treat your rabbit at home without an examination by your veterinarian first.

  • So if you are not sure if your rabbit is sick, what should you do?
  • If your rabbit is housed with another rabbit, separate them
  • Offer favorite treats or foods, and measure how your rabbit is actually eating
  • Look your rabbit over – check them from nose to tail
  • Empty the litter box and use white paper towels for litter to check urine color and count stool production

Remember — when in doubt — bring your rabbit in for an exam, even if it is 3 o’clock in the morning! The veterinarian will most likely need to perform some diagnostic testing to diagnose your rabbit’s condition. X-rays can rule out GI stasis, arthritis, bladder sludge/stones, heart failure, cancerous masses, and pneumonia. Bloodwork checks for kidney and liver failure, blood sugar, infection and anemia. Fecal testing checks for parasites, and a urinalysis checks for infection and inflammation. Your rabbit may need hospitalization including SQ or IV fluids, pain medications and a nasogastric tube to relieve stomach gas and provide nutrition.

The best emergency treatment is to prevent the need to go the ER in the first place! Feed your rabbit a healthy diet of grass hay supplemented with greens and limited pellets. Prevent obesity. Provide exercise every day. Keep the enclosure and litterboxes clean. See your veterinarian at least once yearly. Get to know your rabbit’s normal behavior. With the proper home care and nutrition, your rabbit will be hopping about for years to come!

Dr. Jennifer Bloss is a specialist in exotic medicine at Brook-Falls Veterinary Hospital & Exotic Care, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. www.brookfallsveterinary.com

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