Rabbits make wonderful companions and as a loving owner, you will want to do everything that you can to keep them healthy, happy and full of bounce. That includes knowing what to do if your rabbit is sick.
Whether you need useful tips on managing rabbit diarrhoea or advice on how to treat a sick rabbit at home, this article has got you covered.
How can you tell if a rabbit is ill
First things first, you may wonder, ‘how do I know if my rabbit is sick?’ Rabbits are masters of disguise… as prey animals their instinct is to hide signs of weakness or illness. This is a survival tactic designed to make them less vulnerable to predation. While beneficial to wild buns, this can make detecting illness in rabbits challenging. The signs of illness in rabbits will often be very subtle so it is important to pay close attention to your bunny’s behaviour to identify any changes that might indicate that they are under the weather.
Tip 1: Don’t ‘wait and see’, if your bun isn’t their usual self, seek veterinary attention as soon as possible!
Top 10 signs of illness in rabbits
So what are the signs of illness in rabbits that you should be looking out for? Here are some of the most common ones:
- Reduced appetite
- Reduced or absent poo pellets
- Teeth grinding
- Change in behaviour
- Change in posture or gait
- Rapid or altered breathing
- Discharge from eyes, or nose
- Lumps, bumps or swellings
- Loss of balance or head tilt
Common illness in rabbits
Rabbits have a highly specialised digestive system that is fine-tuned to extract maximum nutrition from a high fibre diet. Having such a complex system is all well and good when it’s running smoothly, but it does mean that gastrointestinal disease is one of the most common illnesses in rabbits. The best way to ensure you rabbit’s digestive system works as nature intended is to feed a diet akin to that of the wild – namely unlimited hay, a carefully measured portion of high fibre nuggets every morning and evening, plus a handful of leafy greens and fresh water.
High fibre diets also cause quite a lot of wear and tear on teeth. To compensate for this, rabbits have what are known as open-rooted teeth which grow continuously. Diets that lack fibre may result in teeth becoming overgrown, making dental disease another common illness in rabbits.
Why does my rabbit have diarrhoea?
If your rabbit’s poo looks a bit soft and squishy, you might be concerned about whether it has diarrhoea. While this may not be the most appealing of topics, it’s important to differentiate between actual rabbit diarrhoea, and the presence of caecotrophs. Caecotrophs are a particular kind of softer nutrient-rich poo that rabbits produce and consume directly from their rear end. Not a very appetising snack for us, but it’s all part of being a rabbit!
More often than not, soft pellets are likely to be normal caecotrophs rather than rabbit diarrhoea. However, it’s unusual for caecotrophs to be so visible – a healthy, happy bun will gobble them up as soon as they are produced, leading us to our second tip…
Tip 2: Rabbits with soft poo, or any other change in poo pellets should be checked by a vet!
How to treat rabbit upset stomach
The main cause of digestive issues in rabbits is an inappropriate diet. In particular one that is lacking in fibre, or has too many sugary ingredients. Stress can also cause upset stomach in rabbits, so any illness, painful condition, or other stressful event are common triggers.
As well as keeping your bun in a calm, stress-free environment away from predators like dogs and cats, dietary management is key to keeping their digestive system in full working order. Before making any changes, if your rabbit has an upset stomach it is important that they are examined by a vet in order to rule out any underlying medical issues. Once you have the veterinary all-clear, here are some steps that you can take at home:
- Offer hay with excellent palatability to increase the fibre content of the diet: Science Selective Timothy Hay is a super-tasty option that will encourage adequate intake. Rabbits should have access to unlimited hay, but a body-sized portion every day is a good guide.
- Choose nuggets that are high in fibre too and offer a carefully measured portion every morning and evening.
- Feed nuggets that have no added sugar, such as Science Selective Adult Rabbit Food to support optimum digestive and dental health, as well as reducing the risk of weight gain and obesity.
- Include a handful of leafy greens to supplement the diet, but avoid vegetables that are high in sugar, such as carrots. If your rabbit is experiencing digestive issues, you may need to reduce the feeding of greens, but if in doubt speak to your vet for advice.
What to do when my rabbit is sick
When your rabbit is sick, you should:
- Book an appointment with your vet without delay
- Keep your bun in a quiet, calm environment, keeping stress to a minimum
- Keep them with a bonded companion whenever possible
- Keep them warm
- Encourage them to eat
- Groom them and check for signs of fly strike regularly
Ensuring that they continue to eat is crucial. Rabbits have a delicate digestive system, and if they stop eating, their digestive health rapidly declines. This may even lead to gastric stasis, a serious condition where the gut stops contracting. This is life-threatening and requires immediate veterinary attention to increase the chances of recovery.
What can I give a rabbit with an upset stomach
If your rabbit has an upset stomach, as well as tempting them to eat, your vet may suggest that you syringe feed a delicious fibre-rich support diet like Science Selective Recovery Plus. Rich in natural forage and herbs it’s super tasty, helping to stimulate appetite and support recovery. That’s not all – it also contains:
- Echinacea to support the immune system
- Prebiotics to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and to support digestive health
- Probiotics to provide beneficial bacteria to boost digestive health
- Vitamin C to provide for additional requirements in stressful situations
- Chamomile to provide support during times of stress
As well as being suitable for rabbits with an upset stomach, Recovery Plus can help to support recovery from other forms of illness and after surgery.
Tip 3: Mould Recovery Plus into small nuggets that your rabbit can nibble on as they start to feel better
How to make Science Selective Recovery Plus ‘nuggets’
It’s as easy as 1, 2,3…
- Add a little less water than normal – around half the usual volume
- Mould into a small ‘nugget’
- Offer to your bun to encourage them to eat
So there you have it… that’s our guide to how to treat your sick rabbit at home, and remember if in doubt, call your vet for advice at the earliest opportunity.