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Sometimes, by the time you realize your rabbit's sick it's too late. You might have thought he was fine, only to find him dead. It's not uncommon; rabbits don't display obvious symptoms of illness, which helps protect them as a vulnerable prey animal. Learn to read your bunny carefully so you notice subtle signs that something is amiss. It could save his life.
A rabbit that won't eat, especially if he loves snacks like fruits and veggies, is telling you something is wrong. Check his cage to see if he's been defecating. No sign of droppings is a red alert, as is any evidence of diarrhea. Rabbits don't throw up, so anything disturbing his gastrointestinal system has only one way out. If his gut isn't moving, he could be suffering from gastrointestinal stasis. The cause might be an obstruction, infection, gas, dental problems or stress; regardless, it's a veterinary emergency. Your bunny should always have fresh hay and clean water to help prevent gastrointestinal issues.
Rabbits' teeth grow continuously throughout their lives, requiring that you provide fiber and chewing objects to wear them down so they stay at a proper length. If your rabbit isn't eating or is eating only softer foods, is drooling or is grinding his teeth, check the inside of his mouth. You might also notice a bad odor. Inside his mouth, you might see overlong teeth, along with abscesses or mouth ulcers. Your vet needs to trim or "float" the teeth to get them back to normal. She can teach you how to do this so your bunny won't suffer from this problem.
Your rabbit's nose should always twitch. It's more than cute -- it's a sign of respiratory health. Upper respiratory disease in a bunny is very serious, as it can quickly turn into pneumonia. Signs of respiratory illness include difficulty breathing, fever, nasal discharge, sneezing and runny eyes. A head tilt can indicate a middle ear infection. A common rabbit bacteria, pasteurella, often referred to as snuffles, can cause upper respiratory infection and can cause abscesses to form on the bunny's neck and head.
Signs of Pain
If your bunny sits in a hunched-over position or grinds his teeth, something is hurting him. If he's generally a happy, outgoing rabbit but overnight doesn't want to have anything to do with you or hides away, he's telling you that something's not right -- he's inadvertently trying to hide the sickness. Take your bunny to the vet, even if he appears to be eating and breathing normally. Bunnies are delicate creatures; it's better to be safe than sorry.
- University of Miami: Detecting Illness Before It's an Emergency
- The Merck Manual for Pet Health: Routine Health Care of Rabbits
- House Rabbit Society: How to Tell if Your Rabbit Is Sick
- vetbase.co.uk: Respiratory Disease in the Rabbit
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Is Your Bunny Healthy?
- University of Miami: Gastrointestinal Statis - The Silent Killer
- rabbit image by Allyson Ricketts from Fotolia.com