Abscesses In Rabbits

Abscesses are a common problem for rabbits. They can present as an abnormal swelling or as an open draining infection for example from their tear ducts. These are usually related to tooth root abscesses.

Usually the abnormal swelling is covered by a thick layer of skin and are full of dry, thick material resembling the appearance of cottage cheese. Rabbit abscesses do not respond well to lancing and draining in the same way as abscesses in cats and dogs.

Surgical removal of the entire abscess is often required. Unless the abscess is removed with its thick outer covering intact, recovery can be lengthy and may not be successful. Entire removal of an abscess can be problematic particularly in certain locations.

Many abscesses are caused by dental disease and these can often penetrate the bone meaning complete removal is not possible.

Long term antibiotics are often required along with analgesia for pain relief. In recurring cases, regular opening and curetting of the abscess to remove its contents can help for a limited time until the rabbit’s quality of life is compromised.

Caring For Your Rabbit

1. Feeding:

Rabbits are herbivores- animals that need a plant based diet. The most important part of their diet which they require to stay healthy is fibre. If the wrong diet is fed, one that is low in fibre and high in carbohydrates, for example a commercial muesli mix, problems such as dental disease, facial abscesses, obesity, diarrhoea and furballs may occur. The best diet for your rabbit should consist of at least 99% grass and good quality meadow or timothy hay which should be available at all times. Greens such as broccoli, cabbage and watercress are also essential. Some rabbits fed on mainly commercial muesli mixes (high in sugar and starch) will only pick out the unhealthy, sweeter pellets of the mix leading to potentially fatal health problems.We recommend the Supreme Science Selective feeding range. This product is veterinary recommended because it contains the same amount of high quality nutrients in each individual nugget, eliminating the problem of selective feeding. Rabbits should only be fed a maximum of 25g of nuggets per kg per day as the nuggets are a complementary food. The bulk of their diet should be made up of hay and grass. We will be happy to advise you on a suitable diet for your rabbit.

2.Vaccination:

Your rabbit should be vaccinated against Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) (both strains RHD and RHD2) regardless of whether it is a house rabbit or not. These diseases can be fatal within several days of your rabbit becoming ill. Myxomatosis is spread by bloodsucking insects such as mosquitoes or rabbit fleas. Once infected, fluid filled swellings occur around the head and face leading to blindness. Swellings around the genitals and ears along with eye infections are also common. Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is spread by direct contact between rabbits (wild and domesticated) and also via fleas, people, shoes and other objects. The vaccine is given from 5 weeks of age and a yearly booster is then required to maintain immunity.

A second strain of RHD has also been discovered, called RHD2. Rabbits infected with the RHDV2 virus typically DO NOT show the symptoms that are common with the original RHD virus so it is far more difficult to diagnose.

Fatality from RHD2 occurs later and over a longer period of time than RHD. Although RHD2 is less virulent than the original strain of RHD, its difficult early diagnosis actually means it is more challenging given rabbits can carry the disease for a longer period of time without any visible signs of infection. At present as we are not in a high risk area for RHD2 we are recommending yearly vaccination against the new strain. This can be given 2 weeks after the Myxomatosis and RHD  vaccination.

We will send you a reminder when the vaccination is due but please make sure you keep their vaccination certificate in a safe place and make a note on the calendar when they are due!

3.Worming and Flea Control: 

We recommend worming your rabbit with a veterinary supplied wormer available from the veterinary practice. This helps protect your rabbit against worms and a parasite called E.cuniculi. It can cause symptoms similar to that of a stroke leading to blindness, kidney failure and death. Not all rabbits that carry E.cuniculi show any signs of illness but they are still capable of infecting other rabbits that live with them either by their urine or passing it from mother to babies. Please ask for more information.
We advise regular treatment for fleas all year round once your rabbit is over 10 weeks of age. This helps  prevent infestations and helps protect against the spread of Myxomatosis. It is easily achieved by using a spot on treatment available from the veterinary practice. These are applied to the back of your rabbit’s neck and will treat any flea infestation for up to one week.

4.Neutering:   

Male and female rabbits can be neutered from four months of age before they become sexually mature. It is important to have your rabbit neutered if you are keeping both male and females together or if there are any behavioural problems such as dominance or aggression. Please see our information sheets on neutering for more information.

5.Dental Care: 

Rabbits teeth grow continuously as much as 10-12cm every year. Rabbits which are not fed a suitable diet are more prone to suffer from dental disease in the form of overgrown teeth, malocclusion (incorrect alignment of teeth) and tongue ulceration. This can be due to a lack of fibre in their diet to gnaw on. Regular dental checks by the veterinary surgeon are essential for early detection of these problems. Your rabbit’s nails can also easily become overgrown and should be closely monitored.

6.Flystrike: 

During the summer months your rabbit is at an increased risk of having Flystrike. This is caused by flies which lay their eggs on your rabbit usually in the hindquarters area. These eggs then hatch into maggots in as little as 12 hours burrowing into your rabbit’s skin and eating it away. The fly season generally runs from April to October so your rabbit could potentially be at risk most of the year. High risk rabbits are those that suffer from obesity, dental disease, diarrhoea, arthritis and those kept in dirty hutches that attract flies. It is always important to check your rabbit daily but during the summer they should be checked at least twice a day. If Flystrike is not treated early enough it can be fatal. Your rabbit can be protected from Flystrike for up to 10 weeks by applying a product available from the veterinary practice. We will be happy to advise you on the suitable treatment.

7.Pet Healthcare Plan:

Cinque Ports Vets Pet Healthcare Plan enables you to pay monthly for your preventative veterinary treatments and medication. We all want to use the best products available for our pets and at Cinque Ports Vets we want to make preventative healthcare easy and affordable to help give you and your pets the best care possible. You also receive an overall saving on your pets vaccinations, health check, worming and flea treatment as well as many other discounts as a reward for joining our scheme. The plan is available for dogs, cats and rabbits from any age and the monthly payment plan will be dependent on the bodyweight of your pet. Please see Pet Healthcare Plan or contact us for more information. Please be aware this is not an insurance policy but a preventative healthcare plan to help spread the cost of routine treatments which insurance does not cover.

8.Insurance: 

Although insurance is most commonly thought about for cats and dogs, insurance is also available for your rabbit. Pet insurance can be essential to help cover the cost of unexpected veterinary fees and there are a variety of policies available. Please ask for more information.

9.Grooming: 

Grooming is an important part of looking after your rabbit especially if they are long haired! Regular grooming will aid in early detection of problems such as Flystrike and also enable your rabbit to become accustomed to being handled and examined. Older or overweight rabbits may have difficulty in keeping themselves clean and become matted around their bottom. It is normal for rabbits to eat their softer droppings (caecotrophs) usually at night as this is also an important part of their high fibre diet. If they become overweight or unable to groom then problems will occur with their digestive system and veterinary advice should be sought.

10.Poisonous Plants: 

Although feeding greens and plants to your rabbit adds variety and interest to their diet it is important to remember that some plants can be very harmful if eaten, causing illness or in some cases death.
The following plants are poisonous to rabbits and should be avoided-
Carnation, Buttercup, Foxglove, Clematis, Deadly nightshade, Lobelia, Woody nightshade, Elder, Yew, Rhododendron, Privet, Geranium, Ivy, Lily of the Valley, Lupin and Iris.
Please see www.supremepetfoods.com for a more comprehensive list.
For more information please read ‘Caring For Pet Rabbits’ and ‘A Comprehensive Guide To Caring For Your Rabbit.’

Dental Disease In Rabbits

Dental disease is one of the most common reasons we see rabbits in the clinic. Dental problems can present with lots of different symptoms, and although genetics and trauma can play a part, the most common reason for dental issues is being fed an inappropriate diet.

Anatomy

Rabbits don’t have baby and permanent teeth like humans and dogs. Rabbit teeth are open rooted, meaning they continuously grow. The front incisors can grow as much as 12cm a year!

Rabbits mainly chomp and chew their food, so they don’t need sharp canines to tear meat, they only have incisors, premolars and molars.

What signs do I look out for?

The main signs of dental disease are not eating, weight loss, drooling, swelling of the face, discharge from the eyes, reduced grooming and caecotroph accumulation around the bottom.

What will my vet do to diagnose dental problems?

  1. Take a patient history, especially focusing on diet
  2. Physical exam
  3. Oral exam – looking at both the front incisor teeth, and the cheek teeth with an otoscope (sometimes rabbits don’t like this very much so may need some sedation to get a proper look)

What are the most common dental issues?

Most often the front teeth (incisors) become overgrown, and the cheek teeth (premolars and molars) have small spurs that can damage the inside of the mouth and cause pain.

What treatment will my rabbit need?

As rabbit teeth are structured differently to ours, they can be easily burred when they are overgrown. Often sedation isn’t necessary as it is a painless process.

If your rabbit has a problem where the jaws are not aligned properly (malocclusion), then they may require regular trimming, or your vet may discuss with you about removal of the teeth.

More serious conditions such as tooth root abscesses or trauma will require more complex treatment, and your rabbit may require medications such as pain relief and antibiotics.

What can I do to prevent dental problems?

Proper nutrition is essential for preventing dental disease. Rabbits should be fed a diet of predominantly good quality hay, and high fibre food such as leafy greens that encourage grinding motions of the jaw. Commercial rabbit foods should only be fed as a teaspoon of pellets once daily (not the muesli mixes).

Diarrhoea In Rabbits

Diarrhoea is a common problem in pet rabbits. It may be a very serious condition and you should contact us if your rabbit has diarrhoea. Rabbits with diarrhoea become rapidly dehydrated leading to a need for fluid replacement.

A high fibre diet (hay or grass) has a protective effect against diarrhoea and soft droppings.

Your rabbit should produce hard droppings in the shape of round fibrous brown spheres.

It is normal behaviour for rabbits to produce softer droppings at night, which they then eat. These are called caecotrophs. They are usually smaller than normal droppings, ovoid in shape and often in clusters. This is an important part of your rabbits’ diet.If very overweight, or has a painful mouth or back, your rabbit may be unable to reach round to clean these droppings away. In the summer diarrhoea or matted soft droppings may attract flies, which lay their eggs around the tail base and these hatch out into maggots. You should check your rabbit twice daily in the summer and always make sure the bedding is clean and dry. Various products are available from us to help prevent Flystrike, but attention to hygiene and rapid attention to any related health problems is paramount.

Please contact us if you would like any advice regarding your rabbit’s diet, including how to help them lose weight.

E.Cuniculi (Encephalitozoon Cuniculi)

E.Cuniculi is a disease caused by the parasite Encephalitozoon cuniculi. It is not as well known as Mxyomatosis or RHD diseases but up to 50% of all domesticated rabbits may have been exposed to this microscopic parasite.

Rabbits infected with E.Cuniculi can suffer a variety of illnesses including hindlimb weakness, fits, kidney damage, urinary incontinence and blindness or the sudden onset of a head tilt. This can be so severe that rabbits are unable to stand due to a loss of balance. This can be mistaken for a stroke.

Unlike Mxyomatosis and RHD, rabbits infected with E.Cuniculi can appear perfectly healthy but the illness can flare up at any time. There is also the danger of an outwardly healthy carrier (a rabbit that has the disease without showing any symptoms) infecting other rabbits that they come into contact with. The parasite can also be spread by infected urine as well as from mother to babies. Hutches and runs can also harbour infection despite good hygiene protocols being in place. It is possible for the parasite to affect other species, such as guinea pigs that live with rabbits.

As with all diseases, prevention is better than cure. Treatment for E.Cuniculi can often come too late to reverse the signs of this debilitating disease.

At Cinque Ports Vets we recommend worming with our veterinary recommended wormer to help control E.Cuniculi parasites and intestinal worms in rabbits. If you acquire a new rabbit or your rabbit mixes with other rabbits it is also recommended to administer a worming dose to those rabbits as well.

Feeding Your Rabbit


Rabbits are herbivores- animals that need a plant based diet. Rabbits like to spend the majority of their time foraging as they would in the wild, looking for tasty food like grass, hay or plants. Hiding hay, grass and other high fibre foods around your rabbit’s hutch and exercise area helps promote their foraging behaviour. This searching for food helps keep them busy and adds to their emotional well being, keeping them stimulated and exercised.

The most important part of their diet which they require to stay healthy is fibre. This is essential to maintain their dental and digestive health.

Two types of fibre are required- digestible and indigestible:

Digestible fibre provides essential nutrients and indigestible fibre keeps your rabbit’s digestive system moving effectively. The indigestible fibre passes through the digestive system eventually being excreted as separate, hard droppings.

The digestible fibre moves into an organ called the caecum. The bacteria present in the caecum ferments the fibre making it digestible and this is then excreted as sticky droppings called caecotrophs. These will then be re-eaten by your rabbit to extract the essential nutrition.

Many rabbit owners favour the popular muesli mix as they believe this offers a complete diet. Unfortunately this diet tends to be low in fibre and high in carbohydrates contributing to problems such as dental disease, facial abscesses, obesity, diarrhoea and furballs.
Gut stasis can also be caused by low fibre diets and veterinary treatment should be administered as soon as possible.
Some rabbits fed on mainly commercial muesli mixes (high in sugar and starch) will only pick out the unhealthy, sweeter pellets of the mix. This unbalanced diet lacking in calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D can lead to potentially fatal health problems.

The best diet for your rabbit should consist of at least 99% grass and good quality meadow or timothy hay which should be available at all times. Greens such as broccoli, cabbage, chicory, parsley, celery leaves, kale, watercress, carrot and beet tops are also essential. Fruit should be regarded as a treat and fed in limited quantities as it is high in simple sugars and can lead to tummy upsets and teeth problems.

At Cinque Ports Vets we recommend the Supreme Science Selective feeding range. This product is veterinary recommended because it contains the same amount of high quality nutrients in each individual nugget, eliminating the problem of selective feeding.
Rabbits should only be fed a maximum of 25g of nuggets per kg per day as the nuggets are a complementary food. The bulk of their diet should be made up of hay and grass.

Your local branch of Cinque Ports Vets will be happy to advise you on a suitable diet for your rabbit.

Useful websites:
www.supremepetfoods.com
www.supremepetfoods.com/product/science-selective-rabbit/

Flystrike In Rabbits


During the summer months your rabbit is at an increased risk of having Flystrike. This is caused by flies which lay their eggs on your rabbit usually in the hindquarters area. These eggs then hatch into maggots in as little as 12 hours, burrowing into your rabbit’s skin and eating it away. This causes extensive external and internal wounds. The fly season generally runs from April to October so your rabbit could potentially be at risk most of the year. High risk rabbits are those that suffer from obesity, dental disease, diarrhoea, arthritis and those kept in dirty hutches that attract flies.  It is always important to check your rabbit daily but during the summer they should be checked at least twice a day. If Flystrike is not treated early enough it can be fatal.

Prevention of Flystrike

We recommend that you check your rabbit at least twice a day, paying particular attention to their rear end to make sure it is clean and dry. 

Feed your rabbit a regular balanced diet to help prevent diarrhoea.

Regular cleaning of the hutch is essential to make sure that the bedding is dry and insect free.

During the summer months covering your rabbit’s hutch with an old net curtain can help stop flies from entering their hutch through the mesh.

Your rabbit can be protected from Flystrike by applying a product available from the veterinary practice. This product contains a growth inhibitor and once applied it will prevent any fly eggs from hatching into maggots.This should be applied from the middle of the back to the rear end including the hind legs making sure that the whole bottle is used each time. This product cannot be used in pregnant or lactating rabbits or applied onto broken skin.  Rabbits must be over 10 weeks of age for use and protection lasts for approximately 8-10 weeks.

There is also a germicidal wound spray with insecticide available which repels insects, eliminates maggots and is effective against fleas, flies, mosquitoes, ticks and lice. This product kills any existing eggs and will repel any larvae present which will die within 30 minutes. The spray can be applied to open wounds and is ideal for use in rabbits, guinea pigs and other small rodents. Once sprayed it will last for 7 days.

Treatment for Flystrike

If you discover maggots on your rabbit, it is essential that you contact your veterinary surgery for emergency treatment. The maggots will be carefully removed and the wound(s) if present will then be cleaned. The damage to the skin and surrounding tissue will need to be assessed.  Sedation or anaesthetic may be required depending on the severity of the case. In some cases the damage caused by the maggots is too severe to treat and the only option is euthanasia.  However many rabbits survive and heal well with intensive nursing. This includes antibiotics, analgesia (pain relief) and intravenous fluids.

Gut Stasis In Rabbits

Gut stasis is a commonly occurring problem. It is when your rabbit’s gut motility slows down. Appetite, food intake and gut motility all depend on each other. If your rabbit loses their appetite and stops eating, then this will cause hypomotility (lack of gut movement). In turn hypomotility will also cause anorexia (lack of appetite for food).

Causes

  • Lack of dietary fibre
  • Lack of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Gut flora changes especially after antibiotic treatments
  • Stress
  • Pain including dental,urinary or arthritis
  • Surgery
  • Foreign bodies

Clinical signs

  • Reduction in appetite
  • Reduction in output and size of faecal pellets, eventually stopping completely
  • Excessive chewing of paper or cardboard in an attempt to obtain fibre
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration eventually leading to death

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually made following a complete clinical examination by your veterinary surgeon. The rabbit may have lost weight due to anorexia and may have a swollen abdomen. Sometimes an X-Ray is required to confirm and also check that there is not an actual blockage which would require emergency surgery.

Treatment

Immediate veterinary treatment is required to prevent the condition being fatal. The underlying cause should be corrected and pain relief administered. Oral or intravenous fluids are required depending on the severity. This is to correct the dehydration and supportive feeding usually by syringe, using a high fibre critical care diet should be started. Probiotics and gut supportive medication will also be beneficial.

Recovery can be slow depending on each individual case and your rabbit may be prone to recurrent problems depending on the underlying cause.

Myxomatosis In Rabbits

Your rabbit should be protected against two major diseases called Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (both strains). These can be potentially fatal.

Myxomatosis is a widespread disease caused by a virus. All types of rabbit are potentially susceptible, including house rabbits.

The disease is spread by blood- sucking insects such as the rabbit flea and mosquitoes. When an infected insect bites a rabbit, a small amount of the virus is placed in their skin as the insect feeds. Within a few days the virus passes into the rabbit’s blood spreading it to several sites. The virus mainly multiplies in the skin around the eyes, nose, face, skin inside their ears and around the anus and genitalia areas. It is best to try and prevent your rabbit from coming into contact with wild rabbits as they tend to carry a lot of fleas and can themselves be infected.

Generally the first sign of infection that you will notice are puffy eyes, lips and ears as well as swellings around their genitalia. Within 24 hours these swellings can become very severe, eating and drinking becomes more difficult and unfortunately death usually occurs within 2 weeks of infection. Some rabbits do survive the disease with intensive nursing but they are usually left with severe scarring and scabs over their body.

There is no specific treatment for Myxomatosis so it is vital that you ensure your rabbit is protected against it.

The most effective way to do this is by flea and insect control and vaccination.

Spot on treatments are available to protect your rabbit against fleas and nets over their hutches will help with mosquito control.

The vaccination against both Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease can be given from 5 weeks of age, with booster vaccinations given annually and it offers the best possible chance of immunity.