Like all pets, it is important to take your rabbit for its first vet examination as soon as you possibly can. The first visit gives the vet an opportunity to establish a baseline for the bunny's health and to identify any potential health issues. Then plan on taking your rabbit for a vet visit once a year. Be sure to prepare for the visit by assembling information about where you obtained your bunny, the daily care you give, including diet and exercise, a description of the rabbit's environment and normal behaviors and any concerns you may have about your pet's health or behaviors. Also discuss grooming requirements with your vet to be sure you understand the proper procedures and agree on what the vet will do.
At this time, pet rabbits in the U.S. are not required to receive any specific vaccinations. However, two diseases are spreading among rabbits worldwide -- myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic disease. In the U.K., rabbits are being vaccinated to prevent these toxic diseases, but no vaccinations are currently available in the U.S. Be sure to talk to your vet about future availability for vaccinations against these diseases.
Neutering male and female pet rabbits is generally recommended. In addition to avoiding pregnancy, female rabbits are susceptible to uterine cancer and other uterine diseases. In fact, in some rabbit populations, incidents of malignant uterine cancer have been documented as high as 80%. Neutering also prevents breast disease, which is far less prevalent, but spreads quickly when it does occur. For male rabbits, neutering is recommended to prevent aggressive behavior and urine spraying. Rabbits should be neutered around the time they reach sexual maturity. This ranges between four and six months for small to medium-sized rabbits and up to nine months for the giant breeds. Neutering should not be done before four months of age. However, for females, neutering before the age of two months helps prevent uterine and breast diseases.
Chewing is a vital way that rabbits relate to their world. They use their teeth to eat and for the exercise and mental stimulation associated with chewing. Unfortunately, the most common source of health problems among rabbits stems from their teeth. Rabbits wear down their teeth at a rate of about 3 mm per week. They have six incisors (the teeth you see in front) and premolars and molars in their cheeks. Under ideal conditions, the incisors will touch when the jaw is at rest, but the molars will not.
Dental disease can be caused from a variety of reasons. Sometimes teeth come in with an overgrowth, other times they grow in crooked and affect the bite. Overgrown roots in upper teeth can cause blocked tear ducts and lumps behind the eyes. Trauma to the face may result in lost or damaged teeth or malocclusion (misalignment of teeth). Some rabbits are prone to dental infections; others don't get enough calcium, which weakens the jaw and surrounding bones. In most cases, improper diets are the source of dental problems.
When rabbits suffer from dental disease, they eat less to avoid pain and then their general health starts to deteriorate. To catch dental disease early, watch for signs of lack of appetite, being selective about foods, dropping foods out of the mouth, excessive tearing or salivating, nasal discharge, tooth grinding or bulging of an eye. To remain healthy, your rabbit's teeth may need to be trimmed periodically. Be sure to have the vet show you how to trim them safely or simply have the vet do the trimming. In some cases, when the trimming approaches the gum line or cheek, rabbits may need anesthesia for the procedure. Plan on having your rabbit's teeth trimmed at least once a year.
Another common health problem for rabbits is gastrointestinal disease. When rabbits don't get enough exercise, eat unbalanced diets or don't get enough water, gastrointestinal problems can occur. Usually the symptoms appear when rabbits show signs of loss of appetite, picky eating or lethargy. Often the problem is associated with eliminating waste. If you observe any of these symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away.
Other Health Issues
Obesity and lack of exercise are responsible for a few other health issues common to rabbits.
- Sore Hock (pododermatitis). Sore hock is a skin problem on the underside of rabbits' feet. When rabbits are obese or are exposed to damp flooring, the bottom of their feet can become inflamed, leading to cuts and ulcers that can get as deep as the bone. If your rabbit's feet are inflamed, take your pet to the veterinarian right away. To prevent sore hock, keep your rabbits cage dry; place a soft, dry fabric in the rabbit's rest/hiding space, particularly in wire cages; make sure your pet rabbit has enough space in the cage and gets plenty of exercise daily; and don't let your rabbit become overweight.
- Osteoporosis. A rabbit's normal daily activity should keep its bones strong. But rabbits that are not given exercise daily or confined to cages that are too small can lose bone density, making them susceptible to broken bones. Give your rabbit plenty of space and keep it active to maintain healthy bones.
- Cardiovascular Disease. Much like humans, rabbits need exercise to tone muscles and respond to stress. Without it, a stressful situation could easily cause cardiac failure.