Home Health Exam for Your Rabbit
By Ronda Churchwell, GHRS
As you live with and observe your rabbit, you become the best judge of whether or not they are exhibiting different behaviors than normal. The best way to catch a medical issue early on is to do a home health check once a month – this can save your rabbit’s life! Getting to know your rabbit is the first defense, so please read on to help familiarize yourself with your special friend.
Put your rabbit in a comfortable position for both of you, in your lap, or on a soft towel or blanket so their feet don’t slip. Have good lighting and keep treats within reach to make this a rewarding experience for you and your bun.
Start with a light “massage” by feeling your rabbit from head to toe. You are looking for lumps or bumps, but your bunny thinks he/she is getting a spa treatment! Be sure to feel the sides of the face and jaw line. You are looking for asymmetrical areas or lumps that may indicate a jaw abscess. Note whether or not your rabbit is bony or chubby, and adjust the diet accordingly. See read the “What Should I Feed My Bunny” section on this site
While you are “massaging” check the fur and skin for white dandruff, fleas and flea dirt (looks like tiny black specks) scabs, or fur loss. Loss of fur or white dandruff could indicate fur mites. Mites and fleas should be treated with medicine from your veterinary office. Special note: NEVER use Frontline on your rabbit. It has been known to cause seizures and death.
Check nose for discharge. Check eyes for cloudy areas on the pupils, and for excessive tearing or discharge. Check inside ears for brownish build-up. This could be excessive wax if they cannot clean their ears properly, or ear mites, which must be treated by a vet.
Look at the front teeth (incisors). The upper and lower teeth should meet together evenly in a horizontal line. Teeth that curve and grow inside or outside the mouth need to be clipped or extracted by a veterinarian. This is called malocclusion, and can hinder the rabbit from being able to eat well. A rabbit’s teeth grow continually, and while they love hard things to chew on, the normal eating of hay and quality pellets and greens are enough to keep them worn to their proper place. Malocclusion is caused by improper placement of the teeth within the jaw. Back teeth should be checked by your vet at your yearly exam. If Bunny stops eating, the points on the back teeth are one of the first things a vet will check. Abnormal issues with the teeth can cause abscesses and be life threatening, and need to be treated right away.
Check your rabbit’s bottom side around the anus and genital area. There should not be any feces stuck to the fur, or staining or wetness from urine. If your rabbit is overweight, they will have problems keeping their bottom clean. Flies, even indoors, will be attracted to wet dirty bottoms and can lay eggs on the skin which can hatch very quickly into maggots and burrow under the skin of the rabbit. This can be life threatening and will need attention from a vet immediately. If the skin is red and irritated, wash asap with running water and a mild soap, rinse very thoroughly, and dry with a soft towel. Sulfadene is a common ointment that you can get from the vet to protect the skin and help it heal.
Normal urine can be pale yellow to red to orange to brown. It is thought to be affected by plant pigments that can change the color. Red urine is a common concern with rabbit owners, worried that there may be blood in the urine. You can check for the presence of blood by pouring a small amount of peroxide in the urine. If it bubbles, it may mean bleeding, and a vet visit is in order. If your rabbit is straining to urinate, it could mean sludge or stones in the bladder. This is a painful condition, so get to your vet asap.
Always monitor rabbit fecals. Notice any changes in size, shape, smell, amount and hardness or softness. Small fecals and a lot fewer fecals can indicate a digestive problem called GI stasis -This should be treated immediately by your vet. There may be days when your rabbit has less of an appetite than usual, however, if they miss a meal or refuse their favorite treat, it can be an emergency. Please read this article on GI stasis and follow the guidelines given. Keep a close eye on them for the next 24 hours to see if things return to normal. If not or if your bunny has stopped eating, drinking or pooping, this should be considered an emergency. Get to your vet ASAP.
Lastly, check the nails, and be sure to trim any that are more than ¼ inch past the quick. If you are unable to do this please take your bunny to a vet or make an appointment at the Rabbit Center for grooming. Bunnies whose nails are not clipped run the risk of tearing the entire toe off if the nail gets caught in carpeting, fabric or even the clothes you wear. This is much more painful for the bun than if you accidentally nick a vein while you are cutting the nails.
Be sure to give your bunny a couple of treats after your monthly health exam and let them out for some free time. Don’t forget the kisses on the nose, and tell them how beautiful and special they are before you put them down!!