Did you know rabbits hop and then twist in mid-air to express happiness? In the rabbit community, it’s affectionately known as “binky”.
Next to dogs and cats, rabbits are the third most common pet animal. Right now, there are about 14 million pet rabbits in the world.
If you just got a pet rabbit, make sure you know all about them to ensure their safety and even yours!
Below, we’ve prepared a handy guide to rabbit diseases and illnesses you can use to learn more about your pet.
Yes, they can. Zoonotic diseases are diseases passed between humans and animals. In rabbits, there are four types:
Viruses, the tiniest infectious agents, are about 20-200 nanometers in diameter.
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis is a viral disease that can spread to humans through a rabbit’s feces. Caused by the arenavirus, it results in malformations and fetal death in pregnant women. Its symptoms are fever, encephalitis, or meningitis.
Bacteria are bigger than viruses. They have their DNA enclosed in a fatty membrane. Some of the rabbits’ infectious bacterial diseases are:
- Campylobacteriosis – among the symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhea, and fever
- Melioidosis – results in abscesses in the liver, lungs, or spleen
- Pasteurellosis – a severe disease that can be transmitted through bites or scratches, with symptoms such as bronchitis, lung abscesses, pneumonia, and peritonitis
- Q Fever – transmitted through urine or feces, producing symptoms like abdominal pain, chills, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, and more
- Salmonellosis – this causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, or vomiting
- Tetanus – transmitted when rabbits cause a wound by biting or scratching
- Tularemia – a rare disease also called rabbit fever, causing symptoms such as ulcers, pain in different parts of the body, enlargement of the liver and spleen, vomiting, diarrhea, and many more
- Yersiniosis – manifests in abdominal pain, diarrhea, enterocolitis, and fever, while systemic infection may cause liver and spleen abscesses, endocarditis, meningitis, and osteomyelitis
In many ways, parasite cells share similarities with human cells. This makes them different from viruses and bacteria. Among the rabbits’ parasitic diseases are:
- Cheyletiellosis – caused by a mite and results in skin irritation
- Coccidiosis – affects the digestive system, causing diarrhea, dehydration, and inflammation
- Giardiasis – transmitted from pasty and runny rabbit feces, with children and the immunosuppressed being most susceptible
- Leishmaniasis – is transmitted when a sandfly containing the parasite leishmania infantum comes into contact with a rabbit, resulting in the infected human’s congestion, nosebleed, ulcers, and more
- Microsporidiosis – a very common rabbit parasite that mainly affects the infected human’s brain and kidneys
Like parasites, fungi are eukaryotes. Eukaryotes are microorganisms with cells that have complex structures. Some of the most common fungi are molds and spores.
The following are two infectious fungal diseases of rabbits:
- Ringworm – infected rabbits are either asymptomatic or have red patches on the skin. In humans, symptoms include itchy skin and welts.
- Sporotrichosis – can either affect the lungs or become lymphocutaneous inflammation.
All of these disease types thrive in dirty environments. You have to maintain your rabbit’s hygiene to ensure that they remain healthy.
The rabies virus infects all mammals. Nevertheless, compared to other animals, rabbits have a low chance of getting rabies.
In an infected rabbit, the virus takes 2-3 weeks to incubate. Symptoms include:
- Bilateral conjunctivitis
- Head tilt and tremors
- Nasal discharge
- Teeth grinding
Death can come in 3-4 days after the symptoms’ onset. A suspected rabbit will be quarantined between 10 days to 6 months.
Unfortunately, there’s no approved rabies vaccine for rabbits. So make sure that you’re protecting your rabbit from rabid animals at all times.
Keeping your bunny inside the house will make them safer. If your pet is housed outside, provide an enclosure.
Yes. Rabies can be transmitted to humans through saliva or an open wound like a scratch.
Lice are ectoparasites that can live outside a rabbit’s body. If you notice your bunny itching or scratching frequently, chances are your pet has lice.
There are two kinds of lice: the sucking lice and the biting lice. The sucking lice can transmit blood-borne diseases such as anemia.
Remember to consult the vet immediately instead of buying over-the-counter medication. After proper treatment, make sure to clean your bunny’s cage, bedding, toys, and other belongings exposed to the lice.
Yes, rabbits can have a cerebrovascular accident or stroke. However, it’s uncommon.
A stroke occurs when a clotted or ruptured blood vessel interrupts the flow of oxygen and nutrients into a part of the brain. The symptoms include:
- Head tilt
- Facial weakness
- Falling over
- Hind leg paralysis
- Inability to stand
- Muscle spasms
- Rolling over uncontrollably
Watching a stroke’s symptoms can be scary. If it occurs, don’t panic and call the vet immediately.
Flystrike is caused by Lucilia sericata or the green bottle fly. The fly is attracted to wet fur that has urine or feces. It can lay 200 eggs on the rabbit’s skin. The eggs instantly hatch into maggots that feed on the bunny’s flesh.
The disease is most common during warm weather or the summer months. Among the signs are:
- Loss of appetite
- Strange smell
With the maggots’ growth, the rabbit develops severe shock. This eventually leads to collapse and death. To prevent flystrike, be sure to check your pet’s fur daily.
How to Keep Flies Away From Rabbits?
Flystrike mostly affects the rabbit’s rear, tail, back, and belly. You should inspect these areas regularly for signs of maggots.
Here are other ways you can keep flies away from your pet:
Keep your bunny clean at all times. Check its feet for urine or feces. If you find the feet dirty, wash them right away.
In summer, check the rabbit’s rear twice a day. You can have the fur clipped if it’s soiled with urine or feces easily.
Your pet’s cage and its immediate environment should be clean too. Change the bedding regularly.
Additionally, don’t forget the litter box. Remove the litter frequently.
Consider growing plants that help in repelling flies. Some examples are basil, bay leaf, lavender, mint, rue, tansy, and woodworm.
Can Rabbits Get Fleas?
Yes. Fleas are some of the ectoparasites that live outside a rabbit’s body.
Fleas and mites are often mixed up. Fleas are insects that can jump on and off, while mites are arachnids that live on the rabbit’s skin permanently.
If you have other pets in the house, fleas can jump from one pet to another, including your bunny.
Rabbits can get fleas at any time of the year. But they’re more common during hot weather or summer.
Some signs of fleas in rabbits are:
- Biting their skin
- Flea dirt
- Hair loss
- Scaly skin
What Can You Use on Rabbit for Fleas?
You can use a flea comb and a topical flea medication, both eradicating the fleas in 1-2 days.
In more severe cases, you can also use flea treatments. Although, you need to be careful because no rabbit-specific flea treatments are available.
Always consult a veterinarian before using any flea medications. Generally, cat flea treatments are safer than dog flea treatments.
Parvovirus, or parvo, affects mammals, including rabbits. It’s estimated that 50% of unvaccinated rabbits could acquire parvo.
It affects the gastrointestinal tract and causes serious vomiting and diarrhea. Rabbits can get it by being in direct contact with an infected animal or contaminated feces.
Because the virus is environmentally resistant, rabbits can also get it even without direct contact with an animal.
Remember to vaccinate your pet to ensure it won’t contract the disease.
When the bottom of a rabbit’s feet, or hocks, become inflamed and infected, they become sore hocks. The condition is known as pododermatitis as well.
Some home remedies are:
- Appropriate diet
- Clean and dry dressings
- Limiting vigorous activity during healing
- Topical ointments
Sore hocks are highly common. The usual causes are:
- Improper flooring
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of fur on feet
- Small cages
- Untrimmed nails
Tularemia, or rabbit fever, is an infectious bacterial disease that can be shared between rabbits and humans. The disease doesn’t spread from human to human. It’s usually found in wild rabbits.
People can get it in many ways, including consuming contaminated food or water, being bitten by an infected tick, handling an infected animal, or just breathing in the bacteria from a contaminated environment.
Symptoms in humans include skin ulcers, diarrhea, pneumonia, chills, weakness, and more. While some symptoms in infected rabbits are weakness, abscesses, fever, and ulcers.
This bacterial disease is relatively rare. Although, it’s best to protect yourself from wild rabbits when you’re outdoors. When handling them, you can use gloves.
To keep your rabbit healthy, you should check its eyes regularly. Look out for any change of appearance.
Remember that healthy eyes are clear and bright, with both pupils of the same size. Consult the vet if you discover weeping or discharge.
Some of the rabbits’ eye problems are:
- Abscesses – occurs when bacteria go inside the eye. If your bunny has a bulging eye accompanied by discharge, it could be an abscess.
- Cataracts – is marked by a grey or white cloudy appearance in one or both eyes. It causes a decline in vision and may eventually lead to blindness.
- Conjunctivitis or Rabbit Eye Infection – also known as pinkeye. Several things can cause the condition, including bacterial infection, a dusty environment, and other irritants like viruses.
- Corneal/Eye Ulcers – are open sores on the cornea. This condition is usually caused by an injury. It can be caused by hay entering the rabbit’s eye too.
- Glaucoma – increased pressure inside the eye. It’s a genetic condition in some breeds. It’s very painful and can lead to blindness if not treated.
- Tear Duct Obstruction – difficult to treat. Its signs include a thickening and white discharge in the corner of the eye. It’s usually the result of dental problems.
- Uveitis – inflammation of an eyeball. It can be due to infection, trauma, or foreign bodies. This condition can lead to blindness.
Rabbit diseases and illnesses can be prevented by maintaining your and your pet’s hygiene as well as the surrounding environment. Prevention is always better than cure. It’s crucial that you always check up on your pet too.
A healthy rabbit means a healthy pet owner. By taking care of your pet, you’re also taking care of your health.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.