Pet Factsheets


A vitamin deficiency can cause a syndrome known as hypovitaminosis which means a deficiency in a specific vitamin. This usually refers to a long-term deficiency and is not that common in rabbits.

What is hypovitaminosis?

Hypovitaminosis is the medical terms for a vitamin deficiency. Vitamin deficiencies are uncommon in rabbits, and usually occur due to inadequate intake of the vitamin (called a primary deficiency). They can also occur as a side-effect of disease, such as malabsorption (called a secondary deficiency).

What causes vitamin deficiencies?

Rabbits can become deficient in several different vitamins, each presenting with different signs and problems. Some of the most common vitamins that cause deficiencies in rabbits include vitamin A, vitamin E (selenium), calcium, vitamin D and potassium. Most deficiencies in these vitamins are due to inadequate intake.

Malabsorption occurs when disease or parasites prevents the intestines from absorbing important nutrients and fluids. Some diseases which cause malabsorption include parasites, such as coccidiosis, tumours, abscesses, or rabbit megacolon syndrome (RMS).

What signs will my rabbit show?

The clinical signs of hypovitaminosis depends on the type of vitamin that is lacking. Muscle weakness and twitching may be seen if the rabbit is lacking calcium, potassium or vitamin E. Rabbits who are suffering with hypovitaminosis A may show signs such as circling, paralysis and seizures. Vitamin D deficiency commonly results from inadequate sunlight exposure, especially sunlight with adequate ultraviolet B rays. These rabbits may show muscle weakness.

How do I prevent a vitamin deficiency?

Rabbits must be fed a good quality and suitable diet. This should be at least 80-85% hay and grass, 10% fresh greens and herbs and 5% extruded nuggets. Feed your rabbit a good diet from a young age. Do not allow them to become overweight or selectively feed on low-nutrient ingredients.

Female rabbits who are lactating and feeding a litter, especially if the litter is large, are at risk of hypocalcaemia (lack of calcium) due to the high milk production. It is very important to feed an appropriate diet for a lactating doe. Your veterinary practice can discuss your rabbit’s diet and eating habits with you to ensure they are being fed correctly and to try and minimise problems related to the diet.

House rabbits will need to get access to natural sunlight, to gain enough Vitamin D.

Rapid treatment of illness can prevent malabsorption deficiencies.

What care will be needed if my rabbit has hypovitaminosis?

If hypovitaminosis is suspected, your vet may take a faecal sample to rule out parasites, and a blood sample to check levels of calcium and potassium. They may also suggest an ultrasound to look at the digestive system for any signs of tumours or abscesses.

If the rabbit’s diet is identified as the cause, then this will need addressing to ensure the diet helps your rabbit to overcome the illness and prevent reoccurrences. Your vet may recommend vitamin supplements until the condition resolves - these must be used with care and only under veterinary direction as overdosing of some vitamins and minerals can cause additional illness.

If the cause is related to malabsorption, this will be addressed according to the specific disease that is suspected.

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