Health checks - what to do!
It is important to give your rabbit a thorough health check every so often to ensure they are healthy and so any problems can be detected early, and treatment commenced as soon as possible. Problems that are treated early stand a much better chance of being resolved, are generally cheaper to treat and mean that the rabbit doesn't suffer unnecessarily.
What should I check on a daily basis?
Make sure that your rabbit is eating what would be a normal amount of food for them each day. Ensure that they are not refusing to eat foods that they would normally eat, dribbling saliva from their mouth, pawing at their mouth, have unpleasant odour from the mouth, or have any sores around their mouth. Any changes in how much, how they eat or what your rabbit eats can indicate a medical problem and you should take your rabbit to see your vet straight away. This is especially important if your rabbit isn't eating anything.
Some rabbits drink more than others depending upon the diet, but excessive drinking, or drinking less than normal can both indicate problems. Check daily to see how much your rabbit is drinking and if you feel they are drinking a lot more or less than normal then you will need to consult your vet for advice. Sometimes it helps to measure the water into the bowl or bottle and then measure it again a few hours later to gauge how much is being drunk. However, if you have two rabbits this will not help.
Urine and faeces
Rabbit urine varies dramatically in colour from clear, pale yellow, yellow, brown, red and all shades in-between. All of these are normal, but you should check that there is no blood in the urine, and that the urine isn't looking thick and sludgy, you should also check that your rabbit is passing urine without straining. If you notice anything concerning about your rabbit's urine, then speak to your vet.
Rabbits produce upwards of 300+ droppings per day. The droppings should be spherical in shape, all a similar size, be dry and crumble between the fingers, and should not be strung together on fur. The caecotrophs should not be seen as these should be eaten as they are passed by the rabbit. If you see uneaten caecotrophs or your rabbit's droppings are small, hard, dry, strung together, or they are not passing many/any, you must speak to your vet.
Every day, and two or three times a day during the warmer months of the year, you need to make sure that your rabbit's back end and bottom area are clean of faeces and dry with no urine scalding. This is particularly important during the warmer months of the summer where flies are attracted to rabbits whose bottom is dirty for whatever reason and lay their eggs in this area. Within 6-12 hours (depending upon the environmental condition) the eggs hatch out into maggots which start eating into the rabbit, with often fatal consequences.
If your rabbit is dirty then you will need to make sure you clean them - there is often a health or welfare reason behind rabbits that get dirty bottoms or urine scalding, so speak to your vet if this becomes an issue.
What should I check on a weekly basis?
Most rabbits will let you check their incisor (front teeth) by gently curling their lips back. If you think your rabbit's teeth are too long, book an appointment with your vet. The following are also signs of dental problems wich may be associated with the molar (back) teeth:
- Your rabbit isn't eating as much as normal
- Dribbling and wet around the chin
- Lumps along the lower jaw or any hard lumps anywhere else around their head
- Watery eyes
- Favouring soft foods
Molar teeth are impossible to check without specific equipment which your vet will have access too.
Have a look at your rabbit's eyes to make sure there is no discharge coming from them. This may also manifest as sticky or matted fur under the eye or on the inside of the rabbit's front legs as they wipe their eyes. Ensure that the eyes aren't looking sore and the rabbit is able to open and shut the eyes without any problems. Look at them from above and make sure one eye doesn't protrude more than the other. Eye problems can also be related to a rabbit's teeth, so if you notice anything wrong with your rabbit's eyes you should ask your vet for advice.
It's rare to see a rabbit with a runny nose, they like to keep themselves clean so will wipe their nose with the inside of their front legs, but you may see a white discharge from the nose. If your rabbit has matted fur on the inside of their front legs, is sneezing, has laboured or noisy breathing, or you notice any discharge, then take your rabbit along to see your vet straight away.
It is pretty much impossible to see down a rabbit's ears just by looking, and you should never poke anything down your rabbit's ears even if you do see some wax or discharge. But, if you notice a horrible smell coming from your rabbit's ears, they are scratching at them more than normal, shaking their head or you see any discharge coming from one or both ears, then your rabbit may have an ear infection and veterinary treatment will be needed. You should also feel around the base of the ears to check for any lumps. Lop eared rabbits are especially prone to ear base abscesses and often the first and only sign if a small, pea sized lump at the base of the ear. Often this is not outwardly painful, but the infection is likely to be deep seated within the ear structure and you should consult your vet straight away.
What should I check for on a monthly basis?
Rabbit's claws grow continually throughout their life, so each month check the claws on all four feet to make sure that they aren't too long, and they aren't beginning to grow into the rabbit's foot. In particular, you need to keep a special eye on the dew claws on the front feet as these don't get worn down by hopping around on concrete or digging, and are usually the first to begin to curl round into the rabbit's foot. Long claws are also likely to get caught and can become damaged, which is painful for the rabbit.
You can either learn to clip your own rabbit's claws or take your rabbit along to your vet or vet nurse who will be happy to clip them for you.
Check the rabbit's foot pads on all four feet to ensure that there are no signs of pododermatitis - this is where the fur on the foot pads wears away and sore patches appear. This is more common in overweight rabbits, house rabbits, large breeds and the Rex breed whose fur is a lot thinner.
Pododermatitis can be very painful and if the sores are infected then they will require veterinary treatment. Measures that you can take at home to try and prevent the problem or help a rabbit who is suffering from it include, keeping litter trays and hutches as clean and dry as possible, providing extra padding on the rabbit's floor space and taking them off really hard surfaces such as concrete or carpet which creates friction on the footpads and is a common reason for pododermatitis.
If the rabbit has any kind of shelf or box that they jump on and off of, these are best removed to stop any further damage to the rabbit's feet.
Skin and fur
You should check the condition of your rabbit's skin and fur to pick up any potential mite problems or wounds that may be on the skin. Signs of mites will include bald patches which may be scaly and pink, dandruff or irritation which will manifest as excessive scratching.
You also need to have a thorough root through the fur down to the skin to detect any cuts, scratches or wounds which may have appeared.
If you see signs of mites, then your rabbit will need treatment from your vet for this. Any wounds should also be seen by your vet in case the rabbit requires antibiotics, pain relief or stitches.
Remember - your rabbit will need yearly vaccinations. Rabbits require vaccinations against myxomatosis and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (strains 1 & 2).