Merck Manual

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Routine Health Care of Rabbits

By

Diane McClure

, DVM, PhD, DACLAM, Animal Resource Center Veterinary Services

Last full review/revision Aug 2020 | Content last modified Sep 2020
Topic Resources

Rabbits should receive annual health checkups. Veterinarians may examine rabbits using techniques similar to those used for dogs and cats. Veterinarians typically examine the mouth to evaluate dental health. Sex can be determined by depressing the external genitalia to reveal a slit-like vulva in females or a penis in males. The testicles descend at 10 to 12 weeks. Normal body temperature is 103°F to 104°F (39.4°C to 40°C). A body temperature of less than 100.4°F (38°C) or greater than 105°F (40.6°C) is cause for concern.

Spaying or neutering helps prevent unwanted litters, spraying, aggressive behavior in males, and uterine cancer in females.

Routine Care of Your Rabbit

When To Do

  • Daily

  • Daily

  • Daily

  • Daily

  • Twice a week

  • Once a week

  • Once a year

  • When needed

  • When needed

  • Give fresh water and food, including fresh hay

  • Let out of cage for supervised exercise and play

  • Brush and remove shed hair of rabbits with long fur

  • Clean out the litter box

  • Brush and remove shed hair of rabbits with short fur

  • Clean and disinfect cage and food and water systems

  • Veterinary checkup

  • Give fresh bedding

  • Give new chew toys

Nails should be trimmed every 1 to 2 months or as needed. Rabbits should not be declawed.

Routine vaccinations are not currently required for rabbits in the USA.

Signs of Illness

Signs of Illness in Rabbits

  • Body temperature less than 100.4°F (38°C) or greater than 105°F (40.6°C)

  • Discharge from the nose or eyes

  • Fur loss or red, swollen skin

  • Dark red urine

  • Loss of energy

  • Loss of appetite and weight

  • Drooling

  • Diarrhea, or no droppings for more than 12 hours

  • Not hopping or moving normally

  • Trouble breathing

If any of these signs occur, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Signs of illness include discharge from the nose and eyes; fur loss; red or swollen skin; dark red urine; loss of energy, appetite, or weight; drooling; diarrhea or no droppings for more than 12 hours; not hopping or moving normally; and trouble breathing. A rabbit in pain may chatter or grind its teeth while sitting in a hunched position. If any of these signs occur, you should take the rabbit to your veterinarian immediately.

Giving Medication

Very few drugs are approved for use in rabbits. Occasionally, drugs approved for use in other species, such as cats or dogs, are used to treat rabbits. Caution is necessary when using antibiotics that suppress the normally occurring, harmless digestive system bacteria in rabbits. The use of inappropriate antibiotics may result in an imbalance in intestinal bacteria, severe diarrhea, or even death. This has been called antibiotic toxicity. Antibiotics that should not be used in rabbits include clindamycin, lincomycin, erythromycin, ampicillin, amoxicillin/clavulanic acid, and cephalosporins. The flea treatment fipronil should not be used in rabbits because it may be poisonous for some individuals.

Prolonged fasting before a surgical operation is not required or recommended. Rabbits cannot vomit (a concern with other species during general anesthesia). Your veterinarian may administer medication before surgery to help reduce stress. It is crucial for rabbits to start eating after surgery, and treatment with pain medication for 1 to 2 days after surgery will help prevent loss of appetite. Hay and water are typically offered as soon as possible after surgery. Alfalfa hay or treats (like bananas) may improve a rabbit's appetite after a surgical procedure.

Rabbits will chew out skin sutures. Therefore, veterinarians close surgical incisions with absorbable sutures buried beneath the skin or use other skin closure methods.

Dental Care

Problems with the constantly growing front teeth (incisors) are common in rabbits. Proper dental care will help prevent these problems.

Dental Malocclusion

Malocclusion of the teeth is usually inherited in rabbits but can be minimized with proper care.

Malocclusion of the teeth is usually inherited in rabbits but can be minimized with proper care.

All of a rabbit’s teeth (incisors, premolars, and molars) grow throughout the life of the rabbit. Tooth length is normally kept in check by the wearing action of opposing teeth when the rabbit chews. However, problems with overgrown teeth can occur when the teeth are positioned unevenly in the jaw, known as malocclusion. Malocclusion is probably the most common inherited disease in rabbits and leads to overgrowth of incisors (front teeth). Maloccluded incisors can result in difficulty eating and drinking.

The 2 types of malocclusion in rabbits are underbite (lower teeth protruding in front of the upper teeth) and overbite (upper teeth protruding in front of the lower teeth). A veterinarian can anesthetize a rabbit with malocclusion and trim the teeth to minimize problems. Malocclusion is usually inherited, but young rabbits can also damage their incisor teeth by pulling on the cage wire, which results in misalignment and possible malocclusion as the teeth grow. This condition is difficult to tell apart from inherited malocclusion. Inherited malocclusion generally can be detected in rabbits as young as 3 to 8 weeks old.

Occasionally, the cheek teeth overgrow and cause severe tongue or cheek wounds.

Dental Abscesses

Infection of the tissue surrounding a tooth may lead to abscesses. These can be caused by foreign objects (often plant material) that become embedded between the tooth and gum, exposure of the sensitive tissue at the center of a tooth (pulp) following tooth trimming, or other diseases or dietary problems. Several teeth are commonly affected. A thorough dental examination and radiographs (x-ray images) or computed tomography images (CT scan) are required to confirm the diagnosis. The abscessed tooth may need to be extracted. If multiple cheek teeth need to be extracted, the chance of recovery is small.

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