Unfortunately, rabbit owners may have to deal with an emergency involving their pet. It is essential to know how to recognise and deal with such emergencies before they arise and to know who to contact when they do. Immediate veterinary attention can mean the difference between life and death for a very sick or injured rabbit. Getting your rabbit to the vet's clinic (where all the necessary equipment is on hand) is quicker and gives it a better chance than calling the vet out to your home. The most important thing to remember in an emergency is - Don't panic! - this could cause further anxiety for an already frightened animal and it wastes valuable time.
Rabbits can develop hairballs just as cats do from frequent grooming but the rabbit cannot vomit the hairballs which remain in the stomach. Surgery is sometimes needed to correct the problem. Rabbits should be brushed daily and fed a hairball lubricant such as those used on cats.Because rabbits constantly groom, they occasionally develop large hairballs within their stomach. After some time, the hairball gets larger, occupying more of the stomach and eventually blocking the junction between the stomach and intestines. If untreated, death will result. Symptoms include hesitance to eat pellets, and eventually to eat anything, smaller fecal pellets, general weakness, weight loss, and general inappetence. Treatment includes surgery to remove the hairball and administration of intestinal lubricants along with regular grooming. However, the best way to prevent this condition is to feed pellets containing at least 18 percent fiber and timothy hay. Feeding fresh pineapple juice or pineapple chunks which contain the digestive enzyme papain, may help prevent stomach hairballs. A suitable alternative is piña colada yogurt , using ½ teaspoon per 2 pounds of body weight daily.
Weepy Eye. Bacterial infection of the rabbit's eyelids, is usually caused by dirt or dust. It's easily treated with antibiotic eyedrops or ointments that can be obtained from your local veterinarian.
Snuffles and Colds. Usually characterized by sneezing, watery eyes and nasal discharge, this ailment is similar to colds in humans. The front feet may become soiled and matted because the rabbit rubs its nose with the inside of the front paws. This can be cured by placing water soluble antibiotic that can be obtained from your veterinarian in the water bowl.
Scratches and Cuts. All cuts and scratches must be cleaned immediately and treated with sulphate ointment or powder. Deep puncture holes or severe lacerations should be treated by a veterinarian.
Bleeding wounds. Fighting with another rabbit or an attack by a dog can result in severe bleeding. Direct pressure should be applied to the wounds by clean, washed hands. If the bleeding continues, contact your vet. Any rabbit that has been attacked by a dog/fox/ferret/cat should be taken to the vet - even if there are no obvious external wounds. The internal organs may be damaged and the rabbit may be suffering from shock which can be fatal.
Fractured limbs or spine. Fractures can occur if a rabbit is dropped, or falls, from a height. There may be obvious signs of injury, eg the rabbit may have difficulty moving around or be lame on one leg. These injuries need urgent attention - call your vet immediately.
Pain. Rabbits in pain usually adopt a hunched-up posture. They will not show any interest in food or their surroundings. They often half-close their eyes and grind their teeth loudly (NB some rabbits also grind their teeth when they're happy!). There any many possible causes of pain but stomach problems and dental disease are probably the most common. Call your vet for advice.
Diarrhea. Most rabbits at some time will produce runny or soft pellets while appearing as alert and active as usual. This is normal - your rabbit does not need to see the vet unless the pellets do not return to their normal appearance after 2-3 days. However, rabbits that have severe diarrhoea (liquid/watery faeces produced in pools) and show signs of pain (see above) or a lack of interest in food and their surroundings, should be taken to the vet promptly. Rabbits with severe diarrhoea are at risk of becoming dehydrated. This condition can be attributed to the over-feeding of green foods. It must be treated immediately as in severe cases it is fatal. Seek veterinary advice. If the rabbit is not kept clean during this illness, maggot infestation may result.
Fly strike. 'Fly strike' is the term used to describe the condition caused by flies laying their eggs on the skin/fur of a rabbit. The eggs hatch out into maggots which burrow into the skin of the rabbit and start to eat its flesh. The maggots release chemicals into the rabbit's bloodstream which can kill it. This is a really horrible condition and the prognosis for affected rabbits is very poor. The flies are attracted by faeces or urine soiling on the rabbit's fur. This can result if the rabbit is overweight, has bladder or digestive problems, or is kept in unsanitary conditions. If you find maggots on your rabbit - you must take it immediately to the vet.
Pasteurellosis is caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida, and is most often transmitted between chronically infected does (females) and their litters or among breeding pairs. The bacteria will most often settle in the nose, lungs, and eye membranes but can spread. During infection, respiratory disease such as infection of the nasal passages and siniuses and pneumonia, is common. Often the result of Pasteurella are infections of the eye membranes, middle ears, jawbone, and uterus. Other symptoms include sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge, listlessness, and loss of appetite. Discharge from the eye includes continual accumulation of tears and other matter at the corner of the eye and the soiling of hair under the lower eyelid. Respiratory and eye infections should be treated immediately with systemic (body wide) and topically applied antibiotics. If these infections get out of hand, encephalitis, the infection of the brain, can result. Early detection and treatment is crucial if the rabbit is to be cured because Pasteurella hides within pus in inaccessible areas. The disease is considered incurable when it's allowed to reach a chronic state. It's usually treated by antibiotics.
Parasites. Ear mite infestation Accumulation of a light brown crusty material that fills or nearly fills the external ear canal signals a possible ear mite infestation. The tissues underneath are usually irritated and raw. In severe cases, lesions may spread to nearby areas of the head. It may be treated with a topical preparation, although an injectable medication has proven successful too.
Cheyletiella Skin Mange Known as "walking dandruff," this parasitic infection of the skin is caused by the Cheyletiella mange mite. Symptoms include large clumps of hair detaching, and a dried scale and dandruff witin the rabbit's fur. Rabbits may or may not display any signs such as increased scratching. The infestation can be treated with an injectable drug along with a medicated shampoo to kill the mites and clear up lesions.
Giardiasis. A very hazardous and usually fatal disease of the intestines, it's found mainly in young rabbits recently purchased. Giardiasis must be treated by a veterinarian with appropriate medication. Also, during recovery, the rabbit should receive plenty of fluids, nutritional support, and heat. Symptoms include abnormal feces, dehydration, lethargy, and low body temperature. This is one reason why it's usually not a good idea to buy a rabbit from a pet store. However, a visit to the veterinarian shortly after purchase is a good idea.
Coccidiosis. Rabbits can become infected with the one-celled parasite Coccidiosis by consuming food or water with contaminated feces. Symptoms include diarrhea, loss of appetite, failure to gain weight, soft to watery feces, mucus or blood in feces, soiled anal area, dehydration, and eventually death. This disease can be treated with sulfa antibiotics sometimes, but it's difficult to obtain a cure.
Sore Hocks (Hutch Sores) Sore hocks are infected and ulcerated sores on the underside of the rabbit's foot that usually result from overexposure to wire flooring in cages or lack of movement due to living in a small enclosure. Over exposure to the uneven surface of a wire floor can puncture through the fur, infecting the tissue and creating a serious wound. This can be treated by topical and injectable antibiotics as well as bandaging the feet. If the problem is severe, treatment can last several weeks.
Overgrown Teeth. Malocclusion, or improperly aligned teeth, is a structural defect that prevents the always-growing upper and lower incisors from meeting each other while the rabbit is chewing. In order for the normal wear and tear to happen, the teeth must meet. Symptoms are the desire to eat, but the inability to chew and swallow food normally as well as a wet dewlap. Wounds can occur in the mouth. The only way to treat this problem is to have the teeth regularly clipped by a professional throughout the rabbit's life. Many veterinarians suggest that a rabbit with this condition should never be bred.
Cutting Your Rabbit's Toenails. Cutting your rabbit's toenails will prevent you from being scratched. Care must be taken not to clip too short or you may cut the blood vessel at the base of the nail. This is seen easier in white rabbits than colored rabbits. It's better to seek advice and be shown how to cut the nails by a professional before trying for the first time.
Blood in a rabbit's urine. Dark urine from a rabbit is usually caused by one of two things: (1) Blood or (2) Porphyrin pigment in the urine. Red blood cells can come from a number of different sites in the female rabbit: the uterus, the bladder, the kidneys, or possibly the urethra. Bleeding from the uterus would most likely be caused by either an infection of the uterus or cancer. Of these two processes, infection would most typically result in severe illness or death sooner than cancer, but because of the nature of "bleeding" both would lead to rapid deterioration. Anemia, weight loss, anorexia, and fever would be likely clinical signs in such an individual resulting in death if untreated in the matter of days, to at most one to two months. Urinary tract infections, or stones, can result in red blood cells in the urine, and dependent on the severity of the infection. Urinary tract infections are not life threatening but can lead to chronic discomfort, and over time, stress and predisposition to other diseases related directly to stress or anemia. Blood from the kidney suggests damage to this organ. The blood is usually from one affected kidney but could be from both. The more common cause of kidney damage would be: cancer, infection, kidney stones, or trauma (force of a blow or something falling on the rabbit). Urethral bleeding is most often caused by trauma to the very end of the urethra i.e. vulvar area. Trauma would include fighting (bite wounds); matting of fur around the vulva/anus area can also lead to a severe moist skin infection that can result in bleeding, and occasionally bleeding trauma. Urethral growths that ulcerate can bleed, thus causing blood to be evident in the urine. Occasionally bleeding rectal growths will drip blood that will inadvertently mix with urine and confuse matters.
Antibiotics should never be used in rabbits unless they are specifically prescribed by a veterinarian.