When it comes to sharing their problems, and by this, I mean their medical ailments rather than their concerns on how Brexit is affecting carrot prices, rabbits are very introverted. You definitely wouldn’t find Peter Rabbit appearing on ‘Embarrassing Bodies’. Indeed, he would be very keen on keeping his personal issues private and would do his best to ensure no one else knew and that includes you.
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So why do rabbits adopt this level of statecraft that would fool even the likes of James Bond when it comes to their health?
Hidden signals of illness and infection in rabbits
Rabbits in the animal kingdom are a prey species. Like all animals that spend their lives constantly vigilant of predators wanting to pick off the weakest, they have developed effective survival techniques. Your rabbit may live the life of total luxury, be free from any risks and have nothing to fear except perhaps Boris the fat cat from next door. But they still have the same evolutionary hang-ups of their wild counterparts of hiding illness/injury.
This technique of not putting a plaque around your neck saying “eat me I’m an easy meal” is useful out on the Badlands of a green wide meadow where healthcare is rather sparse. However, for rabbits with owners looking out for their pet’s health, this makes it harder to identify when your rabbit has an infection or is unwell. Unfortunately, this means that rabbits are often very unwell by the time they come to the vets for treatment, making treatment more difficult and less likely to be successful.
Rabbit owners need to put their Sherlock Holmes’ hats on and be super vigilant for subtle signs of possible infection. When you have concerns, take them to the vets.
What are the possible signs of an infection?
Here are a few of the most common tell-tale signs of infection in rabbits. Although not exhaustive, if you witness any of these, your bunny may have an issue;
Get to know your bunny’s normal behaviour. Subtle changes such as not jumping up to greet you, quieter demeanour or less interaction with other rabbits may be the only signs that your rabbit has a significant infection and should prompt an immediate trip to the vets.
This is typically indicative of pain. This can indicate dental disease including a tooth root abscess or dental spurs, but can also be a sign of pain somewhere else.
Drooling is often an indication of dental disease, including dental spurs or dental infections. Drool that has dried will leave crusty or clumped hair under the chin. If the rabbit has rubbed its face, evidence of the drool may be seen on the front legs.
Runny nose/eyes/sneezing/laboured breathing
Rabbits are particularly prone to respiratory infections. You may notice discharge from the eyes or nose, sneezing, wheezing, or laboured breathing. Rabbits normally breathe through their nose, so breathing with their mouth open often indicates severe respiratory difficulty.
A change in your rabbit’s appetite, either less interest in all food, or preferring certain foods may indicate an infection. Often bunnies with a temperature or pain will be less keen to eat. If they have pain in their mouth, they may avoid pellets or hay, but continue to eat softer foods.
Change in stools
Rabbits’ stools provide a lot of information regarding their health. Monitoring their litter tray/bedding will often provide an early indication if they are unwell. A normal, healthy rabbit will produce regular, round faecal pellets. If their pellets become smaller, irregular shaped or fewer, this is a concern. Passing no stools is often very serious, and could indicate that your rabbit may be developing a life-threatening condition known as gut stasis.
Head tilt or unsteadiness
Often known as wry neck, it can be indicative of many conditions, but particularly ear infections and infection with a parasite called E. cuniculi.
Change in body temperature
Because of their furry coat, it is often difficult to determine whether a rabbit is hot or cold by feeling them. However, changes in body temperature can sometimes be felt on their ears. Hot or cold ears may be indicative of an infection, particularly if any other clinical signs are noted.
If you think your rabbit is doing any of the above or just isn’t right then take them as soon as possible to see the vet to be checked over. Don’t rely on your rabbit breaking from 40 million years of conditioning to make it obvious they are unwell. If it seems obvious, they have likely been sick for a while and have been keeping it on the down low. Remember, early treatment saves rabbits’ lives – be a bunny hero.
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