Baby rabbits at Burford rehoming centre

Basic healthcare in rabbits

Getting to know how to spot health conditions in your rabbits can help to keep them happy and healthy.

Rabbit illnesses can progress very quickly, so the sooner they are seen by your vet, the better their chance of recovery.

Signs your rabbit is unwell

Rabbits are good at hiding illnesses, so it’s important to be able to spot the subtle signs that something is wrong. If your rabbit is feeling unwell, or if they’re in pain, they may show signs such as:

  • being quieter than normal
  • sitting in a hunched up position
  • not wanting to move around
  • not eating or being reluctant to eat
  • grinding their teeth
  • breathing faster than usual or noisy breathing
  • a difference in their droppings, such as diarrhoea or less droppings than usual
  • discharge from their eyes or nose

If your rabbit shows any signs of illness, contact your vet immediately.

How to give your rabbits a health check

Checking your rabbit's health daily can help you to spot potential illnesses early. If there are any abnormalities, contact your vet for advice.

When checking your rabbit's health, you should observe their:

Check that your rabbit’s breathing is steady by watching their ribcage rise and fall. Breathing should not be laboured or too fast.

Listen out for any noisy breathing. Continual wheezing, or a rattling sound in their chest can be a sign of a respiratory infection.

Your rabbit's eyes should be clear and bright. Watery or red eyes, or discharge around their eyes can be a sign of infection or dental problems.

Their nose should also be free from mucus or discharge. Mucus around their nose or sneezing is abnormal and could be a sign of illnesses such as the snuffles.

Take a look in the inside of your rabbit's ears to check for signs of mites or infection. If your rabbit has ear mites or an ear infection, the inside of their ears may show:

  • discharge
  • crusty wounds
  • redness
  • itchiness

As ear mites progress, they can also cause your rabbit's ears to become swollen.

If you suspect ear mites or an infection, contact your vet for advice.

Rabbits' teeth are designed to continually grow, so it's important to check them regularly to make sure they have not overgrown.

They have four incisors (front teeth) – two at the top and two at the bottom. These teeth should be straight and not curved, angled or overlapping. They should not be wobbly or broken.

Their back teeth are difficult to see without a vet, but you can check these at home by gently feeling their jaw area. Dental problems can lead to abscesses, so look out for lumps or bumps. Dribbling or wetness around their jaw can also be a sign of dental problems.

Their bottom area should be clean and dry. A dirty bottom can suggest that your rabbit is unwell or struggling to groom themselves.

You will also need to check their bottom and tail area regularly for signs of fly strike, especially during the summer months.

Weight loss can be one of the first signs of illness in rabbits, so monthly weight checks are a good way of keeping track of their health.

Their weight should be consistent from month to month. If your rabbit loses a significant amount of weight between weigh ins, book an appointment with your vet.

Normal droppings should be round, hard, dry and similar in shape and size. Rabbits also produce caecotrophs, which they eat to help aid their digestion. It's normal for these droppings to be soft.

If there are changes in the colour, consistency or amount of droppings that your rabbit is passing, contact your vet. Droppings that are runny, smaller or less frequent than normal can be a sign of tummy problems.

You should also keep an eye on your rabbit's urine – their urine does vary in colour, but if it suddenly changes to a new colour, such as red, or you notice a lot more urine, speak to your vet for advice.

It's a serious concern if your rabbit is not eating, or if they are losing their appetite. Rabbits need to graze throughout the day to keep their digestive system moving.

If they suddenly stop eating, contact your vet immediately. Eating less food than normal can lead to a serious condition such as GI stasis.


Keep an eye on your rabbit's movement throughout the day to make sure they are not limping on their front or back legs.

Contact your vet if your rabbit is not moving around as much as usual or sitting in a hunched up position. This can be a sign of pain.

Common rabbit illnesses

There are many health conditions that can affect rabbits.

GI stasis

Gastrointestinal (GI) stasis is a serious condition in rabbits that happens when their digestive system either slows down or stops working completely. Harmful bacteria then builds up in their tummy, causing excessive gas and bloating. It can be caused by:

  • improper diet with not enough fibre (hay)
  • stress from changes in their environment, loss of a cage mate or fireworks
  • pain from conditions such as dental disease, abscesses or arthritis
  • dehydration
  • a blockage in their digestive tract

GI stasis is very painful and will eventually cause your rabbit to stop eating and passing droppings.


GI stasis can quickly become life-threatening if left untreated. If you think your rabbit has gone into stasis, contact your vet immediately.

Symptoms of GI stasis

Rabbits can become very unwell quickly when they go into GI stasis, so it's important to be able to spot the signs.

Symptoms include:

  • a bloated tummy that is hard to touch
  • smaller droppings, less droppings or no droppings at all
  • loss of appetite or not eating at all
  • sitting in a hunched up position
  • not moving around

Early treatment is important to helping your rabbit recover.

Your vet will be able to provide medication to relieve your rabbit's pain, and a gut stimulant to help get their digestive system moving again. With early treatment, your rabbit should eventually start eating and passing droppings.


The snuffles is a respiratory infection, which causes cold-like symptoms. It is caused by two types of bacteria:

  • pasteurella
  • bordetella

Unlike the common cold that humans catch, the snuffles in rabbits is a serious condition that can make them very unwell if not treated.

It is also highly contagious to other rabbits, so if you suspect your rabbit has the snuffles, it's important to treat their home with a suitable disinfectant to keep their cage mate safe.

Symptoms of snuffles

If your rabbit has snuffles, they may show symptoms such as:

  • runny, watery eyes
  • snotty nose
  • sneezing
  • wheezing or noisy breathing
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy

If you spot any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately.

Your vet will be able to provide antibiotics, and may also need to place your rabbit on a nebuliser to help the medication reach their lungs quickly.

Dental problems

Dental problems are common in rabbits, as their teeth grow continuously throughout their lifetime. If your rabbit is not wearing their teeth down through their diet, their front and back teeth can quickly overgrow.

Some rabbit breeds such as lops or dwarfs are also more prone to dental problems. Like brachycephalic dogs, these breeds have flat faces, meaning there is not enough room in their mouth for their teeth to grow. This causes dental problems as the teeth become overcrowded.

Signs of dental disease

Dental disease is a serious and painful condition, as it prevents your rabbit from being able to eat. Common signs include:

  • weight loss
  • dribbling or wetness around their chin
  • loss of appetite
  • a dirty bottom, or difficulty grooming themselves
  • overgrown teeth
  • watery eyes
  • lumps in their jaw

If you think your rabbit is struggling with their teeth, always book an appointment with your vet. They will be able to perform a dental examination to find out whether they need their teeth trimming under anaesthetic.

If your rabbit is struggling to eat, your vet may also recommend syringe feeding them to help keep their gut moving while they wait for treatment.

Preventing dental disease

You can help to prevent dental disease in rabbits by:

  • feeding your rabbit a high fibre diet – hay or fresh grass should make up at least 85 per cent of your rabbit's diet to continuously wear their teeth down and keep their gut healthy
  • feeding a small amount of pellets or fresh foods – these foods do not wear their teeth down, so should be limited
  • keeping up with annual vet check-ups – this can help to spot dental problems early and is especially important if your rabbit has a history of dental disease

Uterine (womb) cancer

Unneutered female rabbits are at a high risk of getting womb cancer. By the time they reach three years old, it is likely that 60 per cent of female rabbits that are not spayed will have a tumour growing in their uterus.

Womb cancer can spread quickly to other parts of your rabbit's body. The best way to protect your rabbit from womb cancer is by neutering them. Spaying eliminates the risk altogether.

Symptoms of womb cancer

Womb cancer can affect your rabbit's health and behaviour. Symptoms can include:

  • changes in their behaviour, such as aggressiveness
  • blood in their urine
  • weight loss
  • swelling in their tummy

If you're worried that your rabbit is suffering with womb cancer, contact your vet as soon as possible. If the cancer has spread, your vet will be able to talk you through your options.

Fly strike

During the warmer months, all rabbits, including indoor rabbits, are at risk of fly strike.

During the summer months, clean your rabbits' home regularly, and check their bottoms for signs of fly strike twice daily.

Read more about fly strike.

Vaccinating your rabbit

The best way to protect your rabbits against life-threatening diseases is by vaccinating them. Both indoor and outdoor rabbits should be given an combined booster vaccine, which protects them against three diseases:

  • RHD 1
  • RHD 2
  • myxomatosis

This vaccine is normally given every 12 months. Rabbits can be vaccinated from five weeks old, but speak to your vet for more advice.

More information on protecting your rabbits against RHD 2 and myxomatosis.

Grooming your rabbit

To keep your rabbit's coat in a healthy condition, they need to be groomed regularly. Rabbits with a short coat should be brushed once a week, but rabbits with long hair will need brushing once a day to prevent matting.

Older rabbits, or rabbits who are suffering with arthritis or dental problems, may also need to be groomed more frequently.

Grooming is also a good opportunity to check that your rabbit's coat is in a healthy condition. When brushing them, check for lumps or bumps, dandruff, mites, fleas or itchy sores. If you notice any abnormalities, speak to your vet for advice.

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• 22 February 2024

Next review

• 22 February 2027

Approved by
Anna Ewers Clark

Veterinary Surgeon MRCVS