Rabbits are prey animals (ie. they are used to being hunted and eaten). It is therefore not in their best interests to appear unwell. A sick or injured rabbit in the wild would quickly become some predator’s dinner. Because of this it is often difficult to tell if your rabbit is ill. Unlike dogs or cats that tend to vocalise and draw attention to the fact they are in pain, rabbits tend to keep very still and try to avoid attention. However there are signs that may alert you to the fact that your rabbit is unwell.
Any change in your rabbit’s appetite may be significant. Some rabbits will stop eating one specific type of food. Eg still eat hay but not concentrates. If your rabbit is eating less he will pass fewer faeces so you may notice that his run is abnormally clean or the pellets may be smaller than normal.
Some sick rabbits will not eat their caecotrophs (night pellets) so you may find that their bottoms get ‘sticky’. If you find any fly eggs or maggots on your rabbit phone your vet immediately.
Any digestive upset in rabbits can be serious so it is important that you seek help promptly as gastro-intestinal stasis can be a fatal condition. Discharges from the eyes or nose, sneezing or dribbling are abnormal and should alert you to the fact that something is wrong. Rabbits use their front legs as handkerchiefs and so look out for wet matted fur on their front legs as well as around the eyes & mouth.
Rabbits urine can vary tremendously in appearance, anything from white to yellow or even red is normal, but any difficulty passing urine is abnormal and you should talk to your vet.
Signs of pain can include a hunched position, loud tooth grinding and shallow fast breathing.
Often when your rabbit is unwell you have to medicate him. The easiest way to do this is to syringe liquid medicine by mouth. A small amount of fruit juice added to the liquid will make it taste better. Tablet medication can be hard but tablets can sometimes be crushed & added to a little melted chocolate to make medicated chocolate drops which your rabbit will take readily or hidden inside a sultana.
A rabbit that needs tempting to eat can be a challenge. Make sure there is always fresh food in the cage, including hay, assorted vegetables and concentrate food. Fresh herbs have strong flavours and a lot of rabbits find them palatable, try a variety while your rabbit is well & find what they like best. Many rabbits will nibble on fresh grass if available but be careful collecting any grass or weeds from public places where that may have been sprayed.
Rabbits tend to love Ribena, so adding some diluted to the water bottle will often encourage rabbits to drink.
Always follow the directions on any medication carefully and don’t hesitate to ask if you are unclear.