Rabbits – health
Information about disease prevention and signs of illness in rabbits.
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Disease control methods and internal and external parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian. All activities must be documented and appropriately recorded.
It is important to maintain a program of vaccination and control of parasites for all rabbits. When treating for internal and external parasites, all rabbits should be treated at the same time. These activities need to be documented in appropriate records.
Whenever chemicals are used including drenches, vaccines and external parasite control treatments, care must be taken about the following:
- Reading all labels
- Maintaining appropriate storage
- Adhering to withholding periods
- Determining the weight of the animals to be treated
- Determining the correct dose rate
- Using protective clothing if required
- Using the correct equipment for application
- Disposal of chemical containers
- Documenting the dose, chemical name, batch number, expiry date, withholding period, identity of animal(s) administered to and date of administration.
Rabbits are fairly hardy animals and rarely become ill. In Australia two serious diseases that are contracted by rabbits are Rabbit Calicivirus (RCD) and Myxomatosis.
Rabbit Calicivirus (RCD) is a disease that accidentally escaped from a quarantine research area in 1995 and spread through direct contact and vectors. It is fatal within 30-40 hours of rabbits contracting the disease, and there is no treatment available. A rabbit can be protected from RCD by a yearly vaccination. A rabbit can be vaccinated once it is ten weeks old. If a rabbit is vaccinated before ten weeks it will require a booster vaccination at 10-12 weeks. Vaccinations should be administered by a veterinarian. Using mosquito screening on the rabbit’s hutch to prevent access by flies and mosquitoes, and preventing contact with wild or unvaccinated rabbits will also increase protection.
Myxomatosis is a viral infection spread by biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. A rabbit that is infected with this disease can rarely be saved and should be euthanized to prevent it suffering a horrible death. The first signs of myxomatosis are running and swollen eyes, swollen ears and face. Prevention, in this case, is much better than cure. Placing fly wire over the cage to prevent mosquitoes biting the rabbit is an excellent preventative measure. If a rabbit is infected it should be isolated from other rabbits. In Australia, the myxomatosis vaccination is not available.
Other diseases that affect rabbits include coccidiosis and pasteurellosis (also known as snuffles).
In general rabbits are not affected by internal parasites and therefore do not need to be wormed.
Rabbits can be affected by both fur mites and ear mites. Symptoms include itching, build up of wax in the ears, a dandruff type skin condition and scabs around the ears. A veterinarian should be consulted as treatment may include injections of ivermectin as well as the use of topical ear applications to control any secondary infection.
Rabbits can be affected by common dog fleas. Symptoms include itching and scratching, red skin and being able to spot the fleas through the rabbit’s coat. Some cat flea treatments can be used for control in rabbits, but veterinary advice should be sought before selecting the product.
An annual parasite and disease control program should be developed and documented. All rabbits should be examined, quarantined and treated for parasites prior to moving them to the school farm or introducing them to the school stock.
Signs of illness
The first sign of illness can be a change in the animal’s natural demeanour. It may be listless or lethargic.
Closer examinations may show variations in:
- Body temperature
- Gastrointestinal function, e.g. diarrhoea, weight loss or loss of appetite
- Urogenital function such as abortion, infertility or abnormal discharges
- Respiratory function, e.g. persistent coughing, gasping or panting.
Other signs or symptoms may include:
- Skin condition such as lesions
- Abnormal growths
- A tucked up appearance, stiff gait or abnormal posture, patchy coat or loss of hair
- Excessive scratching or rubbing
- Swollen joints or limping
Rabbits failing to thrive or grow are also a sign of illness.
If unable to identify the problem and begin suitable treatment, assistance should be sought from a veterinarian. Any illness identified and treatments given must be recorded appropriately.