Here are some basic guidelines to help
Disease is natural and can never be completely eliminated, but through
intelligent practices, you can usually keep it at a low level.
Disease prevention is much better than treatment.
High resistance, long life, and high productivity can be inherited. Breeding
stock selected on the basis of superior performance will pay well for the time
Do not overcrowd your animals.
Practice good nutrition.
Provide plenty of draft-free ventilation. Solid sided cages with wire floors
cause up-drafts. These drafts are discouraged.
Let your animals have plenty of sunlight, as long as it is not very hot.
Keep all equipment clean and dry to minimize the chance of disease outbreak.
Keep it in good repair.
Avoid unnecessary handling of animals, their feed, containers for food and
water, or any equipment they touch. The clothing and hands of the attendant can
Isolate all stock being brought into your herd, whether it be a new introduction
or one of your own animals that may have been in contact with other rabbits
either directly or through equipment and handlers.
Isolate animals suspected of having infectious diseases. Care for such animals
after the normal ones have had their attention.
Protect your animals from disturbing influences, particularly night prowlers.
Allow your animals as much rest during the day as routine care will permit.
If you sell rabbits on a regular schedule to a dealer, have marketable stock
segregated and confined outside of the rabbitry entrance. The pickup man visits
many rabbitries in rapid succession and will appreciate your help in keeping him
from spreading disease.
All animal drugs are now under federal regulations. These regulations are
designed to protect the public health and welfare by setting drug safety and
tissue tolerance levels. The tissue tolerance levels made it necessary to
establish specific withdrawal times and other warnings and cautions. The
manufacturer's instructions, by law, are placed on the label of each drug
container. Follow these instructions, warnings, and withdrawal times precisely.
Observe all local laws and regulations governing proper drug usage.
Conjunctivitis (Weepy Eye)
This condition is characterized by inflamed eyelids and a discharge from
the eyes. Affected rabbits rub their eyes with the front feet until the fur
around the eyes becomes wet and matted.
The cause of this condition is often a bacterial infection of the eyelids but
may also be caused by an irritation from smoke, dust, sprays, or fumes. Mature
bucks and young rabbits are most susceptible.
Protect the animals from eye irritants. If irritants cause problems, you
can usually clean the eye with a commercial eye washing product. The irritation
will then clear up quickly.
If the eye does not improve, apply a 5% sulfathiazole or antibiotic eye ointment
under the eyelids. A rabbit with pasteurellosis will often transmit disease
organisms to the eye, so treat for this disease if symptoms are present.
Eliminate animals with persistent eye problems so that they will not spread the
Pasteurellosis (Snuffles, Cold)
This may be an acute or chronic inflammation of the mucous membranes in
the air passages and lungs. A mucus is discharged from the nose and eyes.
Affected rabbits rub their eyes and noses. The fur on the face and paws becomes
matted and caked with dried mucus. The infected animals usually sneeze and
The disease is caused by a bacterial infection. It usually occurs when the
rabbit's resistance is low or when it is under some stressed condition. Rabbits
that have recovered from this disease acquire little immunity and often remain
Treat this disease in its early stages with sulfaquinoxaline or other
sulfa drugs. Follow a control program of tetracyclines to prevent a recurrence
of the disease. Adding .025% sulfaquinoxaline in the feed for three or four
weeks or sulfaquinoxaline in the water for two or three weeks reduces disease
transmission to the young. You may use other sulfa drugs if you follow label
Treat individual animals with an injection in the muscle of 200,000 units of
penicillin and .25 gram of streptomycin for fryer sized rabbits. Give mature
rabbits a double dosage. Repeat the treatment on the third day after the initial
injection. Then use a tetracycline control program.
Cull infected rabbits from the rabbitry and replace them with breeding stock
that comes from clean stock. Although clinical signs are not present, carriers
of the disease have the bacterial organism in their nasal cavities and can
transmit it to healthy animals.
Eliminate drafty, damp, unsanitary conditions in the rabbitry. Follow a strict
sanitation and management program.
Coccidiosis is the most common disease in rabbits. It may be classified
as a parasitic disease since the causative organism is a microscopic animal
(protozoa). It is very difficult to completely exterminate the protozoa once it
has infected the animal. The protozoans causing this disease are classified as "coccidia,"
and those that infect the intestine are different from those that infect the
Rabbits receiving the best care and management will often get coccidiosis.
Symptoms in moderate or severe cases include a loss of appetite, "pot belly,"
diarrhea, and an inability to gain weight. In mild cases no symptoms may be
Follow a good management and sanitation program. Raise rabbits on wire
floored cages that let droppings fall through the floor and away from the
rabbits. Prevent fecal contamination of feed and water.
Control coccidiosis by feeding a .025% level of sulfaquinoxaline in the feed for
three or four weeks, or in the water for two or three weeks. Other sulfa drugs (sulfadimethoxine,
triple sulfa, etc.) may be effective yet provide greater safety from the toxic
effects of sulfaquinoxaline. Amprolium in the feed or water may also be
effective against coccidia.
Enteritis Complex (Bloat, Scours)
The literal translation of enteritis means "inflammation of the
intestine." This group of diseases severely injuries the intestines and
digestive tract. Symptoms of the diseases include loss of appetite, weakness, a
drop in body temperature, diarrhea, rough hair coat, and weight loss. The
abdomen may be bloated because of excessive production of gas in the intestines
by disease organisms. The droppings may be covered by a mucus. The cause of the
condition is not known.
Water soluble chlortetracycline or oxytetracycline at a concentration of
one pound to 100-150 gallons (4 grams/gallon) of drinking water may be
Caked Mammary Glands
This condition results when the milk is not removed sufficiently from the
breast. It usually occurs after a high producing doe loses her litter, or when
the breasts are sore and the doe refuses to nurse her young. The breasts become
congested, and hard knots may form on the sides of the nipples. These knots may
break open, revealing dried milk.
If the caking is only moderate, oil of camphor rubbed on twice daily will
break up the cake and the milk can be removed. Treatment for three to five days
usually solves the problem, but high producing does may take longer.
Preventive measures are the best ways to correct the problem. Do not wean the
young suddenly. If a litter is lost, breed the doe again immediately and
carefully watch her for symptoms of this condition. Remove any sharp or
protruding edges from nest boxes to prevent breast injury. Watch the doe
carefully for mastitis infections that often follow caked mammary glands.
Mastitis (Blue Breast)
Mastitis, a bacterial disease, is not common but is occasionally seen in
rabbitries. The condition usually follows injuries of the mammary glands or
caked breasts and can spread through the rabbitry very quickly. The mammary
glands become inflamed, feverish, and swollen. The glands may turn bluish in
color as the disease worsens. The doe will not eat but may drink plenty of
water. She may have a fever as high as 105oF. or higher.
You must start treatment early to be successful. Reduce milk production
by cutting back on feed concentrates. Clean and disinfect the cage and equipment
(especially the nest box).
Inject 75,000-100,000 units of penicillin into the muscle twice daily for three
to five days. In severe cases it is best to destroy the doe and young.
Never transfer young from an infected doe to a healthy one. This complicates the
problem and may spread the disease. You can hand feed valuable young by using a
milk substitute. Correct any edges on the nest box that stick out or are sharp.
Ear Mites (Ear Mange, Canker)
This is the most common external parasite infection of the domestic
rabbit. An infected rabbit shakes its head and flops or scratches its ears
trying to rid itself of mites. Thick crusts of mites and serum will accumulate
inside the ear. In severe cases symptoms include spasms of eye muscles, nerve
damage resulting in partial paralysis, weight loss, and secondary infections of
Massage mineral oil into the ear every third day for four applications.
The mineral oil will smother the mites. Follow-up applications smother mites
hatching from eggs.
Another treatment is swabbing the ear with a mixture of 1 part iodoform, 10
parts ether, and 25 parts vegetable oil. Remove all scales and crust before
swabbing the ear. Repeat treatment 6 to 10 days after first treatment. An
alternate swabbing solution is 25-30% emulsion of benzyl benzoate in vegetable
Treat all animals near the infected animal. Treat all newly introduced animals
to prevent the ear mite from entering the rabbitry.
Heat exhaustion can happen any time the temperature is above 92oF. Poor
ventilation and high humidity contribute to the condition. Affected rabbits pant
rapidly and lie on their sides. A blood tinged discharge may come from the mouth
and nose. Death results unless the rabbit is treated. pregnant does are most
Any practice that lowers the body temperature of the rabbit helps reduce
losses from heat prostration. Provide plenty of ventilation. Sprinkling water on
the rabbitry roof may help reduce the temperature. You can put individually
exhausted rabbits on wet burlap or immerse them in lukewarm water so the body
temperature gradually drops.
Provide plenty of clean, cool drinking water. Rabbits often put their feet in
the water to cool themselves. Provide additional salt spools for the rabbits.
Ulcerative Pododermatitis (Sore Hocks)
You may see sores on the feet or foot pads. Few rabbits die from this
problem, but their general condition is affected. Nursing does cannot feed the
litter adequately, and breeding is hindered.
Sore hocks usually occur on wire floored cages. The tendency toward this
condition may be inherited.
Place animals with small sores on lath or solid flooring or on the ground
until the condition clears. A rest board and soft, dry bedding material may
Cull and eliminate rabbits with severe or advanced cases. Medication works only
temporarily. Zinc or iodine ointments may help prevent secondary infections.
Follow good sanitation and management practices. Eliminate wires that stick out
of cages and floors. Do not let floors stay wet.