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Rabbit Diseases

Here are some basic guidelines to help prevent diseases:

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 spent.
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 spread disease.
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 disease.

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 cough.

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 carriers.

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 directions.
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, Intestinal
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 liver.

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 observed.

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 effective.
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 the ears.

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 oil.

Treat all animals near the infected animal. Treat all newly introduced animals to prevent the ear mite from entering the rabbitry.

Heat Prostration
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 susceptible.

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 help.
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.


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