The most important thing you can do for your rabbits' health is to observe and handle them every day. This practice alone will go far in recognizing signs of illness.
Observing Sickness in a Rabbit
Touching their bodies is just as important as monitoring their behavior. Your hands will let you know about any changes in body condition and you'll spot lumps or injuries early. It's not as time-consuming as you might think.
Rabbits will quickly adapt to the physical attention and you'll get used to tending them. After that, the routine is short and sweet!
Even if you don't have the time to handle them, observing your rabbits every day (aside from feeding) is paramount. Looking them over for several minutes will give you the information that you need in order to recognize normal as well as individual habits -- and signals when something is amiss.
Watch how your rabbits eat, drink, and move about in their hutches. Look at their eyes and coats for any changes. One day you might notice a full bowl of food inside the hutch of a rabbit that's normally a chowhound, and it will raise a red flag immediately.
Watch for Signs of Pain or Illness in Your Rabbits
While this list discusses some commons signs of illness, these should be treated as warning signs as not every symptom by itself means that a rabbit is ill. If you notice one or more of these signs, it warrants a closer look.
- Lack of interest in food or water
- Consuming food slower than usual or dropping food from the mouth while trying to eat
- Grinding teeth
- Extreme weight loss for no apparent reason
- Unusually aggressive behavior
- Ragged-looking coat
- Manure caked on its bottom
- Unusual sitting position (such as leaning back on its hind feet)
- Lethargic (looking depressed) -- the rabbit isn't curious about its surroundings anymore
- Eye or nose discharge
- Little or no droppings
- Dried and caked fur on the inside of its front paws
- Facing the corner of the cage, hiding, or sitting in a “hunched” position (if this is unusual behavior for the rabbit)
- Rapid breathing or signs of labored breathing
- Mouth is wet with saliva
- Grunting or whining when moving or being handled
- Eye dullness (as opposed to bright)
- Difficulty moving or moving very slowly (or not at all)
- Head tilting (loss of balance)
Pay Close Attention
While watching for signs of illness in your rabbits, keep in mind that prey animals instinctually tend to hide any symptoms of pain or signs of distress. That's because showing signs of weakness in the wild quickly alerts predators as to a possible dinner.
Because domestic rabbits still carry the same instinct, it's extremely easy to miss signs that they are distressed. In fact, by the time rabbits shows symptoms of illness, they may sometimes be in the later stage of the disease.
Visiting the Vet
Veterinary appointments that are arranged for the following day are often too late. As such, many veterinarians only get the chance to practice medicine on a handful of rabbits (if that many) each year. However, if you observe and handle your herd every day, you may catch health issues much earlier than if you simply fill food dishes and water bottles.