Common conditions

Dental Problems

Rabbits are very prone to dental problems, particularly if they have had a poor diet when young. Their teeth grow constantly, which can cause a problem with inadequate diets. Rabbits are grazing animals, spending a large portion off their time in the wild chewing and digesting grass. Manufactured diets often require little chewing or processing, meaning that rabbits’ teeth grow at abnormal rates. Chewing cage bars, or trauma caused by fighting, can also knock their teeth out of line, meaning that their incisors may grow at unusual angles, sometimes digging into their gums or curling towards their noses.

Once their teeth have become out of line it is almost impossible to retrain them to grow normally, so regular dental work will be required.

Signs to watch for include damp chins, inappetance, a reluctance to chew vegetables or other treats, or a general lethargy and unwillingness to exhibit normal behaviours.

If you have any concerns it is advisable to contact us for a dental check, to see whether there are any problems which need addressing

Gut Stasis

This is an acquired disorder involving poor motility of the gastro-intestinal tract. It can result from a mechanical obstruction (eg foreign bodies or dehydrated compacted ingesta), or from ineffective propulsion (eg as a result of anorexia, lack of exercise, low-fibre diets, etc). Secondary factors involved in the development of the disease include pain, stress, and change in diet, housing or routine.

Rabbits often show a gradually reducing appetite, with decreased size and amount of faecal pellets. Treatment often involves rehydration, pain relief, identification and treatment of the underlying cause, and prokinetics to stimulate gut motility. Regular supplementary feeding is often required until the rabbit is fit and healthy enough to eat on its own.

Blocked naso-lacrimal ducts

Naso-lacrimal ducts (tear ducts) run from the inner corner of the eye to the inside of the nares. These tiny ducts are responsible for removing excess liquid from the surface of the eye (and are why you get a runny nose when you cry!). They can become blocked, either internally as discharge from the eye builds up and solidifies, or externally as a result of teeth roots elongating in dental disease.

The first sign of a problem is often a milky-white discharge at the inner aspect of a rabbits’ eye, which may dry to form a hard crust. There may be concurrent infections of the eye which require treating.

Blocked ducts will usually require flushing (some rabbits will allow this conscious, others will require an aneasthetic). Repeat flushing may be required. Infection may have lead to scaring, and permanent closure of the duct, in which case regular management will be required to prevent tear scalding of the face.

Problems are especially common in dwarf breeds, where their anatomy is naturally distorted resulting in sharp ‘kinks’ in the ducts.


Absesses are very common in rabbits, usually developing either as a result of dental disease, or as a result of trauma (for example fighting with other rabbits or guinea-pigs). Absessess usually present as lumps which often appear quickly over the course of a day or so. They are frequently firm on palpation, and may be painful to touch.

Rabbit abscess will almost certainly required lancing and flushing under anaesthetic. They are relatively hard to cure, and may recur even after a successful resolution appears to have been made.

In the case of abscesses on the face, your vet may want to take x-rays to ensure that there is no involvement of the teeth roots, as this makes the abscess more difficult to treat, and may require extraction of teeth.


Flystrike is, unfortunately, still a commonly seen problem. It is seen most frequently during the summer months when there are more flies around. Obese rabbits, or those with arthritis, are more at risk as they cannot keep their bottoms clean. Fly strike usually occurs as a result of faecal soiling – flies are attracted to this soiling, and lay their eggs in the fur next to it. These eggs hatch into maggots, which can then cause extensive damage to the skin of the rabbit. In extreme circumstances, damage can be so severe that euthanasia is the only option for the rabbit.

The best way to minimise the chance of flystrike is to keep your rabbit at a healthy weight, on a good quality diet to minimise the risk of faecal soiling. Your rabbit must be checked regularly, ideally twice daily, including turning them over to check their back end for soiling or fly eggs (which look like very small grains of rice). Keeping your rabbit’s hutch clean will also reduced the attractiveness of the area to flies, so reducing the chances of flystrike.


Myxomatosis is a very common, highly infectious and highly fatal disease of rabbits. It is very common in the New Forest area. There is a vaccination available for this disease. See the vaccination section for further information.

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