The rabbit is not prone to disease if kept in a comfortable hutch and properly looked after. However, disease may occur in spite of every care. As usual, the signs of ill-health are untidy coat, dull eye, listless behaviour and lack of appetite. The patient should be kept warm, even if this means a hot-water bottle as advised for a sick guinea-pig.
Try to tempt the animal to eat by offering him morsels of his favourite food. Regretfully, this is often all one can do because small animals cannot be easily doctored and their little bodies do not have large stores of fat to tide them over a serious illness.
The most common trouble is diarrhoea or “scours”. This is easily detected because, apart from the rabbit looking sick, the fur around the vent becomes dirty and smelly. Diarrhoea may arise from feeding wet green food (especially when the animal is unused to it) or green food which is yellow and partly decomposed. Frosty green stuff is also a serious source of trouble. Diarrhoea can also be due to infection, which can spread rapidly and is often fatal.
All green stuff should be immediately withheld – give only baked bread (crumbled if you wish), grain, warm mash and pellets. It is useful to make the mash with milk on this occasion instead of water. Water should be given. Provided the attack is not of the severe type and has been caught early, there is a fair chance of recovery. Young rabbits of from four to sixteen weeks (or even older) of age are more susceptible than adults and are less likely to recover.
Persistent sneezing is due to an infectious disease of the respiratory tract. Mild cases can be cured by keeping the rabbit in a warm and dry place. In more severe cases, sneezing is continuous and a nasal discharge can be seen. The fur on the inside of the front legs may be wet or matted with mucous. There is little that can be done for these animals. A vet, should be consulted but, if the condition persists, the animal is best destroyed.
“Pot belly” is fairly common and is so called from an obvious distension of the stomach. The disease mostly affects young animals and is due in the main to an unbalanced diet. Feeding too much or unsuitable greens stuff is a common error. Reduce the amount and feed more grain and stale bread. Do not make the mistake of feeding an all-bran mash; mix the bran with other meals or cooked potato.
Running eyes may be an indication of an unsuspected draught in the hutch. This should be rectified without more ado. It can also be due to foreign matter in the eye and these cases normally clear of their own accord. A persistent running eye may be the result of an ingrowing eyelash. The eye should be carefully examined for the offending lash which should be plucked out with a pair of tweezers. Often, the trouble recurs when the eyelash has regrown. Should the eye become very bad, with the eyelids appearing red and swollen, a vet, should be consulted. The Rex breed is a little more liable to suffer from ingrowing eyelashes than other breeds but not enough to discourage anyone who likes the rabbit.
Cysts are soft lumps under the skin. These cause no pain (as a rule) and may occur anywhere in the body. They are small sacs of fluid containing the intermediate stage of the dog tape-worm and this is the reason why green stuff soiled by dogs should never be fed. A veterinary surgeon can remove the cyst quite easily. The tape worm “eggs” must be removed in the process otherwise the cyst will reappear.
Ear canker is due to mite infestation deep inside the ear. The symptoms are frequent shaking of the head and tenderness of the ears when these are touched. Wax is produced in excessive amounts, becoming hard and caked. This can be seen by peeping into the ear. The condition is not serious and can be easily cured by a vet. The problem of ear canker will scarcely arise if the rabbit is kept in clean surroundings.
Sore hocks is a term used to describe bare sore areas on the underside of the hind feet. The area can become swollen and tender. The rabbit shifts from one leg to the other in obvious pain. In severe cases, the skin may become ulcerated. The condition is due to rough and dirty floors rubbing fur from the feet and lacerating the skin which later becomes infected. The situation is worsened if the sawdust is skimped and the rabbit stands on rough, urine soaked, boards. The remedy is smooth flooring (made from planed timber) and a thick layer of soft meadow hay. It usually takes a while for the sore areas to become covered in new fur.
Reddish urine (”red water”) is due to kidney trouble. Only the most severe cases seem to cause distress and recovery is usually affected without special treatment. If the rabbit becomes thin, it should be taken to a vet. Immediately.
Myxomatosis is a virulent disease of the wild rabbit but not, fortunately, of the tame rabbit. The odd case does occur, however, and death is almost certain. The symptoms are swellings in the region of the eyes and at the base of the ears; often elsewhere in the body as well. It is possible to vaccinate against the disease, but this is rarely done because the chance of contacting it is so slight.