A simple checkup, as outlined below should be given to your rabbit every 6 to 8 weeks. This does not take the place of a full physical exam which should also be given by your vet once a year (more if the rabbit has a condition that requires monitoring). Regular checkups are necessary for the health and longevity of your rabbit.
Check and trim nails as needed (see Nails under Grooming section). If you find a broken nail, make sure it has healed properly since these are prone to infection. It is common for a rabbit to break a nail and is usually nothing to worry about unless it becomes infected.
Check the soles of each rear foot for worn hair and/or sores. This is usually the result of living on a wire floor but can also be due to an overweight rabbit sitting on hard surfaces. It is very easy for pasteurella or other infections to start in these sores so see a vet right away if they are found!
Rabbits' teeth are constantly growing. This is why they are always chewing - to help keep their teeth the proper size. Some rabbits, however, have misaligned or "maloccluded" teeth which means that their teeth do not wear down properly and continue to grow. A rabbit with this condition needs to have his/her teeth clipped periodically so that the they can eat. Your vet can do this for you or can show you how to do it yourself. The misalignment of the front teeth can be easily seen, but the back teeth may need to be checked by your vet. One indication that the back teeth may be a problem, is a wet chin that is caused by drooling. Teeth should be checked at each grooming session.
Make sure that they are properly aligned and not maloccluded. The top teeth should be directly in line with the bottom teeth with a very slight over-bite. If the top teeth are extremely long and actually hang over the bottom, it is likely that your rabbit is maloccluded and will need his/her teeth clipped
Rabbits can sometimes have a little bit of crust-like substance in the corners of their eyes; this is nothing to worry about and can be wiped clean with a cotton ball or tissue. If the eyes have a pussey discharge, the rabbit will need to be taken to a vet immediately. Other than that, their eyes should be clear and bright with no sign of discharge from their tear ducts. Note: The smaller dwarf breeds seem to have eyes that protrude more than their larger cousins. You will often find a strange substance that floats on the surface of their eyeballs. Because of the shape of their eyes, they are frequently unable to wash this material (hair and moisture) and you will need to remove it for them. never use human eye drops such as Visine!! If necessary, you can purchase a hypo-allergenic eye wash or Artificial Tears from the drug store and use ONE drop of that in each eye to wash the material to the corner. Often, a tissue or cotton swab can be used to gently lift the material off of the eye without using an eye wash (this should be done daily).
Check inside each ear for wax or dirt build-up. If ears do not appear clean, see a vet.
Look for moisture or discharge around the nasal cavities or for a "snotty" substance inside. Even if you don't hear sneezing, if you see a slightly moist nose, check the insides of each front leg for dirty spots. Rabbits will wipe their nose with the insides of their front paws and can easily mask the early signs of pasteurella (snuffles) problems.
Check the underside of their chin for a waxy type of buildup from their scent gland. If you find this condition, you can try to wash it off with warm water, but it will often be mixed in with their hair and will need to be cut off with cuticle scissors. Rabbits that often drink from bowls can sometimes get dermatitis, so also look for redness and irritation.
In addition to the scent glands under their chins, rabbits also have much more powerful scent glands on both sides of their genitals. This area needs to be checked and will probably always need cleaning. Sometimes you'll find just a few moist flakes from dried skin, but more often you'll find a very dark brown, hard, waxy type of build-up. Either of these can be easily removed with a cotton swab dipped in hydrogen peroxide. If this substance is not cleaned and allowed to remain, the area could become infected.
The rabbit may have to be turned on its back to do this. Keep one hand pressed firmly on the stomach so that he/she cannot suddenly flip over and injure their back. Use your fingers to find the genitals and then to separate the area directly adjacent to the genitals. When you find the scent glands and separate the overlapping skin, the dark substance will become visible.
If your rabbit ever has a "skunky" smell -- it's time for a cleaning!
This is also a good time to inspect your rabbits body all over: legs, the stomach, head, butt, between the legs, etc. Both male and female rabbits will have nipples on their stomachs, but other than that, if you feel any strange lumps or bumps, have a vet check them out. Just as with humans, the earlier you find and treat a problem, the easier it is to cure.
Rabbits urine varies in color from clear to yellow to brown to bright red. This is usually not a cause for alarm unless there are additional signs such as sitting and straining to urinate, loss of appetite or a temperature. When you see red urine, don't panic; just keep your eyes open for other signs that may indicate a problem. The red color will usually be gone in a day or two but can last for a much longer time. Actual blood in the urine would look like urine with red specks. If you're in doubt, don't risk your bunny's health -- have your vet test for blood in the urine.
Rabbits shed their hair every three months alternating heavy and light. Because rabbits are very clean and are constantly grooming themselves and/or their companions, they ingest a great deal of hair. Over time, this hair may build up and block the stomach exit causing the rabbit to starve to death while its stomach appears fat. Unlike cats, rabbits cannot throw up a hairball when it threatens their health; this is the largest cause of problems and deaths in rabbits! The first sign of a hairball or blockage of any kind is a loss of appetite. Their droppings will also get smaller and will often be strung together or will contain hairs or pieces of carpet fiber. The rabbit's stomach will then become bloated as it loses weight and starves to death.
To prevent blockages, regular brushing and combing is a must. Also, free feed of the loose timothy hay every day (do not give the small compressed hay blocks as the fiber is too small and therefore ineffective); plenty of exercise (in order to help the hair that they do ingest to pass through their system); and a daily serving of either papaya, dried papaya, 1 or 2 papaya enzyme tablets, pineapple, or dried pineapple (these all contain papain/bromelain which help break down the hair) are all very important in preventing hairballs. Petromalt, Femalt, or Laxatone (all available in most pet stores) may also be used as hairball preventative, especially during heavy molting, but should be used carefully as they may cause diarrhea. Also include a daily serving of green veggies for roughage.
Treating the first signs of a blockage is controversial, but the first thing to do is to get them to eat as much roughage (hay, tree branches, etc.) as they will. Make sure to be offering the rabbit plenty of greens (esp. broccoli) and other foods that you may usually consider "treats." This is critical in order to have the bunny maintain digestive flora. As you treat the condition, stay in constant contact with your rabbit vet as they may need to give you subcutaneous fluids spiked with electrolytes so that the rabbit does not become dehydrated.
Why spay/neuter? 80 to 95% of unspayed female rabbits will get uterine or ovarian cancer between two and five years of age, and a very high rate of males will get testicular cancer. Spaying or neutering your rabbit will give him/her the potential life span of eight to twelve (or more) years of age. Also, upon reaching sexual maturity, rabbits will often display such undesirable behavior as spraying, chewing, nipping, fighting with other rabbits, etc. In most cases, neutering totally eliminates this behavior.
When the time comes to have your rabbit neutered, it is extremely important to make sure that your vet is knowledgeable and experienced with the procedure and with rabbits in general. A rabbit neuter or spay can be dangerous or even life threatening if improper technique or general anesthesia is used. If the rabbit is older, tests may need to be done to assess liver and kidney function prior to surgery.
Contrary to popular belief, cedar and pine shavings are very bad for rabbits and other animals. "Aromatic hydrocarbons from cedar and pine bedding materials can induce biosynthesis and heptic microsomal enzymes" which are known to cause liver disease (quoted from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services guide for the care of laboratory animals). Use timothy hay (on top of newspaper) or organic kitty litter for your rabbit's litter box and timothy hay for other small animals' cages. Do not use corn cob- if rabbits eat it, it can get lodged in their stomach and create a serious blockage.
Sneezing may or may not be a sign of trouble. If sneezing is accompanied by a runny nose and/or runny eyes, a vet should be seen immediately, especially if there is also a loss of appetite. If the rabbit is sneezing but has no other symptoms and is eating well, it may be allergies or even nothing at all, but keep a close eye out for the development of any other symptoms and keep in touch with your rabbit vet.
Rabbits can get the common dog or cat flea, but be very careful about the products you use to treat the home and yard as well as the products you use on your rabbit. If the yard is treated, do not allow your rabbit on it for at least a week and then water it thoroughly to wash off any residual chemicals. If use of chemicals is absolutely necessary, the one currently considered safe on rabbits is called Carbarryl which must be purchased through your vet.
A mite that lives on the skin dander of rabbits, will cause your rabbit to scratch, and if left untreated, will eventually cause thick crusts to develop on the rabbit's body. Your vet can administer a drug called ivermectin to eliminate this problem.
Earmites cause rabbits to shake their heads frequently and scratch their ears. If left untreated, a middle ear infection could develop which may cause a problem with their balance. Ivermictin is also recommended for earmites.
An internal parasite called coccidia can infect the small intestines. Symptoms can be a loss of appetite to chronic diarrhea and occasionally death. Testing for coccidia is as easy as taking a fecal sample to your vet during the rabbit's annual check-up.
If your rabbit is free of any of these parasites, it is unlikely that they will get them as long as they are kept inside, their home is clean and they are not exposed to other animals who may carry these parasites.
Never let a vet give your rabbit amoxicillin (an antibiotic that is pink in color and smells like bubble gum). Amoxicillin and other forms of penicillin kill the "good" bacteria in the rabbit's intestines and can cause other organs to malfunction. There are other antibiotics that can safely be given to rabbits such as Albon, Bactrin, and Baytril.. Occasionally a rabbit cannot tolerate an antibiotic (signs are a loss of appetite, diarrhea, and others) and another may have to be tried instead. If your vet says that just this once will be okay or that they have no other antibiotic to dispense --find another vet!
Food and water should not be removed from a rabbit the evening before surgery! Ignore this direction if given by the front office staff and discuss with your vet if the instructions come from him/her. Not only do you want to do the right thing for your rabbit but you need to educate for future rabbits this vet may see! Rabbits cannot throw up and possible vomiting is the reason that food is removed from cats and dogs. It is harmful to rabbits and causes a longer recovery time if food and/or water is denied them. The rabbit should also be tempted to eat as soon as it awakes from surgery to assist with the recovery process. After surgery, offer lots of things you would normally consider "treats" in order to help them back on to food!
If your rabbit likes a bath, you can bath him/her in warm water, or use a gentle spray from your kitchen sink attachment to wash flea dirt and eggs away. Make sure bunny is dried thoroughly. If your rabbit is afraid of the water, don't take a chance as they can break their back if they fight wildly. See previous section regarding parasites about using Carbarryl. DO NOT use powder or spray on the rabbits head! As with any insecticide, if there is a negative reaction of any kind (such as diarrhea) discontinue use immediately. Note that flea dips and baths can kill a rabbit.
Is it dandruff or is it fur mites? If you can only see flakes, it is almost impossible for you to tell without a microscope. A sure sign of mites is what will look like white scabs or a crust on the skin and it will often start around the neck area. In addition, your rabbits can become very thin with bald spots as the mites become worse. You can also see very thin hair and dandruff caused by scratching due to flea infestation.
All of the above are simple things to check, but sometimes it may be easier with two people. If check-ups are done every two months, you'll begin to know your rabbit well enough so that you can spot a problem in the early stages.