How to Know If Your Pet Rabbit Is Sick

Learn how to recognize the signs that your pet rabbit is sick in this Howcast video featuring bunny lover Amy Sedaris and rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter.

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Rabbits make wonderful pets. If you're thinking of getting one, check out these videos: Actress Amy Sedaris, who is a loving mom to her own pet bunny, helps rabbit expert Mary E. Cotter, Ed.D., LVT answer all your questions about how to take care of a pet rabbit. It's not always easy, but it's worth the work.

 
 

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Amy Sedaris: How do you know when your rabbit is sick? How do I know when my rabbit's sick? Mary Cotter: Yeah, how do you know when your rabbit's sick? How do you know? Amy: Well. . . Mary: I'll tell you if you tell me. Amy: Okay, you tell me first. Mary: Okay, I'll tell you first. Well when my rabbits are sick one of two things happens, either they're sitting in a different position from what they usually sit in or they're doing something different with respect to eating. For example, some rabbits will stop eating altogether. Other rabbits, and this is a key thing to notice, other rabbits will change patterns of eating. For example, if a rabbit is usually a good hay eater and suddenly he stops eating hay and he'll only eat lettuce or something like that or if you notice a rabbit is picking up a piece of food, looking like he's chewing it and then dropping it, that's a change in eating pattern. So the key here is to be aware of your rabbit's normal eating pattern so that if there is any change you can detect them because a change in eating patterns is one of the main ways to tell the rabbit is sick. And then postures, you've seen Dusty sit in different postures. Amy: That's usually when I know it's gas and then I give her. . . Mary: And how do you know that? What happens? Amy: Because she's pressing her belly on the floor trying to work the bubble out. Mary: Yeah, that's what they do. It's called belly pressing. Amy: They keep changing their position. Mary: Exactly. Amy: Almost looks like they're restless. Mary: Restlessness, that's right. And they'll keep pushing their belly against the floor almost like they're trying to massage their belly into the floor. So that's another way you can tell if your rabbit is sick. And the final way you can tell if your rabbit is sick, if you even suspect something, is to learn to take your rabbit's temperature. And we have a How Cast video of how to take your rabbit's temperature so you might want to take a look at that. Once you learn how to take your rabbit's temperature you'll be able to detect drops in body temperature, which are the most frequent way of knowing that a rabbit's on a downhill slide. Very important to be able to do at home, we think. Amy: But that's the main thing because they can't tell you. You just. . . I don't know that's what so nice about spending so much time with your rabbit. You just get so familiar with each other. Mary: You get to know what's normal. Amy: Yeah, you get to know what's normal. Mary: Exactly. Yeah and they're not like dogs and cats. . . Amy: And the poop. You said that you can tell with their poop too. Mary: You can tell with their poop too. They're not like dogs and cats in that they no voices. So if there's something wrong they can't whimper. They can't do anything like that. Amy: Because they're prey animals and they don't want to signal. Mary: They're prey animals, right. Yeah, if you see a change. . . Yeah, I should've mentioned that too. If you see a change in poop just as if you see a change in intake, if you see a change in output that can be important too. If your rabbit normally poops a certain amount per day and suddenly you're not seeing any poops that may or may not be an indication of sickness or the rabbit may just not have eaten recently, but you have to keep an eye on it. You should know your rabbit's normal patterns so that if there's a change in the normal pattern you can pick it up quickly and so something about it. Unlike dogs and cats, you don't have the kind of waiting time that you do with those species. For example, if a dog doesn't eat one morning and the wife says to the husband, 'Hey Honey, he didn't eat his breakfast.' and the husband says, 'Oh, we should keep an eye on him.' You can keep an eye on him until the next day and if he still doesn't eat his breakfast the next day then the wife might say, 'We got to call that vet.' And they might take their dog in later that day or the next day and there won't be any long term harm there. With a rabbit, if a rabbit doesn't eat for 12 hours or longer. . . Amy: That's the red flag. Mary: You should be paying real close attention. A rabbit's gut has to be constantly moving for the rabbit to stay healthy. If the gut stops moving something's wrong and you need to get veterinary assistance. Amy: Yeah, and usually after three or four days that's it. That's it, it's on its way out. Mary: Yep, so stay alert. We need more alerts.

Expert

  • Mary E. Cotter

    Mary E. Cotter, M.A., Ed.D., LVT is the founder of the NY-based Rabbit Rescue & Rehab. She serves as chapter manager of the NYC House Rabbit Society and is vice president of the International House Rabbit Society. Involved with rabbit rescue since 1982, she speaks and writes frequently on rabbit-related topics, addressing owners, veterinary professionals and shelter workers. Mary is an adjunct assistant professor in the veterinary technology department of LaGuardia Community College (City University of New York) and co-manages a 7,000-member Internet mailing list focused on rabbit health, care and behavior.