Rabbits are very social creatures that thrive on companionship and a stimulating environment. Bunnies need as much attention as dogs and cats and can become depressed without it. Rabbits can live as long as 12 years, and weigh between 2 to 20 pounds.
Despite long lifespans, rabbits are very delicate animals, prone to many species-specific health conditions.
Let’s look at three of the most common.
1) Gastrointestinal Stasis
Rabbits have extremely sensitive digestive systems. They require a specific diet constantly available to them for grazing, along with plenty of fresh water. The best foods are grass, timothy or oat hay, and fresh leafy greens. Because rabbits self-groom, they swallow fur which can create serious blockages in their gut. 80% of a rabbit’s diet should consist of timothy hay.
Gastrointestinal stasis causes many problems and deaths in pet rabbits because it causes their digestive system to shut down. If your bunny does not eat for 4 to 6 hours and his droppings look different or have stopped, call your vet immediately.
The best way to prevent G.I. stasis is with a high fiber diet that is low in fat and protein. Rabbits do not cough up hairballs like cats do, so daily grooming by their owner to remove loose fur is crucial. Provide daily exercise outside of the cage, and do not use dangerous clay or clumping litter products that can be deadly to a rabbit’s delicate digestive system.
2) Bone and Muscle Disorders
It is easy for rabbits to dislocate the lower back, causing compression or severing of the spinal cord. Signs are muscle weakness in the hind end, lack of bowel control, or paralysis. See your vet at the first signs of injury.
Rabbits do not like to be lifted from the ground or carried. In the struggle to resist, the power of their leg muscles can break their delicate spines. It is very important to learn how to pick up your rabbit safely.
3) Kidney and Urinary Tract Disorders
When blood is seen in a rabbit’s urine, kidney or bladder stones are suspected and immediate veterinarian attention is required. Often mineral deposits form in the urinary tract because of excess calcium in the diet, usually from the alfalfa in rabbit pellets.
Surgical removal of the stones is often required. Replacing rabbit pellets with grass, timothy hay, and rolled oats will help prevent the stones from returning.
It is very important for rabbits to have annual health exams. They are very good at hiding their pain and illness, so it’s important to know what constitutes normal behavior for your pet. If you do adopt a bunny, please spay or neuter. This will prevent males from marking territory, reduce the risk of uterine cancer in females, and help alleviate the overpopulation.