Rabbit Diarrhoea Treatment
Coping With Diarrhoea
Notice: I am not a Veterinarian and I am not qualified to give out Veterinary advice. I am only sharing my experience as a breeder.
Diarrhoea in bunnies is life-threatening. My recommendation to pet owners, especially when you have young children, is to rush your pet bunny to the vet if you find it has diarrhoea (not soft stool). It's difficult for adults to lose a pet, but having children involved increases the anguish.
Acute (sudden onset) diarrhea in rabbits may be defined as an increase in the water content of faecal pellets with or without an increase in the frequency or volume of the bowel movements. Contrary to diarrhoea in many other species, any changes in the normal appearance of a rabbit's faecal pellets are a concern and should be addressed with some urgency. Diarrhoea should not be confused with the normal, soft caecotropes (night faeces) that are produced and ingested by the rabbit primarily at night.
Too much protein could make your rabbit ill. If your rabbit does seem off colour with either diarrhoea or constipation, a couple of raspberry or blackberry leaves may help, or add some pro-biotic to the drinking water bottle. If he is sitting hunched up, at the back of his hutch, maybe grinding his teeth, not eating or drinking, then get him to a 'rabbit friendly' vet immediately! Usually in these circumstances, if he gets to this stage, his illness is advanced and has gone undetected (they tend to hide pain well) and he could die within 24 - 48 hours without professional attention. You will soon begin to get a feel for how much your rabbit eats each day, and his personality etc. if anything changes suddenly at any time, keep a close eye on him! As a helpful hint, get an idea of what his average, ideal weight would be, weigh him regularly as he grows, and even as an adult, you will soon get the idea, and will be in a better position to detect any problems, if for instance, he has a sudden weight loss.
Do not confuse diarrhoea with caecotrophs. A rabbit excretes waste products in the form of solid, round, brown pellets, which is what we find on the floor of the hutch, this is normal (and makes good compost for the garden). He is also capable of producing another type of product, known as caecotrophs, which contains proteins and vitamins, which he eats as soon as it is passed (yummy!), again, this is normal. This looks like a softer mass of poo, similar in shape to a bunch of grapes, and looks slightly wet . You will not see this often, as it is usually passed early in the morning or late at night, and eaten straight away. If you often do find it lying on the floor of the hutch, it is possible he is being overfed, or is too obese to reach to eat it as it is passed. If what you see is soft, gooey poo, stuck to the rabbits bottom and fur, and is very wet, sticky and smelly, and sometimes with a mucous, this is bad news and needs to be investigated if it doesn't clear up within a day or two. You must clean him too as this could attract flies.
Young rabbits (up to 10/12 weeks old) can be prone to stomach problems, brought on by various causes: stress of being taken away from it's mother or/and siblings, travelling to a new home, pet shops, change in diet, too much dried food in the diet, infection of the gut, bacteria etc. Symptoms may be referred to as Mucoid Enteritis / Bloat / Gastric Stasis, etc.. The cause is not always known as more research is required. Post Mortems can be carried out by the vet should the rabbit die as a result. If you find your rabbit lethargic, not eating and/or drinking, has diarrhoea or constipation, has a bloated stomach which may sound 'sloshy', has a mucous discharge, and may be grinding his teeth (a sure sign of pain), then you MUST get him to a vet immediately. He will need to be given fluids and a possible injection to help to get his gut working again. Sadly, death is all too common from these symptoms, and frustratingly, not enough is known to try to prevent as opposed to cure the symptoms. Adding pro-biotic at an early stage will help to balance the good and bad bacteria in the gut (as do pro-biotic yoghurt drinks for us humans).
First Step: Rehydration
The solution I use is as follows:
1 cup clean water
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/16 teaspoon salt (take some out of a 1/4 tsp. or use a rounded 1/8 tsp.
First of all, mix up a cup of rehydrating fluid. put about 4 ounces of clean water in a cup and add a teaspoon of sugar, one eighth a teaspoon of salt and one quarter teaspoon of baking soda. Then tip the rabbit on its back, and feed this liquid with a syringe. Try to get it to take some every hour and, slowly.
Within about eight hours of taking the liquid, slowly add some food to the diet, make up a mixture that will hopefully stop the diarrhoea. Pinhead porridge oats (not the Instant variety), rice and bananas are very good for this as porridge will line the bunny's stomach, rice dries up the diarrhoea and banana adds potassium, which animals need when they're sick as they lose potassium through watery faeces. So, a mixture of cooked rice, rabbit pellets and some banana and feed a little bit a couple of times an hour. It can be labourious work, but will be worth it if you persevere for a few days and your bunny is restored to good health.
Diarrhoea can be caused by an overabundance of coccidia. Most healthy adults have some coccidia and it rarely gets out of balance and makes them sick but young bunnies can easily get coccidiosis after being stressed or from faeces from an infected, but healthy adult.
Try to keep some herbs growing in the garden to tempt rabbits who refuse to eat. Even twelve hours of not eating can throw a rabbit's delicate system off balance.
Rabbit breeders often feed medicated pellets to prevent the intestinal forms of coccidiosis. They are called ACS pellets because they contain a 'coccidiostat' such as clopidol, robenidine, or salinomycin. However these are available only from feed merchants who have a pharmaceutical licence which allows them to sell medicated pellets. Like all drugs, there is a risk of the organism becoming resistant.
Again, I'm not qualified to answer medical questions, but if you have had positive outcomes with a bunny suffering from watery diarrhoea, I'd love to hear how you handled it.
With each kit that I sell, I include a week's supply of the food they have been brought up on. You should keep your new rabbit on the same diet for at least a month on arrival with you, after which time you can wean them Babies (Kits)
You should keep your new rabbit on the same diet for at least a month on arrival with you, after which time you can wean them onto a different food if you want to. This MUST NOT be done overnight. You MUST wean the rabbit off its usual food onto the new one over a period of at least 7-10 days. If you do not do this, the sudden change in diet could cause your rabbit to be ill, or even die. Even Adult rabbits' diets should not be changed from one day to the next as this can be very dangerous.
The following is the method that I suggest for weaning onto a new diet:-
- Day 1, provide the rabbit with a small portion of its usual food only (together with lots of hay and fresh water).
- Day 2, give 90% my food, 10% yours
- Day 3 give 80% mine, 20% yours and so on until the rabbit is eating only the food that you will be purchasing in the future. If during this weaning process, the rabbit appears to have diarrhoea, constipation, looks in pain or off-colour, take away all dried food and feed HAY ONLY for a couple of days (and water). Then try the whole process over again. You could purchase a pro-biotic to put in the water during the weaning process. If you ever decide to change the food that you give again, you must do this weaning process again.
Every breeder will tell you different, this is a personal choice, but I prefer not to give any of my rabbits vegetables until they are at least 12 weeks old, and more often that not, I prefer to wait until they are at least 5 - 6 months of age, and advise new owners to wait until the new rabbit has undergone injections, neutering etc.. as is on a stable, daily feeding regime that you and the rabbit are happy with.
Vegetables must be added very slowly and gradually, there is no rush so long as the rabbit has a good dried food and hay daily. The following is the method that I use successfully:-
- Day 1, give a small piece of carrot (approx. 1 inch), if all is well 24 hours later (i.e. no diarrhoea)
- If all is well, then on Day 3, give another small piece.
- Continue giving a small chunk every other day until you are happy that the rabbit isn't suffering any side effects.
Take away any remaining vegetable at the end of each day. If the rabbit does show signs of diarrhoea, or constipation or pain or looks off colour etc.. take away any remaining vegetable straight away and cease the introduction for another week. If all is well, do exactly the same with a different type of vegetable the following week, i.e. a very small leaf of Kale. Follow the every other day rule. Eventually, over a period of a few weeks or anything up to 3 - 4 months (you can't rush these things) you will be able to gradually increase the size of vegetable, and the amount until the rabbit is able to eat a handful of various vegetables each day. Again, you could add a pro-biotic to the water during this process. If you intend giving a variety of vegetables every day, then reduce the dried food accordingly but do not reduce the amount of hay given.
Once your rabbit is established with vegetables, he will readily demolish carrots, carrot tops, kale, cabbage, spinach, sprouts, radish, peas, beans, beetroot, celery, turnip, mint, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, nasturtiums, etc.. Don't stick to one vegetable as they all have different nutritional values. The above rule also refers to fresh grass, so be careful if you plan on letting your new bunny have a run outside on the lawn. Vegetables should be given in their raw state and not cooked or frozen.
- Lettuce should NOT be given to rabbits (particularly young kits under 4 months of age) as it contains a substance called laudanum which can be harmful and even fatal (although one leaf every once in a while may be beneficial to lactating mums). Dark green continental type lettuce could be given sparingly, one leaf every so often, but if you are not sure, it is best to avoid lettuce altogether.
- Any plant/flower that is grown from a bulb should not be given to rabbits as they are poisonous. Also avoid any of the onion family (including leeks!)
Your rabbit will appreciate treats, but do not give daily as the sugar content can make them fat and prone to heart disease. Treats made from wood are a good idea, as they do not contain sugars etc.. and not only do they keep bunny entertained, they are also beneficial for their teeth. Maybe once a week or fortnight, you could provide one or two of the following:-
- one Weetabix
- one Digestive or a Rich Tea biscuit
- a small slice of apple (no pips)
- one strawberry
- a piece of banana (very addictive, so not too many of these!!)
- a piece of toast or bread dried out in the oven (make sure the inside is well dried out!)
- a few strips of baked potato peel (well baked))
- although not a treat, a small block of clean, untreated wood to nibble at too helps keep their teeth in tact
Do not over feed the dried food. On average, you are looking at providing 3% of the total body weight per day in the form of dried feed, together with unlimited hay (and water). Too much dried feed will eventually make your bunny fat and more prone to heart disease, but could have more serious implications if it were to compact inside his tummy, and start to ferment, this would then build up nasty gasses and could be fatal within a very short space of time.
A rabbit's teeth grow continuously throughout it's life, nibbling on hay and fibrous vegetables such as grass and carrot tops, etc. helps to keep the teeth in shape. All my kit's teeth are checked from young, and I will not sell you a rabbit with teeth that are not properly aligned (I do not breed from rabbits that produce kits with misaligned teeth (malocclusion). I NEVER breed from a rabbit with malloclusion, and do not have any adults with this problem!
A rabbits toenails grow continuously throughout his life too. You should clip the toenails on a regular basis so that they do not get overgrown. Allowing exercise on concrete ground will help to keep them down. Your vet can show you how to do this at first, you have to make sure that you do not cut them too short as you may damage the 'quick' of the nail and cause it to bleed and pain. It is a job that can easily be done at home.
There are 2 vaccinations that should be organised with your vet. One is for myxomatosis, and the other is Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD). The vaccines can be given from 12 weeks of age, and then annually thereafter. A gap of approx 2 weeks should be left between the 2 different vaccines. The average price is £15 per vaccination, this can vary with different vets.
If you are planning on keeping your rabbit as a pet only, or keeping 2 or more rabbits together, then I do recommend having them neutered. A pet female will benefit from this as it will reduce her chances of cancer in later life. You will benefit from having your pet male rabbit neutered as he may start to spray like a tom cat once he reaches 5 - 6 months of age. Keeping a pair together, both benefit from being neutered also as obviously it will stop the risk of them breeding, and it will also stop them 'harassing' each other, the latter applies to pairings of the same sex too. The operation can be done from as early as 14/16 weeks of age for bucks, the cost will be approx. £60 - £75. Obviously it is a bigger operation for the female, and can be undertaken from 5/6 months of age, and will cost approx. £75 - £90. My vet uses dissolvable stitches, although I do know that some vets require the rabbit to be returned 10 days later for stitches to be removed. Please note, if you are keeping a male and female together, the buck can still be fertile for a few weeks after the operation so you must keep them separated. It is possible for rabbits to start breeding from as early as 4 months, so prior to the op, you should keep them separated.
- A healthy, adult dwarf lop rabbit will weigh approx 5 lb
- a mini lop approx 3 1/2 lb
- a Lionhead approx. 3 1/4 lb
- a Netherland Dwarf is approx 2 lb.
Weigh your rabbit regularly and get to know what is normal for him. If his weight dramatically changes, have him/her checked out by your 'rabbit friendly' vet.
In hot weather, flies may be attracted to your rabbit's hutch. It may be wise to use a fly mesh screen to prevent flies from entering the hutch in the Summer months. The flies will be attracted to back end of the rabbit, and may well lay eggs in the fur, which hatch out into maggots. The maggots will burrow and eat into the skin of the rabbit. This is a particularly nasty problem, and you must keep a daily check on your rabbit during the susceptible months, and he must be kept clean and dry. If he does succumb to this, you must get him to a vet straight away. It is possible to cure this, but if it does go unnoticed the rabbit may be better to be put to sleep. A preventative treatment can be purchased from the vet, or you can use repellent sprays and shampoos to help, deter the pests. I find Teatree spray very good, cost effective and natural.
If the rabbit starts to sneeze and appears to have a heavy discharge from his nose, check the inside of his front paws to see if they are matted (like a dirty handkerchief) then isolate him from any other rabbits and seek veterinary attention. It is possible he could have a bacterial infection known as Pasteurella, or more commonly known as Snuffles and is extremely contagious to other rabbits. Antibiotics can be given to stabilise the symptoms, but this will only relive the symptoms and the rabbit will be a long term carrier, so therefore should not be kept near other rabbits.
The Exterior hutch that the rabbit lives in should be the biggest you can possibly afford. For one Dwarf Lop, the size should be no less than 2' deep, 4' wide and at least 18" high. The outdoor hutch should be draught proof, and damp proof. The roof should be felted. It should stand on legs at least 2 - 4" off the ground. During the winter you should cover the front up with old hessian backed carpet to stop the inside getting wet. DO NOT USE PLASTIC covers as this will create condensation which will make the inside of the hutch damp and miserable for bunny.
Rabbits can withstand cold temperatures but not damp conditions. If possible, position the hutch in a shed or garage during the colder months (so long as the garage is not being used by a car, as the fumes may kill him). During the summer months, cover the mesh door with a fly screen mesh.
Again, the Indoor Mesh cage should be the biggest you can possibly afford. I can supply relevant sized indoor cages. Notice that I only list large and x-large sized cages, If you intend letting your house rabbit have free run of the house/living room/conservatory etc. with possibly a wicker basket or cat bed to laze in, then the cage 'could' be slightly smaller, as they would still see this as a natural 'safe haven' to sleep in, or as their litter tray, feeding area etc... but even if this is your intention, a cage would still be needed for starters until the bunny has learnt a few house rules. A cage inside the house should be positioned away from direct sunlight coming in through windows, and away from radiators. Do not use the indoor cages that have solid, clear plastic lids as it will become like a greenhouse during the summer, and they do not allow for good ventilation. Do not keep house rabbits in conservatories or glass porches!
I put a thick layer of wood shavings on the floor of my hutches. You can use shavings, peat, straw, shredded paper, pelleted cardboard, hemp as used for horses etc.. Do not use sawdust as it is too fine and can irritate the rabbit's eyes. Do not use cat litter as it can swell up inside the rabbits tummy or he could choke.
The 'toilet corner' should be cleaned daily, and the hutch should be cleaned out thoroughly weekly. Once you have removed all the old bedding, spray the hutch with a pet disinfectant, allow to dry before adding new bedding and returning the rabbit. Do not use Jeyes Fluid. Bleach can be used by diluting it to 5% bleach/95% water and then put into a spray bottle. Once the new bedding is in, you can spray with a pet friendly insect repellent spray during the summer months.
Items that I keep in my Rabbit First Aid Box in case of emergencies or just general 'tools of the trade' so to speak:-
- Soft brush
- Metal Comb
- Insecticidal Shampoo
- Mite Powder
- Insect Repellent (for Hutch and Animal)
- Fly Tapes
- Nail Clippers
- Cotton Wool
- Antiseptic Styptic Powder (available from pharmacies, used to stop the flow of blood if you accidentally cut into the nerve whilst clipping nails)
- A tin of plum tomatoes or tomato juice (excellent if you ever find your rabbit is particularly floppy) however I advise this to be an emergency and if you do ever find your rabbit to be floppy, unable to move etc.. get to your vet immediately!
- Liquid Petroleum
I am still in the process of writing this section so it will be added to later.