Rabbits are often thought of as low maintenance pets. Caretakers sometimes believe that there is no reason to go to the vet unless their rabbit is sick. However, the problem with that thought process is that rabbits have a tendency to hide their weaknesses. Therefore, it’s difficult to know when a rabbit is sick until they are already far along in their illness.
Bringing your rabbit to the vet for an annual checkup can help catch symptoms of illness in rabbits. You can help them become healthy again before it becomes a serious problem.
How often should you take your rabbit to the vet? Rabbits who are healthy only need to be brought to the vet for a checkup once a year. If your rabbit is elderly or has frequent health problems, then you should bring them to the vet every 6 months. And, of course, if you notice any signs of illness in your rabbit, it’s important to make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
Building a relationship with a rabbit veterinarian in your area can do more than just give your rabbit quick checkup. Your veterinarian can get to know your rabbit and give you advice specific to the needs of your own bunny. You can also give them a call if you are ever worried about something and need advice.
An annual health exam for your rabbit
An annual checkup is a way to make sure that your rabbit is healthy. The vet can check your rabbit’s teeth to make sure they aren’t growing too long and are not infected. They’ll make sure your rabbit is a healthy weight, check their breathing and heart rates, and make sure their ears and eyes look healthy.
A checkup will give your vet a baseline of your rabbit’s health so that they are familiar with your rabbit. They’ll be better equipped to deal with the situation if your rabbit ever does need to be brought in because they are not feeling well.
As your rabbit ages, the vet may also choose to perform a blood test to check for any underlying conditions. If your rabbit ever has access to the outdoors, your vet can test their poop for any infestations of parasites or worms.
The annual health exam is also a time for you to ask your vet any questions you may have and get their advice. Maybe your rabbit is a picky eater and doesn’t like to eat their hay, or they have a tendency to get gunk in their eyes. Don’t be afraid to ask for any advice you need. Your vet who has some understanding of your rabbit and their specific situation is the best equipped to help you.
Older rabbits or sick rabbits
Elderly rabbits or rabbits who have a history of health problems should be brought into the vet more frequently than young, healthy rabbits. These rabbits are more at risk of developing health complications, so you’ll need to pay closer attention to their health.
If this describes your rabbit, consider bringing them in for a checkup every 6 months instead of just once a year. This can help to keep track of your rabbit’s health and make sure they are getting all the care that they need.
17 Ways to Know if Your Rabbit is Sick
When else to bring your rabbit to the vet
If you have a healthy adult rabbit, you might only have to bring your rabbit to the vet for their once-a-year checkup. However, there are other times in a rabbit’s health history that could make a visit to the vet necessary.
If you have a young rabbit, you should make sure they are spayed or neutered when they reach maturity. In some countries there are also vaccinations available that rabbits should receive periodically. And, of course, you should learn the symptoms of a sick rabbit so you can take them to the vet when they need medical attention.
Spay or neuter surgery
When a young rabbit reaches maturity (usually around 4-6 months) You will need to make an appointment with your vet to get the rabbit spayed or neutered. For new rabbit caretakers, this is often the first time you will meet your veterinarian. You may be asked to take your young bunny in for a checkup before the appointment is scheduled.
It is important to your rabbit’s health to get them spayed or neutered, especially if you have a female rabbit. Neutering cuts down on reproductive cancers that are common in rabbits. If you are experiencing some sudden aggression from your rabbit or other behavioral problems, neutering will usually help to calm down a troublemaker bunny.
Vaccination (if applicable)
If you live in the UK, you will need to go to the vet for two vaccines annually. These vaccinations will protect your rabbit against Myxomatosis and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. Both of these diseases have an incredibly high fatality rate, so it’s important to follow your vets instructions and revaccinate your rabbit on a yearly basis. Rabbits can receive their shots starting at 5 weeks old, but they must be administered at least 2 weeks apart.
For those of us living outside the UK, there are no vaccinations available for our rabbits. Luckily these two diseases are not common in North America, so there is a much lower risk of a rabbit contracting these diseases. Though rare, there have been isolated outbreaks of these diseases recorded in the past few years. If you hear of any cases in your area, the best thing to do is keep your rabbit indoors and practice basic hygiene to prevent spreading the disease.
When your rabbit is sick or injured
If your rabbit gets sick, it’s important to bring them to the vet as soon as possible. Rabbits are prey animals so they usually don’t look obviously ill unless they are very sick. They have evolved to hide their weaknesses so they won’t get singled out and picked off by predators.
This means that it can be very difficult for us caretakers to know when a rabbit is sick. We need to learn how to look out for very subtle signs and changes in behavior so we can get our rabbits the help they need in time.
How to know if a rabbit is sick or injured:
- Not eating or a change in eating habits
- Not pooping or a change in litter box habits
- Sitting in a hunched position
- Sudden changes in energy levels
- Drooling or a wet nose
- Lack of balance or head tilt
- Mouth breathing
- Abscesses or bumps
- Enlarged stomach
- Balding patches of fur
- Suddenly aggressive behavior
If you have any doubts about your rabbit’s health, give your vet a call. Even if you don’t think it’s an emergency situation, you can still get advice from your vet or make an appointment just to be on the safe side.
How to find a rabbit veterinarian in your area
Rabbit anatomy is very different from cats and dogs, so rabbits need to visit veterinarians that specialize in small animals. This means that your choice of vet can be very limited and depend on who you can find in the area around you. You may also have to travel a long distance to find someone who is qualified to take care of your pet rabbit.
To find an appropriate vet in your area, you will need to search for a Small Mammal Veterinarian or an Exotic Animal Veterinarian. The House Rabbit Society keeps a list of some veterinary practices that take rabbits. This is always the first place that I look to find a veterinarian when I move to a new area. The House Rabbit Society mainly keeps listings within the United States, but there are some international veterinarians included in their list as well.
You can also perform a google search to look for an exotic animal veterinarian near you. Check the website or call the office to make sure they have experience with rabbits and are qualified to take care of your companion. You can also contact other veterinary clinics in your area and ask who they recommend for rabbit healthcare.
What to bring with you when you bring your rabbit to the vet
When you bring your rabbit to the veterinary clinic, you want to make sure they are in a carrier not on a leash. This will keep your rabbit safe in the waiting room, where other animals that are predators to rabbits might also be waiting. A carrier will also help your rabbit to feel safe and a little less stressed.
Your veterinarian may also request that you bring in a fecal sample so they can check your rabbits poop and make sure there are no worms or parasites. When you visit a new veterinarian, you should also include a copy of your rabbits medical history.
If you are bringing the rabbit to the vet because they are sick, you should bring along a little bit of your rabbits usual food. If the rabbit has to stay at the veterinary hospital overnight, it will be better if they have access to their usual diet.
How to transport a rabbit to the vet
When you transport your rabbit to the vet, you want to have a carrier that can be closed completely. Use a carrier that gives the rabbit enough space to turn around, but is not too large. If you have to make a sudden stop in the car on the way to the vet clinic, a large carrier would mean the rabbit will make a harder impact with the side of the carrier, causing a higher risk of injury.
Include some hay in the carrier with the rabbit. They probably won’t munch much in the car, but the rabbit may want to nibble on hay once you arrive at the vet office. If the carrier is big enough, you can also include a litter box in the carrier. Otherwise, consider putting a towel down to give your rabbit’s feet traction and soak up any pee.
If you don’t have a car, you should consider using a taxi or rideshare service. For rideshare services that I’ve used, there was no official pet policy. It’s left up to the driver to determine if they are comfortable with a rabbit in their car. When the driver arrives I always let them know I have a rabbit in a carrier and ask to make sure it’s okay with them. So far I have not had any issues. All the drivers were perfectly okay with me bringing my rabbit with me.
I don’t recommend using public transportation if you have any other choice. The new sounds and smells can add another layer of stress for rabbits. Waiting outdoors or in areas that are not climate controlled can also be bad for a rabbit’s health, since they are susceptible to heat stroke in the summer and hypothermia in the winter.
- Gold, Keith DVM. “Your House Rabbit’s First Visit To The Veterinarian.” House Rabbit Society. https://rabbit.org/journal/4-1/HRJ4.1_Health.html.
- Kathleen Wilsbach and Sandi Ackerman. “How to Find a Good Rabbit Veterinarian.” House Rabbit Society. February 10, 2013. https://rabbit.org/faq-how-to-find-a-good-rabbit-vet.
- “Rabbit Vaccinations.” Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health/vaccinations.
- Zarbock, Marylou. “10 Reasons Rabbits Go To The Veterinarian.” Lafeber Company. February 6, 2017. https://lafeber.com/mammals/10-reasons-rabbits-go-to-the-veterinarian.