Signs of a Sick Rabbit


Diarrhea is not necessarily a problem. If your rabbit seems normal otherwise or if the diarrhea is watery, withhold food for 24 hours. After 24 hours, start feeding small amounts of a bland food. If the diarrhea continues after withholding food or when you resume feeding, have your pet examined by the vet.

Diarrhea is urgent and requires immediate medical attention if your rabbit

  • Exhibits weakness
  • Loses weight or his appetite
  • Exhibits an arched back
  • Seems in pain or shows abdominal swelling
  • Seems listless, dull or lethargic

Scratching or Licking or Chewing

If your rabbit has mites, fleas, ticks or other parasites, he may scratch or lick the area occasionally or even bite himself. Examine his coat regularly for parasites and treat any fleas or ticks with over-the-counter medications unless the problem appears severe. Consult a veterinarian if there is no improvement.

Scratching, licking or chewing behavior requires immediate medical attention under the following conditions:

  • If it comes on suddenly and severely
  • If there is inflammation or hair loss, or if the activity breaks the skin
  • If there are other symptoms such as diarrhea, pain, lethargy, coughing, difficulty in moving, change in appetite or difficulty in breathing

Panting, Coughing, Wheezing or Sneezing

If your rabbit coughs or pants occasionally, he may be overheated or overexerted. Try calming him down in a temperate room and watch him carefully for signs of deterioration or distress. Severe or prolonged coughing, wheezing or panting usually indicate a need for immediate medical attention. If your rabbit starts sneezing, it may just be a cold, but if he rubs his nose a lot and there is nasal discharge, call your veterinarian.

These respiratory signs indicate urgent conditions that require immediate medical attention:

  • Choking, pawing at the mouth or obvious distress-give first aid for choking and contact your veterinarian immediately
  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up pus, blood or pink foamy fluid
  • Collapsing or fainting

Pain, Stiffness or Difficulty Moving

If your rabbit seems stiff or if he is limping, examine him for cuts, warm spots or bruising. If everything else appears normal, keep him confined and observe him for 24 hours for signs of improvement. If you notice red, swollen skin and hair loss on the hind legs, he may have "sore hocks" and will need antibiotic ointment from your veterinarian.

You should get immediate medical attention for your rabbit if he

  • Is unbalanced, staggering or falling down
  • Appears distressed or sensitive to light and sound-call for help with poisoning
  • Is stiff all over or collapses-give first aid for seizures
  • Shows any sign of limb paralysis-treat as an emergency!
  • Has an obvious limb or back fracture or any open fracture (skin broken)


Rabbits are susceptible to disorders that can result in bowel problems and internal blockages. If your rabbit appears normal but does not pass feces, he may be constipated; for these animals, this usually requires veterinary attention. If there are other behavioral or physical symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Eye and Ear Disorders

If your rabbit has eye or ear problems, you may see some of the following signs:

  • Bleeding - commonly caused by injury; can also result from prolapse
  • Clear discharge (excess tearing) - can result from allergies, infections, irritation or eye trauma
  • Cloudiness of the eyes - often results from injury or infection but can also signal cataracts, glaucoma, lens problems or simply the aging process
  • Dry or bloodshot eyes - most often seen in older rabbits; can easily lead to infection; also a sign of chronic eye disease or KCS
  • Failing vision - can result from retinal dysplasia, stroke, progressive retinal atrophy or aging, cataracts, glaucoma or diabetes
  • Inflammation - can be caused by allergies, conjunctivitis or third eyelid infections
  • Lumps or bumps in the ear - can be caused by tumors or cysts
  • Yellow discharge - most often signifies infection; often follows dry eye in older rabbits

Teeth Problems

When your rabbit's front teeth wear improperly, they become misaligned. If his teeth are overly long or if there are jaw problems or mouth infections, ulcers may appear on his lips or tongue and he may have difficulty eating. In this case, your rabbit will need to see the veterinarian for a tooth trimming and treatment.

Wet Dewlap

Your rabbit may develop an infection in the skin around his chin, dewlap and front legs from dipping his head into his water bowl. If you see an infection, take the animal to the vet and have the doctor determine if the animal has a bacterial or fungal infection. One way to avoid the problem is by providing your rabbit with a gravity-feed water bottle instead of a water dish.

Note: Never give Amoxicillin to a rabbit because it can cause a deadly reaction. Your veterinarian will have safe alternatives available.