With their adorably twitching noses, expressive eyes and cheery dispositions, rabbits are a delightful part of your life.
It’s relatively easy to recognize the basic signs of a happy, healthy rabbit:
An alert expression. Does your rabbit show a keen interest in her surroundings? Does she exhibit enthusiasm when she sees you? These are excellent signs of rabbit health. Your rabbit may not seem alert all of the time (after all, they get sleepy sometimes), but pronounced lethargy or dullness can indicate a problem. Like many animals, rabbits may hide injuries or illness in order to avoid appearing vulnerable to predators. By regularly observing your rabbit’s behavior, you will be able to better detect when something is wrong.
A clean, dry nose. Your rabbit should have dry nostrils. Significant nasal discharge or persistent sneezing can be symptoms of pasteurella, more commonly known as snuffles.
Bright eyes. Rabbits seem to epitomize the old saying “bright eyed and bushy tailed.” Has your bunny perfected that endearing, intent gaze? Are those big brown (or blue or red) eyes bright and free of discharge? Watery eyes can be another sign of snuffles, or could potentially indicate an allergy or other medical issue.
Clean ears. The ears are—obviously—one of the most iconic characteristics of a rabbit, and clean ears are an important part of good health. Watch for scabby, crusty areas inside your rabbit’s ears, as these can be symptoms of an ear infection known as ear canker. Your rabbit’s ears should also be free of mites, wax, dirt and other debris. Rabbits control their body temperature through the blood vessels in their ears, which can help you detect a fever or other change in your rabbit’s temperature. Take steps to keep your pet cool in order to prevent overheating. If you notice a head tilt in your rabbit, this could indicate an inner ear problem.
Correct teeth. Teeth are another iconic rabbit characteristic, and because rabbits’ teeth grow continually throughout their lifetime, they can be prone to developing dental problems. Malocclusion (essentially the misalignment of the teeth) can cause significant problems and requires veterinary attention, so check your rabbit’s teeth regularly to watch for any issues that may be developing. Also, keep an eye out for excessive drooling, as this can be an indication of a dental issue.
Healthy fur. Aside from occasional seasonal molting, your rabbit’s fur should appear healthy for its type, whether she has luxurious Angora wool, velvety Rex fur, shiny Satin fur or attractive “normal” fur. Watch for dull coats, unexplained hair loss, bare spots or excessive itching, as these could indicate a problem with parasites or illness.
Fabulous feet. Check those toenails regularly—rabbit toenails can grow very quickly and need to be trimmed on a regular basis. You’ll also want to watch for the appearance of any crusty, weepy sore spots on your rabbit’s hind feet; a condition known as sore hocks. Your rabbit should also exhibit a normal gait when walking, and not show any signs of limping.
A good appetite. While she might not choose to chow down in front of you (some rabbits prefer to eat in privacy), a healthy rabbit has a good appetite and eats and drinks approximately the same amount each day. If you notice that your rabbit suddenly seems uninterested in her food or water, it’s time to investigate further.
A healthy weight. A healthy bunny shouldn’t be overweight, but she shouldn’t be too thin, either. The ideal weight will vary among individual rabbits depending on their breed (an adult Netherland Dwarf might top the scales at two pounds, while an adult Rex rabbit could weigh 10 pounds, and both would be a perfectly appropriate weight for their breed). Your veterinarian can provide insight as to the ideal weight for your pet.
Normal droppings. Your rabbit’s feces should be round, uniform in size and consist mainly of hay. Regularly check your rabbit’s droppings for any abnormal signs. Rabbits also produce Cecotropes—small, soft pellets that appear darker and moister than feces. Cecotropes contain vital nutrients and are a necessary part of your rabbit’s diet, so don’t be alarmed when you see your rabbit eating them.
Even if your rabbit exhibits all of the signs of good health and condition, regular examinations by a veterinarian can help to ensure your rabbit’s continued health and happiness for years to come. If possible, locate a rabbit-savvy veterinarian in your area; someone who has extensive experience with rabbits and their specific health concerns.