Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Diseases of the growing rabbit

Contributor(s): Molly Varga, Owen Davies, Anna Meredith

diseases at 0-3 weeks

Defective nesting behavior

  • Maternal ability is partly inherited and partly learnt behavior.
  • Primiparous does sometimes make small ineffective nests, and pluck insufficient hair. This is exacerbated by lack of provision of nesting materials such as straw and hay, which may also be eaten by the doe. Since kits do not grow fur until they are 7 days old, new-borns need to be kept warm and will chill if the nest is insufficient. If a doe continues to build such ineffective nests for subsequent litters then consideration should be given to management problems or lack of maternal ability. The latter would usually mean either fostering the kits or not breeding from that particular doe.
  • Cannibalism is sometimes a problem with particular does, especially primiparous ones, in which case it may be simply a case of over-vigorous cleaning of the freshly born kits by an inexperienced mother.
  • If only minor extremities are chewed then the kits will often survive. However, some kits will still be alive despite major trauma and will require euthanasia   Euthanasia  .
  • Occasionally does will defecate and urinate in the nest site, and this can be another cause of mortality in young rabbits (high levels of ammonia can predispose to respiratory infections and irritate eyes and nose; wet bedding can attract flies which can lead to flystrike   Fly strike  ).

Hypothermia  Hypothermia 

  • Hairless rabbits that leave the nest often become hypothermic and can die.
  • Sometimes if they are found in time they can be warmed up and returned to the nest. Since wild rabbits are born in an enclosed burrow with upward sloping tunnel away from the nest site, any kits that leave the nest soon return, and the doe has no need of any instinct to return her offspring to their nest.

Hypo-and hypervitaminosis A

Staphylococcosis  Staphylococcosis 

  • This is part of a disease syndrome, which in some respects is similar to pasteurellosis    Pasteurellosis  . It is caused by S. aureus  Staphylococcus aureus  , and is manifest as a number of different conditions. It is one of the organisms responsible for mastitis in does, which will have an obvious effect in reducing the nutrition of very young rabbits.
  • In addition it can cause septicemia in these rabbit kits, entering the body either through minor abrasions, or ingested in milk from an infected mammary gland.
  • It is often rapidly fatal, and usually dead kits are the first clinical sign that is observed. Few lesions are observed at post-mortem, but very occasionally pustules in the skin may be seen.
  • Diagnosis can be achieved by culturing heart blood, and isolating rabbit pathogenic strains of S. aureus.
  • This bacterium may also be responsible for abscesses   Abscess   and sore hocks   Ulcerative pododermatitis (Bumble foot)   in older rabbits. Once established in a breeding rabbitry it can be virtually impossible to eliminate, as it can be carried in rabbit nasal passages. It is obviously important to pay particular attention to hygiene in these rabbitries.
  • Treatment/elimination strategies:
    • Penicillin   Penicillin  , cloxacillin, macrolides and tetracycline   Tetracycline   (significant resistance to tetracyclines is now evident).
    • Disinfection with, eg quaternary ammonium compounds or household bleach.

 Escherichia coliinfections

  • Very young rabbits are occasionally infected with E. coli  Escherichia coli  , which causes acute diarrhea and death   Colibacillosis  .
  • The kits are found very wet and the bacteria can be cultured from intestinal content. When this occurs several litters may be affected at the same time, but subsequent litters from the same does are reported to be unaffected.
  • Treatment: early cases may respond to antibiotic therapy:
    • Trimethoprim-sulfa combination    Trimethoprim / sulfadiazine   orally at a dose of 30 mg (combined total of drugs)/kg BID or
    • Neomycin   Neomycin   at 30 mg/kg PO.
    • Fluid replacement orally or by IP injection.
    • A probiotic will help restore balance of gut microflora.
  • Prevention: husbandry and sanitation must be improved.
  • Subsequent litters from same doe may have passive immunity.

Excessive milk

  • Very occasionally a doe may overfeed her youngsters, resulting in an overproduction of soft pale feces which adhere to their perineums.
  • Cleaning of the affected area is all that is required, as otherwise death may occur following anal occlusion and gut stasis   Gastric dilation and stasis  .

diseases 3-8 weeks

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Further Reading


Refereed papers