Mar 7, 2014

Evaluating Rabbit Health

This post is a continuation on Evaluating Adult Rabbits.  When looking at rabbits to buy (or assess the quality of your own herd), it is just as--if not more--important to check their health, as it is to evaluate their body type.  Some issues can be serious, others relatively minor, but it's still important to be aware of them.  I'll go over issues in the order that you'll likely notice them as you do your inspection.

Proper ear carriage.
Lopped ears on a rex.
Crusty ears from mites.
One of the first things you should see is how the rabbit carries its ears.  If it's not a lop breed or lop cross, how the ears are carried can tell you some things about them.  A non-lop which has ears that airplane (especially if they're toward the ground instead of forward) or are held on either side of the shoulders most likely has some sort of issue with its ears.  Mites is the most likely cause.  Check inside the ears for scabs or crustiness, which would confirm mites.  If the ears are just red, or have no visible marks, the rabbit could have a ear infection, which could be curable, or it could be pasturella.

Rabbit showing signs of abdominal pain.
You should also note how the rabbit sits when it isn't being bothered.  A healthy rabbit will be curious about things going on.  Some may just lie stretched out (unless it's cold, in which case, they may be more balled up).  If it's hot, the rabbit may crane it's head up, but otherwise the rabbit should look relaxed.  A rabbit which sits hunched over may be suffering from internal (gut) pain.  Sometimes you can hear clicking sounds, which is the rabbit grinding its teeth.  Also look at how the feet are placed.  If the rabbit seems to be trying to keep their weight off their feet, it could be a sign of problems there.  I'll go over specific things to look for on the feet in just a bit.

Rough coat on normal fur.

Rough, or pitted, Rex fur.
Scabby skin, missing fur.
The next thing you should notice should be fur condition. Molting is understandable, especially in summer, when a rabbit is switching out of a baby coat, or when the seasons are changing.  However, a rough coat, especially if it is dull or has dandruff, can indicate other health issues.  Missing patches of fur are also warning signs.  Poor fur condition can be caused by mites, ringworm, other diseases, poor diet, or just generally poor health.

Matted fur around tail.
Also check for mats.  Matted fur is fairly common around the tail, where meaty rabbits may have a hard time getting to in order to clean.  While mats, in and of themselves, are not a huge problem, they can cause issues down the line, if not taken care of.

Healthy eye.  Third eyelid visible because of stress.
Take a look at the eyes.  They should be shiny and clear.  Most rabbits have round eyes, but some are more oblong.  Squinty eyes can be an issue though.  Blue or cloudy pupils can be caused by a genetic disorder, eye injury, or certain diseases.  The fur around the eyes should be clean, and free of crusts.  A little bit of sleep in the corner is fine, but there shouldn't be more than a little bit, and it shouldn't be into the fur.
Cloudy pupil.
Squinty, weepy eye.

Now comes the fun part: flipping the rabbit over.  There are a couple ways to do that, depending on how cooperative the rabbit is, and your own skill. I recommend using your non-dominant hand to grab the head. The "nice" way is to put your thumb under the jaw of the rabbit, with the ears between your fingers. A more difficult rabbit may require you to actually scruff them, grabbing their ears and the skin over their shoulders in one big handful.  However you hold the head, you'll then want to wrap your other arm around the rear of the rabbit, scoop them toward your body, and then lay them back (sometimes you have to bend your body over with the rabbit to keep it from freaking out).  Keep a hold on the rabbit's head while you inspect the rabbit. If the rabbit won't stay laid out on a table, it may be best to lay the rabbit on your lap, which cradles the rabbit.

Signs of urine scald (fur starting to grow back in).
The first thing you'll probably notice about the rabbit is how clean their underside is.   It's not uncommon for white fur to have a slightly yellow tinge from urine stain.  However, if the fur is missing, especially with red skin, the rabbit has urine scald.  It can be treated by neutralizing the urine, but there is likely an underlying cause, such as the rabbit not cleaning itself properly because of some other issue.  If the fur is caked with poop, that's obviously a problem.  Diarrhea can be caused by a wide range of problems, from parasites, to improper diet, to infection.

Well-furred Rex hock
While you have the rabbit on its back, take a look at its feet.  You want to see thick fur on the bottom of all of the feet.  It's not uncommon for a rabbit to have missing fur on the hind feet, showing white, rough callouses.  That's fine as well (although not as desirable as well-furred feet).  If the skin is red--or worse, scabby--the rabbit has sore hocks.  Sore hocks can be caused by improper or dirty flooring in their cage, but can also be related to poor genetics (lack of fur on the feet in the first place, or too-fine bones).  A rabbit which has missing fur on their forefeet, whether the skin is red or not, is usually not a good sign (although more often related to poor flooring than bad genetics).
Calloused hock.
Missing fur on forepaw pads.
Irritated skin indicating early stages of sore hocks.

Mature doe
Next, take a look at the rabbit's vent.  You want to verify that the rabbit is the gender that it's supposed to be (even with adult rabbits, mistakes can be made).  If you're getting a buck, make sure that he doesn't have a split penis, which is heritable, and can cause issues with breeding.
Split penis
Normal buck

Gunky scent glad on a buck.
You also want to check the health of the rabbit.  Gunky scent glands are only a minor problem, and easily cleaned up.  However, any open sores or pimples anywhere on the genitals is an indication of vent disease (rabbit syphilis).
Syphilitic pimples on penis and scrotum of buck.

Scrotum with testes sucked up.
If you're getting a mature buck, check the testicles as well.  It's not uncommon for bucks to pull their testes inside their body when that area is being messed with, but you should still be able to find the scrota--areas of loose skin to either side of the vent which have less fur on them.  Younger bucks may carry their testes closer to their belly button instead of being to either side, if they've even dropped yet.

Good teeth
Probably the most difficult part of checking over a rabbit is checking the teeth.  This is why I recommend holding the head of the rabbit with your non-dominant hand.  It takes a certain level of dexterity to pull the lips of the rabbit back enough to get a good look at the rabbit's teeth.  Many rabbits freak out about having their mouth messed with, so keep a good hold on the rabbit while doing this.  Ideally, a rabbits teeth will be even.  However, decent teeth can have a wavy or slanted profile, as long as the bottom matches the top, and there's no gap.  Malocclusion is when the teeth are overly long or the bottom teeth stick out past the top teeth.
Wavy, but matched teeth.
Chipped upper teeth

Long peg tooth, uneven teeth
Severe malocclusion.

Clear nose.
While you're looking at the teeth, look for any discharge around the nose.  Clear snot is usually OK, but matted fur, white or colored snot can mean that the rabbit has snuffles.
White snot common to snuffles.
Matted scent gland.

Clear snot.
I want to extend my thanks to Beth C., Melissa B., Kassie B., Kim W., Valerie M., and Evil Bunny Rabbitry  for helping me collect photos.