Rabbit Farming: 10 Diseases & Ailments to Look out for

Rabbit farming is both rewarding and challenging. Rewarding if you’ve done your research, have a strong business plan, equipment and practices; challenging if you don’t.

And those challenges can stack up quite rapidly if not addressed. Poor decision making and practices can affect the welfare of your rabbit, something that can cost you your business.

In most cases, poor rabbit care causes rabbit diseases to manifest. In this post, I’ll share 10 rabbit diseases and ailments to be on the lookout for to improve and maintain the welfare of your rabbits.

1. Abscesses

Abscesses are generally caused by abrasions, wounds and commonly due to bites from other rabbits. When present, abscesses begin as a hard lump under the skin with a black spot. Lumps later develop puss which, if left untreated, can causes health problems for the rabbit.

It’s good practice to inspect your rabbit regular to ensure that you don’t miss the early formation signs before they develop into infections.

Abscess formationSource: ResearchGate.com

2. Ear Canker

Ear canker is caused by mites that invade the ear. Most commonly, mites move deeper in the ear of the rabbit and, if left untreated, can cause bacterial infections and even neurological disorders and fatal meningitis. Ear canker is easy to spot with the naked eye, but you have to lift a rabbit’s ears for inspection.

The most common symptoms of ear mites are crusting, scabbing and flaking that appears in the ear.

Ear Cancker
Rise and Shine Rabbitry

3. Fly Strike

Fly Strike is a fly related disease where flys lay eggs on the rabbit. Flys are attracted to damp fur, urine and faeces. As fly eggs develop into maggots, they begin to burrow into the skin of the rabbit causing discomfort as they eat the rabbit’s flesh.

Because maggots grow within 24 hours of eggs having been laid, it’s important to ensure that your rabbits are inspected regularly and their hatches cleaned thoroughly.

Cuterebra lava removed from rabbit
Animal Wellness Center

4. Coccidiosis

Coccidiosis is a disease that’s caused by a parasite (matured sporulated oocysts). Rabbits typically ingest the parasite which causes many symptoms to manifest, such as hunching of the body, blood and mucus in rabbit faeces and dehydration.

Other symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anorexia
  • Anaemia
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Poor coat condition
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss or poor weight gain or growth

Severe cases of intestinal coccidiosis intussusception (a process in which a segment of intestine invaginates into the adjoining intestinal lumen causing bowel obstruction), can cause convulsions, paralysis or fatality.

In severe cases of hepatic coccidiosis, rabbits may experience weakness, liver damage, and bile duct damage which can be followed by a coma.

Both types of coccidiosis occur due to poor sanitation.

The life cycle of coccidiaSource - Humanity Development Library

5. Enteritis

Enteritis can be the cause of a high mortality rate on your farm if not treated. It is generally caused by inappropriate diets or food that is not ideal for rabbit gastrointestinal tracts.

As a rabbit consumes the wrong feed, bacteria in the cecum breaks down the feed but also causes rapid growth of bacteria that leads to enteritis.

Common symptoms include:

  • Soft and mucus-covered stools or diarrhoea
  • Mucus-covered hind end
  • Distended, bloated, and/or painful abdomen
  • Grinding of teeth (as a sign of pain or discomfort)
  • Loss of appetite or changes in food consumption
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Restlessness
  • Poor coat quality
  • Decreased body temperature
  • Intestinal blockage (can be identified by a veterinarian)

Enteritis causes the intestines to become inflamed causing great discomfort for rabbitsSource - Purnamills

6. Snuffles

Snuffles is a common and often easy-to-treat disease (through the use of antibiotics) that rabbit farmers will encounter at some stage. It is caused by bacterium pasteurellosis multocida. The bacterium is highly contagious and can lead to many infections with only a small population of rabbits being immune to it.

Common symptoms to look out for include:

  • Runny eyes – tear ducts can become clogged resulting in even more discharge
  • Head shaking
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Loud snuffling or snoring sounds due to the presence of fluid or mucus in the nasal passages
  • Head tilting due to neurological damage
  • Skin sores

Matted fur may occur as rabbits rub their runny nose and the discharge mats the fur on of their paws.

Snuffles causes slimy discharge from rabbit noseSource - Belle Bunnies

7. Bloat

Bloat is usually the result of wilted greens or a sudden change in feed. Once again, remove all feed with the exception of good hay and water.

Encourage the rabbit to move by putting it in a run. A bit of sunshine will also make the rabbit feel better and move more freely. This will result in gasses blocking the gut to move causing relief from any pressure.

Bloat is caused by a sudden increase in gas within the rabbit’s stomach. This is typically due to a change in diet to feed that is inappropriate for rabbits. As the gas begins to build up, it causes discomfort and pain for the rabbit and can be fatal if not treated early.

Common symptoms include:

  • A hard, swollen stomach
  • Shortness of breath due to the distended stomach
  • Restlessness caused by discomfort
  • A decrease in appetite
  • A decrease in faecal production

8. Tularemia

Tularemia is a bacterial disease caused by the bacteria Francisella tulariensis. It can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected rabbit or by rabbits living in an unsanitary environment. It can also be transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes and horseflies.

Common symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Behavioural changes
  • Lethargy
  • Formation of abscesses

A basic illustration of the spread and causes of Tularemia in rabbits and humansSource - BiotechnlogyandSociety.com

9. Sore Hocks

Sore hocks are sores and inflammations that appear under a rabbit’s foot. Sores typically form due to exposure to hard flooring and surfaces, however, can also be due to:

  • Obesity. The weight of the rabbit becomes too great causing sores to form as the rabbit moves.
  • Lack of sufficient padding on the feet of rabbits (can be due to harsh flooring or contact allergies)
  • Skeletal problems (including arthritis) cause the rabbit to move in an unnatural way resulting in wear on feet and joints that balance the most weight

Sores HocksSource - BinkyBunny.com

10. Cloudy Eye

Most research we’ve conducted points to cloudy eye being a disease that is commonly present at birth. It can, however, develop for a number of reasons, such as bacterial infection (Encephalitozoon cuniculi), high levels of glucose in the blood and even trauma.

Symptoms include:

  • Cloudiness on the lens of one or both eyes
  • Discharge from one or both eyes
  • Presence of swelling or mass on the iris of one or both eyes
  • Swelling in the uvea (the middle layer of the eye that provides most of the blood supply to the retina)

Cloudy Eye Source - PetMD


While there are many diseases and ailments that rabbits are susceptible to, it is possible to prevent many of them by ensuring best practices for the care of your rabbits are carried out religiously. When rabbit farming, we highly recommended that you seek the advice of a professional when diagnosing and treating any ailments your encounter.

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