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Rabbit MOT - Keep Your Buns Running Smoothly! - Rabbit Welfare Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund

Keeping your rabbits running smoothly isn't difficult, but it's important to recognise problems early. If you check your rabbits carefully you will soon become familiar with their eating habits, behaviour, and general body condition.

If you see caecotrophs often, then the first thing to do is to make sure the diet is correct

Rabbits are prey animals who conceal signs of illness. This means that when they do finally show the signs, then they're in a very bad way. If a rabbit is quieter than normal; sitting in a crouched position, hopping with difficulty or grinding his teeth, then he may be ill or in pain. He needs to be checked over by a vet immediately.

Rabbits will only stay healthy if they have the correct diet. Follow the guidelines in the feeding section of this booklet and don't let your rabbits get fat. Overweight rabbits can develop all sorts of problems including flystrike.

Rabbit urine can be colourful! Anything from white to yellow or even red is normal, particularly if the rabbits have been eating foods such as beetroot! Signs of trouble include the bunny straining to pass urine, or blood in the urine (a red patch in a lighter coloured pool of urine).

Rabbit droppings should be fairly large, but may be dark if they have a lot of rich grass in their diet. If they are dark and small then you need to take action. You may also notice "caecotrophs" occasionally - soft, dark shiny droppings usually eaten directly from the anus. If you see caecotrophs often, then the first thing to do is to make sure the diet is correct: see the feeding section in this booklet for more information. If the over-production of caecotrophs continues after you have optimised your rabbits' diet, then seek veterinary advice.

Never change your rabbit's diet suddenly - switch foods over a period of at least 1-2 weeks

Well, legs and feet really. Toenails need to be kept in trim. If they overgrow, then the angle of your rabbits' feet on the ground may be altered, which can sometimes lead to sore hocks and strain on joints and overlong claws can catch in things and break, leading to bleeding and possible infection.

Your rabbits must be vaccinated against two killer diseases: myxomatosis and RHD (once yearly). When you go to the vet for the vaccinations your vet should check them thoroughly (including their teeth and weight) and it's a great opportunity to ask questions about their general health and care. Rabbit medicine is quite specialised and although vets have become much more rabbitsavvy in recent years, you should check carefully before choosing one. See 'choosing a vet' elsewhere in this booklet.

Nose - Clean and dry

Rabbits don't get colds, so if yours sneezes frequently, or has a runny nose, take him to a vet. Eyes – Clean and bright. Runny eyes are commonly due to a scratch or dust, but may be something more serious and must be seen by a vet. Bathing the eye may help temporarily, but probably won't cure the problem.

Ears - Clean and dry
Rabbits have big ears, but they're usually trouble-free. See the vet if your rabbit is shaking his head frequently, scratching his ears, or has lots of ear wax.

Skin and fur - Clean, even and shiny
Rabbits moult several times a year - don't panic if fur starts dropping out in handfuls! It's important to brush moulting rabbits every day. And it's worth knowing that rabbit skin, which is usually a very pale colour, often looks coloured underneath moulting fur.

Long-haired rabbits need regular grooming throughout their lives: see next section for detailed advice on caring for long-haired rabbits.

"Dandruff" is usually caused by mites. Treatment usually involves a series of injections. Don't use flea sprays without asking the vet - some products are dangerous to rabbits. Areas of bare, red or sore skin should be seen by the vet.

Tail and bottom - Clean and dry Check your rabbit's bottom daily and keep it clean. Flies can lay eggs on soiled fur and hatch into maggots which eat into the flesh. This is "flystrike". If you find fly eggs or maggots on your rabbit, call the vet immediately.

Rabbits have scent glands - clefts at either side of the genital region. If they fill with smelly wax you can clean them gently with a damp cotton bud.

Nails need to be trimmed every few months. You can do this at home, but ask the vet to teach you. Rabbits use their front paws as a handkerchief so look out for wet, matted fur - your rabbit may have a running nose or eye.


A small bare pink patch, beneath a flap of folded-over fur, is normal, especially in large rabbits. Sore hocks (red, broken or infected skin) must be treated by a vet.

Rabbits can suffer from dental problems, often due to a lack of hay in their diet.

Rabbit teeth never stop growing and if the top and bottom teeth don't line up correctly, they'll grow too long and the rabbit won't be able to eat properly.

Front teeth are easy to see - just fold back the top lip. You can't check the back teeth at home, but if they are causing problems your rabbit might dribble; lose weight; change his favourite foods; or stop eating altogether

Rabbits with dental problems may not like having their heads touched, and sometimes have bumps along the lower jaw, runny eye(s), or a nasal discharge.

If you think your rabbit has a tooth problem, take him to the vet. He'll probably need to be sedated or anaesthetised for a careful examination. Clipping teeth at home is not advised – it is thought to be painful and carries a risk of shattering the tooth root, which can lead on to serious problems.

We strongly recommend that all male pet rabbits are castrated and females spayed – this is vital for their physical and behavioural well-being in captivity. There's much more information in the section on Neutering elsewhere in this booklet.

Rabbits have evolved not to show obvious signs of weakness or illness, because in the wild it would make them a target for predators. So if your rabbit is showing signs then you must assume there is a serious problem. Watch out for:

  • Difficulty breathing; or blueish lips and tongue
  • Rabbit
  • Limp, floppy, cold, or hasn't eaten for 12 hours
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Flystrike
  • Showing signs of pain – panting for breath or unable to eat
  • Severe diarrhoea
  • Not moving around properly/lameness/paralysis

Handling a rabbit

How to handle your rabbit
From time to time it is necessary to handle our rabbits. We need to be able to examine them and perform tasks such as claw clipping and checking for fly strike.

Most rabbits do not like being handled. If they are not handled correctly, they can cause nasty injuries to the handler. They may lash out with their hind legs and that can result in a fractured spine or hind leg. Therefore it's important to do it properly.


  • Approach the rabbit quietly and slowly. Rabbits do not like being grabbed from above and have a blind spot in front of their nose, so it is best to approach them from the side
  • Allow the rabbit to sniff at your hand and talk quietly to him
  • Stroke the rabbit in a confident manner
  • Gently hold and steady the rabbit behind the head by putting a hand across the shoulders and slipping it from there under the chest. If you are right handed use your right hand, your left hand if you are left handed.
  • Scoop up the rabbit's bottom with your left hand and tuck his head into the crook of your elbow/arm. This way the rabbit is held securely.
  • Never allow your rabbit to hang by the scruff of the neck. Always support the back end and NEVER pick up a rabbit by its ears.
Support the rabbit

Always ensure that your rabbit's bottom is supported and handle him for the minimum amount of time possible. If you are examining the rabbit's back end, then his bottom should be resting on a table to free up one of your hands. If the rabbit struggles at any point then it may be best to stop and attempt to handle him at another time.

Note - Never tip your rabbit on his back - this is known as 'trancing' and invokes a fear response - we don't want to scare our rabbits

Handle your habbit gently

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