Anorexia in rabbits: 2. Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosing and treating anorexia in rabbits

source: Frances Harcourt-Brown
In Practice vol 24 no 8 September 2002
starts p450, 13 pages long

Rabbits need to be treated rapidly if they are suffering from anorexia, and this applies especially to does that are pregnant or lactating. Rabbits that look depressed and in pain and have suddenly stopped eating may have abdominal obstructions and need an operation, since rabbits can't vomit. Rabbits also need treatment rapidly if they have liquid diarrhoea, though if they just have uneaten caecotrophs these are not life-threatening. Rabbits may also go off their food if they lose a companion, or are deprived of water.

Wet or soiled fur may be a sign of digestive problems or urine infections. Dehydrated rabbits have wrinkled skin. A rabbit's abdomen should be felt very gently, since it's easy to damage the rabbit's abdominal organs. Rabbits with dental disease tend to have wet chins, and may need an anaesthetic for a close examination inside their mouths. X-rays can help in diagnosing problems. It's possible to get some rabbits to keep still as though they were in a trance by putting them on their backs and talking to them softly while stroking them very gently. The rabbit can then be rolled on its side for an X-ray.

Blood samples can give useful clues. Rabbits with anaemia may have abscesses or dental trouble. Changes in blood glucose levels can be caused by a number of conditions, such as stress, or intestinal obstruction, though it is uncommon for rabbits to suffer from diabetes mellitus.

There are some general guidelines that should help rabbits with anorexia, such as providing hay, fresh grass, and tempting fibrous foods, and keeping the rabbit warm and quiet to help keep stress levels down. Painkillers, such as carprofen, can also help. Rabbits need syringe feeding if 24 hours have passed without their eating.

Specific treatments depend on the cause of the anorexia. Pineapple juice can help rabbits with hairballs, both by providing energy, and by helping the stomach contents to move through the digestice system. Dental problems should be treated very carefully, to avoid damaging the rabbit's mouth. Rabbits with kidney disease have a poor prognosis, but restricting calcium levels in their diet can help.