7 Common Rabbit Diseases: Signs, Prevention, and Treatment

Pet rabbits are wonderful pets, loved, and adored by millions of people around the world. Unfortunately, odds are your rabbit will likely get sick at some point in its life. Understanding the most common rabbit diseases will ensure you are prepared to take the necessary precautions to care for your pet rabbit.

The seven most common diseases found in rabbits include:

  1. Rabbit Myxomatosis
  2. Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease 
  3. Rabbit Encephalitozoon Cuniculi 
  4. Periodontal Disease 
  5. Rabbit Pasteurella Multocida 
  6. Rabbit Ileus 
  7. Reproductive Cancers (Mammary, Uterine, Ovarian)

The ability to recognize the symptoms, likely outcomes and common cures for these diseases is an essential skill to master when owning a rabbit. Although it is rare, there are potentially harmful diseases that humans can contract from their rabbits. Keep reading to learn much more about the seven most common rabbit diseases and how to prevent them.

The seven most common diseases that affect rabbits are:

1. Rabbit Myxomatosis

Commonly known as myxi, Myxomatosis is caused by the myxoma virus. Myxomatosis typically originates in wild rabbits. However, because this disease can be contracted through bites from common insects, pet rabbits frequently contract the disease as well. 

Insects that commonly carry Rabbit Myxomatosis include:

  • Mosquitos
  • Flies
  • Ticks
  • Flees

In addition to carriers, domestic rabbits can contract this disease from a previously infected host. Myxomatosis has an incubation period of 1-3 days and affects pet rabbits more severely than wild rabbits because domestic rabbits lack any resistance wild rabbits obtained genetically over time. 

Symptoms of Myxomatosis in Rabbits

Myxomatosis is a serious condition for rabbits and can result in death in as little as 48 hours. If the disease is prolonged, swelling and discharge could cause severe respiratory complications for rabbits, especially since they are obligate nasal breathers (meaning they only breathe out of their nose.) 

In rare cases, if the rabbit suffers chronic Myxomatosis, they will develop myxomas (lumps) on their bodies and can potentially become immune to the disease.

Symptoms of Myxomatosis in rabbits include:

  • Puffy and/or red eyelids
  • Swelling of the eyes, ears, anus, or genitals
  • Discharge of the eyes and nose
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • High fever

Prevention and Treatment of Myxomatosis in Rabbits

Unfortunately, there is no medical cure for this rabbit disease. If you suspect your rabbit is ailing from Myxomatosis, they must see a vet specialist immediately. 

Prevention and treatment for Myxomatosis in rabbits includes:


1. Keep your rabbit inside
2. Limit socialization with other rabbits
3. Consult with your vet for a flea preventative
4. Vaccinate your pet (if you live in a country that allows this)
5. Quarantine sick or exposed rabbits
1. No treatment for the actual disease, but the vet can help alleviate the symptoms.
2. Pain killers
3. Fluids
4. Syringe feeding 

2. Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease 

Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) is caused by a calicivirus, which is carried by flies and mosquitos and often causes death through internal hemorrhaging. 

Typically, pet rabbits contract RVHD by interacting with an infected rabbit or with contaminated material.

Rabbits can contract RVHD through contaminated:

  • food
  • hay
  • cages
  • fecal matter

It is also possible for a rabbit to contract the disease through secretions in the air. 

NOTE: There are two strains of the RVHD virus, RHDV1, and RHDV2, so multiple vaccinations are necessary for safety.

The incubation period of this disease can last up to three days, but RVHD is notorious for being a swift killer. Rabbits can succumb to the disease suddenly or within 48 hours, typically without exhibiting any symptoms. 

Symptoms of Viral Hemorrhagic Disease in Rabbits

RVHD kills swiftly and painfully. It is essential to take precautions against this disease because it has an almost non-existent survival rate. If rabbits survive the initial disease, they typically succumb to complications it caused, particularly liver failure.

Symptoms of RVHD in rabbits include:

  • Reduced or lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Convulsions
  • Respiratory issues
  • Blood or discharge from the nose
  • Foaming of the mouth

Prevention and Treatment of Viral Hemorrhagic Disease in Rabbits

There is no treatment for this RVHD. Veterinary care might help support the rabbit while it fights the disease, but there is no medical cure.

Prevention and treatment for RVHD in rabbits includes:


1. Vaccinate your rabbit (for both strains if possible) every six months
2. Isolate new rabbits for 30 days
3. Quarantine a sick rabbit for four weeks if it survives the disease
4. Limit contact with wild rabbits
5. Insect proof an outdoor hutch or keep rabbits inside
1. No treatment for the actual disease, but the vet can help alleviate the Symptoms
2. Pain killers
3. Fluids
4. Syringe feeding  

3. Rabbit Encephalitozoon Cuniculi 

Encephalitozoon cuniculi, or E. cuniculi for short, is a significant catalyst for other diseases. E. cuniculi are caused by a parasitic protozoan that infects a rabbit. E. cuniculi are then spread through spores in infected urine or from a mother to its offspring in the uterus. 

There is a chance your pet rabbit might be carrying this protozoan and not experience any disease or side-effects within its lifetime. Alternatively, the protozoan could lay dormant in a host and only become active as a result of stress or illness.  

Symptoms of Encephalitozoon Cuniculi in Rabbits

Although some rabbits can live with this protozoan their whole lives, it typically causes complications that could eventually become life-threatening. The host might refuse to eat due to discomfort, which could later cause Ileus. There is also a significant risk of neurological damage that could prove fatal.

Symptoms of E. cuniculiin rabbits include:

  • Seizures
  • Head tilts
  • Thick white cataracts
  • Difficulty standing
  • Loss of appetite

Prevention and Treatment of Encephalitozoon Cuniculi in Rabbits

Although it is common for rabbits to be exposed to E. cuniculi at some point in their lifetime, there are simple preventative measures you can take. However, if they do carry E. cuniculi, it is possible your rabbit will survive without any complications or treatment. But, if side-effects arise, simple treatments are available. 

Prevention and treatment for E. cuniculi in rabbits includes:

1. Clean any potentially contaminated surfaces and remove contaminated food and water from the habitat
2. Don’t expose rabbits or pet owners to E. cuniculi spores unnecessarily
3. Humans can carry and expose E. cuniculi to their pets, so be cautious when handling a rabbit, especially if you know you have encountered the virus.
1. Anti-inflammatory medication
2. Anti-parasitic drugs (typical fenbendazole over 3-5 days)
3. Additional medication to manage side-effects, such as motion-sickness

4. Rabbit Periodontal Disease 

Periodontal disease in rabbits, also known as gum disease, is an infection of the gum tissues often caused by dental neglect. A rabbit’s teeth grow throughout its lifetime, and if not properly cared for, rabbits may develop more serious conditions such as overgrown teeth and, in extreme cases, abscessed teeth.

Symptoms of Periodontal Disease in Rabbits

If untreated, infections from the periodontal disease could spread throughout the rabbit’s body and cause further illness. It is also common for the rabbit to stop eating, which could lead to starvation or gastrointestinal issues, resulting in death.

Symptoms of periodontal disease in rabbits include:

  • Redness or signs of irritation in the mouth
  • Difficulty eating
  • Evidence of abscesses or sores in the mouth
  • Bleeding gums
  • Hypersalivation
  • Weight loss

Prevention and Treatment of Periodontal Disease in Rabbits

Periodontal disease can easily be avoided by ensuring your rabbit does not have overgrown teeth. However, if your rabbit is suffering from this disease, immediate veterinary assistance is required.

Prevention and treatment for Periodontal Disease in rabbits includes:


1. Provide sufficient sources of fiber so the rabbit can grind their teeth and prevent overgrowing (80-90% of its diet)
2. Have your rabbit examined orally annually
3. Take your rabbit to the vet to trim their teeth if they start to overgrow 
1. Variations of dental surgery dependent on the case
2. Tooth extraction
3. Stabilization with anesthetic, IV fluids, syringe-feeding
4. Sedation
5. Pain Killers
6. Antibiotics

5. Rabbit Pasteurella Multocida 

Pasteurella multocida, commonly known as the snuffles, very simply, is the rabbit version of a cold. It is an upper respiratory tract infection caused by bacteria (most commonly the Pasteurella Multocida) that is transferred from direct contact with an infected rabbit. 

Pasteurella Multocida can be contracted through:

  • Nasal secretions
  • Dental disease
  • Poor ventilation in their habitat

Most cases are mild, but it is not uncommon for snuffles to be a chronic issue.

Symptoms of Pasteurella Multocida  in Rabbits

It is uncommon for snuffles to develop to the point that it is life-threatening for a rabbit. However, if untreated, the infection could spread to the rabbit’s ears or cause abscesses in the teeth, jaw, skin, and potentially organs. These complications could result in death. 

Pasteurella Multocida is highly contagious, as a result, it is best to separate a sick rabbit from other animals.

Additionally, rabbits breathe solely from their nose, so if you notice your rabbit is breathing from its mouth, it is in severe respiratory condition and must be taken to a vet immediately.

Symptoms of Pasteurella Multocida in rabbits include:

  • Red and teary eyes
  • Nasal and ocular discharge
  • Sounds of sneezing or wheezing
  • Reduced appetite
  • Trouble breathing

Prevention and Treatment of Pasteurella Multocidain Rabbits

Most rabbits get a case of the snuffles at one point or another. This means that it can be tricky to prevent but easy to treat. 

Prevention and treatment for Pasteurella Multocida in rabbits includes:

1. Refrain from exposing your rabbit to stressful situations (diet changes, overcrowding of habitat, presence of new pets, separation of bonded pairs)
2. Quarantine any infected rabbits
3. Sanitize everything in the habitat frequently

1. Keep a sick rabbit warm
2. Keep its nose clear so it can breathe properly
3. Vet prescribed oral or injectable antibiotics that must be administered for 2-4 weeks.

6. Rabbit Ileus (GI Stasis) 

Rabbit Ileus, also known as Gastrointestinal stasis (GI stasis), occurs when a rabbit’s intestines become static and stop digesting or moving food through the colon. This can be caused by a range of factors such as blockage, stress, dehydration, or a separate health issue. 

As a result of GI stasis, the rabbit will often experience difficulties defecating as well as an excessive production and build-up of gas. Both side-effects will affect the rabbit’s appetite, which will then lead to further complications.

Symptoms of Ileus in Rabbits

GI stasis is relatively easy to cure, but it is a serious condition that could result in fatality anywhere from 48-72 hours after complications. If your rabbit has not eaten or defected, it is wise to assume they are experiencing GI stasis and seek professional help. This disease can cause starvation or even organ failure.

Symptoms of Ileus in Rabbits include:

  • Lack of appetite or refusal to eat
  • Runny stool 
  • Uncommonly small droppings
  • Complete lack of defecation
  • Bloated appearance

Prevention and Treatment of Ileus in Rabbits 

There is a wide range of potential factors that cause GI stasis, and so, there are a series of treatments that may or may not apply to your rabbit. Regardless, most cases require veterinary assistance.

Prevention and treatment for Ileus in rabbits includes:

1. Refrain from exposing your rabbit to stressful situations (diet changes, overcrowding of habitat, presence of new pets, separation of bonded pairs)
2. Quarantine any infected rabbits
3. Sanitize everything in the habitat frequently

1. Fluids for rehydration
2. Syringe feeding
3. Pain killers
4. Anti-inflammatory medication
5. Motility drugs
6. Antibiotics if there is an underlying issue that calls for it
7. Surgery to remove a physical mass blockage

7. Rabbit Reproductive Cancers (Mammary, Uterine, Ovarian)

Cancer in rabbits is caused by the uncontrolled division of cells, which eventually spread throughout the body. It is common for un-desexed rabbits to develop some form of reproductive cancer, but female rabbits are at a much higher risk than males. 

One of the most common cancers found in female rabbits is uterine adenocarcinoma (uterine cancer), which typically causes malignant tumors.

Uterine cancer will occur in over 60 percent of female rabbits over the age of three. 

Symptoms of Reproductive Cancer in Rabbits

Reproductive cancers are typically very painful, and it could take years before death occurs from metastasis. The average time span between the onset of symptoms and fatality is 12-24 months.

Age plays the most significant role in the development of reproductive cancers. Still, it has also been determined that some breeds are at a higher risk, such as French silver, Havana, and Dutch breeds, where 80% of females develop uterine cancer.

Symptoms of a Reproductive Cancer in Rabbits include:

  • Lethargy
  • Bloody urine or vaginal discharge
  • Increased aggression
  • Mammary gland cysts
  • Abdominal masses

Prevention and Treatment of Reproductive Cancer in Rabbits

These cancers can be exceedingly difficult to treat, so prevention is essential. If your rabbit does develop some form of reproductive cancer, early detection is vital. If cancer has not metastasized and spread, surgical procedures are curable.

Prevention and treatment for reproductive cancer in rabbits includes:


1. Desex/spay your rabbit when it is 4-6 months old
2. If you are a breeder, stop using your rabbit for breeding purposes after the age of 3 or 4 and have them desexed.
1. Hysterectomy of the diseased organ
2. Removal of harmful tumors
3. Blood transfusions
4. Syringe feeding

What Diseases Can Humans Get from Rabbits?

Zoonoses is the term used to describe diseases a human can contract from an animal. Although it is rare for a human to contract diseases from rabbits, and most are easily treated, there is still a degree of risk that warrants caution, particularly for humans with compromised immune systems. 

Rabbit E. Cunuculi

Humans that are immunocompromised, young, or elderly are at risk of E. cuniculi; a disease previously described here. Although cases of humans contracting this disease are rare, it can be life-threatening. Symptoms reflect intestinal infection, conjunctivitis, stuffy nose, inflammation of the sinuses, and pneumonia. 

Rabbit Tularemia

Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, is another disease rabbit-owners could potentially develop from their pet. This is a rare infectious disease that can cause a range of symptoms depending on which type of the disease you contract:

  • Skin ulcers
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Ocular discharge
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 

And these are just a few of the symptoms. This disease is potentially fatal but is typically treated easily with specialized antibiotics. 

Rabbit Pasteurella

Pasteurella, another disease previously discussed, can also be transmitted from rabbit to human.

Rabbit Owners will typically only contract Pasteurella if they are wounded by a rabbit, either through a bite or scratch

Fortunately, this is rare as it is uncommon for scratches or bites from a rabbit to cause human infection. Regardless, sufficiently clean and dress any rabbit-induced wound to prevent Pasteurella wound infection. 

If the infection does take hold, contact your doctor to receive antibacterial treatment to cure the infection in 7-10 days. 

Rabbit Bordetella Bronchiseptica

Bordetella Bronchiseptica is a bacterium closely related to Pasteurella, which both causes what is commonly known as “snuffles” in rabbits. However, this bacterium triggers a different form of infection in humans than the Pasteurella. 

Bordetella Bronchiseptica is related to Bordetella pertussis, which, when exposed to humans, causes symptoms of whooping cough. This is not difficult to cure, but immunocompromised individuals need to be extra cautious to avoid serious respiratory infections.  

Preventing Disease in Your Pet Rabbit

Overall, with the proper care and dedication, rabbits are low-risk, high-reward pets. It might be unnerving to read all the common diseases they can develop, but most are easily prevented by keeping your pet rabbit inside and medically up to date with a licensed vet. 

Habitat sanitation is also an essential element of rabbit care and disease prevention. If you’re still on edge about whether or not to get a rabbit, know that they are relatively low-maintenance pets with big personalities.

Rabbits might be quiet, but they are highly active during the day and have distinct personalities that would surprise any new owner. They are easily trainable to do tricks and respond to their name. 

Final Thoughts

Rabbits bond strongly with their owners, and shockingly, this bond could last a significant portion of your life if disease-free. The common life expectancy of a pet rabbit is 8-14 years, so you can enjoy your loving ball of fur for considerably longer than their wild counterparts who hope to see two years. This makes them a worthwhile investment and the perfect addition to your family.  

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