If you own a pet rabbit, you will need to be more attuned to signs of illnesses than most pet owners. Because wild rabbits are prey animals on the lower end of the food chain, their instinct is to hide signs of illnesses when they experience them – sick animals make for easier targets out in the wild. Unfortunately, that means that your rabbit may not show overt signs of illness until it's too late. Knowing the subtle early symptoms of illness could be the key to getting your rabbit to the vet on time and saving its life.
Listen for loud tooth grinding, even when your rabbit isn't eating anything. Tooth grinding in rabbits is a sign of pain. If your rabbit is grinding its teeth, it may be concealing the signs of an injury or painful illness.
Keep in mind that your rabbit may make quiet sounds by rubbing its teeth together. This is sometimes called tooth purring. These quiet noises are nothing to worry about – in fact, they're a sign that your rabbit is content. The tooth grinding sound that should worry you is a loud grinding noise, like the sound that someone might make while chewing ice.
Just like you, your rabbit may run a fever when its body is trying to fight off an infection. Chances are that your rabbit isn't going to hold still while you put a thermometer in its mouth, but you can check your bunny's temperature by feeling the animal's ears. This is where rabbits regulate their temperature. Hot ears most likely signify a fever.
By the same token, you should also be concerned if your rabbit's ears feel unusually cold. This means that your rabbit's body temperature has dropped, which could be a sign of illness or hypothermia. A rabbit can succumb to hypothermia very quickly, so don't hesitate to seek medical attention if your rabbit's ears are too cold.
If your rabbit is visibly drooling, or if your rabbit has a wet chin for no obvious reason, it may be a sign of tooth problems. Often, a tooth problem can be solved easily by having your rabbit's teeth trimmed, or in severe cases a tooth may need to be pulled.
If the tooth problem isn't addressed, however, it can turn into a jaw infection that could be life threatening. Possible tooth problems should be addressed as soon as they're noticed. In addition to drooling, a rabbit who is having tooth pain may refuse to eat. A loss in appetite combined with tooth drooling is a sure sign of a dental problem.
Head Tilt and Loss of Balance
If you notice that your rabbit is holding its head at an odd angle, take it to an animal hospital right away. A head tilt could be slight or could be as much as 180 degrees off the normal angle. Either way, it means that the muscles in the neck are contracted, preventing your rabbit from holding its head at a normal angle. It's also a serious symptom. This is known as vestibular disease, and it may be accompanied by a loss of balance as well.
Vestibular disease could signify an inner or middle ear infection, or it could be a sign of a brain stem disease caused by a virus, bacteria, parasite, or even a stroke. No matter what it is, your rabbit will need an exam – and possibly an MRI or CT scan – for proper diagnosis. Remember that your rabbit is small and it doesn't take much time for an infection to spread throughout its body, so quick action is required.
It's best to identify a veterinarian or animal hospital in your area that handles rabbits and other small animals before your rabbit gets sick. You don't want to be frantically searching for a healthcare provider in an emergency. Take your rabbit for a well-care check up at a clinic like Howard County Animal Hospital as soon as you can, and the veterinarian can fill you in on any special concerns you may need to be aware of for your pet.