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By Makeli phiri

EVERY small livestock keeper and in this case, rabbit keeping should know that no animal is free from diseases. These can be introduced or brought about by those visiting or even the owner if there are lapses in the management of the animals.

In as much as diagnosis is concerned the work of the veterinarian should be made use of when it comes to treatment.

It is equally important for the keeper also to recognize some diseases through certain signs. In this way, proper information can be given to the veterinarian before an attempt to treat the disease is made.

Good management should always take proper precautions to prevent outbreaks to avoid expensive treatment which often requires a good deal of time with a risk of diseases spreading. Losses due to diseases are often greatly underestimated by rabbit keepers. And there is often a good deal of confusion between the terms symptom and disease. Some diseases which may be termed as disease are not diseases for example scouring, this is not a disease but a symptom of one or more diseases.

Therefore, it is essential to the proper understanding of disease in the rabbit.  The spread of diseases in a rabbitry is in various ways.

This can be done through physical contact that is at mating, confinement of healthy animals with diseased stock is another common cause.  Example is when adult does which are sick can easily infest their young with coccidiosis.

Contamination of food will also assist the spread of coccidiosis, tape worms and other diseases, in particular those which are carried by rats and mice. Snuffles is usually carried in this way.

Rabbits may carry a small number of disease carrying organisms which may be dormant. But diseases can be triggered through exposure to bad feeding or chilling making a disease to flare up.

The early recognition of ill health in the rabbit is most important, for the earlier the treatment the greater is the chance of success. It is quite useless to commence treatment when the disease has progressed so far that the animal is   obviously dying.  Lowered production would be a sign that all is not well.

Therefore, it is important for the rabbit keeper to be on the lookout for any changes in the appearance, habits or faeces of his stock.  The coat is a good indication of health. A dry, dull, harsh, starring or patchy coat indicates that something is wrong, the healthy rabbit is alert.

The eye should be bright and bold and there should be no discharge from it, nor from any part of the body, particularly the nostrils, mouth, vent, anus or teats. These parts should also be free from any sores.

Some diseases can spread so quickly that the most important action is immediate isolation of all sick animals. The isolation should be as complete as possible and the hutches in which the sick animals are placed should be protected from flies and vermin.

Apart from isolating the sick animal, its food, utensils and bedding must also be kept separate. The animal must be made as comfortable as possible with plenty of good bedding, good ventilation and plenty of fresh air are important.  Common diseases and disorders:


Parasitic worms: These can be tapeworms, roundworms and flukes.  Tapeworms consists of a head with suckers and a flat segmented body.  Roundworms can be found in the stomach and small intestine, they suck blood from and may perforate the stomach wall. Medication is available. However, for flukes in rabbits there is no reliable treatment.

Prevention of these can only be accomplished by taking care that food or water given to the animals has not been contaminated in any way by dogs. If dogs are kept, steps should be taken to see that they are dewormed.


Ear canker or mange: It is caused by mites. The mites attack the inside of the ear and cause inflammation and severe irritation, yellow or brown scabs being produced. The rabbit scratches its ear and shakes its head constantly.

When an animal is attacked, the bedding from its hutch should be burned and the hutch carefully disinfected.

After the removal of scrubs one of the proprietary ear canker preparations should be applied or liquid paraffin containing one percent phenol can be used. The mites burrow into the skin causing intense irritation.


Snuffles: The main symptom of this disease is a thick, sticky white discharge from the nose, which the animal wipes away with its forelegs.

The condition should not be confused with a cold (where the discharge is usually thin and clear) or temporary irritation due to dust or dry foods.

Poor nutrition is a predisposing factor and vitamin A being the most important. Bad ventilation assists the spread of the disease.

Prevention lies in good nutrition, good ventilation and the elimination of all animals affected.


Tuberculosis: Rabbits are susceptible to all forms of tuberculosis that is bovine, human and avian. Infection arises from food and water contaminated by tuberculous animals and birds. Control is therefore, obvious, but there is no treatment.


Pneumonia: This is inflammation of the lungs. Pneumonia often arise from changed condition such as subjection to draughts or damp. No treatment is available but prevention lies in giving adequate protection to stock.


Nutrition disorders: Bad feeding practices and poor nutrition are responsible for a great deal of loss both directly through simple malnutrition, poisoning.

Rabbits being part of domesticated livestock, it is possible to include the subject into the school or college curriculum whereby students are trained, otherwise the main training is through the hard school of practice (school production units).

However, for someone to be conversant with rabbit keeping be it rearing, the beginner should start in a relatively small way and expand as and when he gains his quite invaluable experience. This is to build on a firm foundation.

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