Cancer and Growths in rabbits

My rabbit has an abnormal growth, is this cancer?

If you find an abnormal growth or lump on your rabbit, the likelihood is that it is an abscess, a wart caused by the papilloma virus, a lipoma, or a fibroma. Overgrown molars or a fly strike infection could cause bumps and lumps on your rabbit. Additional causes may include an infected cut or wound, a bee sting, or even a cystA particularly serious cause could be myxomatosis which results in lesions and swelling underneath the affected animal’s skin. Most domestic rabbits are vaccinated against this disease, and if not then it is highly recommended that they are.

Cancer is an uncommon cause of abnormal growths in rabbits, although it is a possibility and more information on this disease is provided in this article.

What do I do if my rabbit has an abnormal growth?

If you feel any swellings, lumps, bumps, growths on your pet rabbit then the vet should be contacted immediately for a consultation. This can be true for the majority of ailments your rabbit may present or if you think you rabbit is experiencing abnormal behavioural changes, such as depression or a lack of appetite.

Once you are there, the vet will normally ask you about any other symptoms which may have been presented and then proceed with a physical examination. If a definite diagnosis is not reached then some tests may be required. This may include anything from blood and urine tests, tissue and fluid samples being tested, X-rays, or ultrasounds.

What is cancer?

Cancer is the name given to describe a tumour that has become malignant. It can also spread quickly to different parts of the body.

What types of cancer can rabbits have?

Rabbits can have cancer in all parts of their body. The most common appears to be uterine cancer in does or lymphoma in both sexes. Other common cancers are interstitial cell tumours of the testes in bucks. It is thought that domestic rabbits have cancer because in the wild they are not built to survive as long as they do as pets. Aside from this, rabbits do not experience as high an incidence of cancer than other mammalian species.

Overall, cancers which can affect rabbits include:

Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer is also known as uterine adenocarcinomaThis is a cancer of the uterus and commonly affects domestic rabbits over two to three years old. The older the doe is, the more at risk it is of uterine cancer. The treatment for uterine cancer is a hysterectomy and it is often as a precaution to prevent the occurrence of this malignant tumour that does are spayed if they are not needed for breeding.

Mammary Tumours

These are tumours of the mammary glands and signs often include a mammary lump. X rays may be used to confirm diagnosis and treatment often includes the removal of the cancerous tissues. Recovery is possible and the cancer may not re-occur.

Lymphosarcoma (Lymphoma)

This is malignant tumour which presents itself in the lymphatic tissue and can occur at any age. Tissues more likely to be affected are the liver and kidneys, skin, the spleen, and of course the lymph nodes although any part of the body can have it. It has even been known for the spinal column, cord and surrounding bones to be affected.

Skin tumours

These are more commonly known as fibromas. The viral infection myxomatosis can be a cause of fibromas in rabbits.  Skin tumours are more likely to be seen as they occur on the skin and not inside the animal’s body.

Bone Cancer

This may attack the hind legs of rabbits. An X-ray can show that this cancer is possibility although many cases require a biopsy for confirmation. Generally the dramatic changes resulting from bone cancer are relatively easy to spot.

How do I know if my rabbit has cancer?

Often, owners may be unaware of their rabbit having most forms of cancer as rabbits are prey animals. This means that they are programmed not to show signs of pain because, in the wild, this makes them more at risk from predators. Depending on where the malignant tumour is situated, the signs and symptoms can vary. At the vet, the rabbit suspected of cancer is X-rayed and the possibly infected tissues biopsied. Blood samples may be taken and tested and some cases may even require a CT scan or an MRI.

What do I do if my rabbit is diagnosed with cancer?

The choices laid out to you if your rabbit has been diagnosed with cancer all depend on the type and area of the cancer. If caught in time, it is possible to cure rabbits with cancer. For cancers of the uterus, the rabbit may have to undergo a hysterectomy, more well known as a spay operation. Amputation of affected limbs or body parts may be necessary, again depending on the cancer and where it is. Other methods of treatment for different cancers of varying forms and severity may include chemotherapy and radiation.

Some argue that chemotherapy for some cancers severely reduces the rabbit’s quality of life during treatment time, while others argue that it is both a safe and successful method of treatment. In advanced cases, the animal may, sadly, be put to sleep.  In any case, owners can do their best to make the animal as comfortable as possible and to reduce stress.

Can my rabbit survive if it has cancer?

This is a difficult question because all rabbits react differently, and all different cancers can have varying degrees of severity. In addition, the stages of the cancer can affect the affected animal’s prognosis. Some animals can be treated of the cancer very successfully and even without it returning. These cases usually include the removal of the cancerous tissues, amputation or, in the case of uterine cancer, a hysterectomy may be performed. Others may initially appear to be cured, only for the cancer to come back. Some treatments may lengthen the animal’s life but not completely cure it and eventually the animal may die if the cancer spreads.


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