Diarrhoea in rabbits

What is diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is the name given to a problem where an animal passes watery, loose or runny faecal matter. This condition means that the faeces will usually have no fixed form. The animal will pass its droppings more frequently than they would when in normal and good health. The diarrhoea is often found both in and outside of the litter box as the rabbit may not have control over when it defecates.

My rabbit’s stool is soft, is this diarrhoea?

In many cases soft stool is not diarrhoea where rabbits are concerned. It is important that owners understand how to determine what is normal rabbit faeces and what is diarrhoea. This is because all rabbits will always present two forms of droppings. Generally in the morning or evening, rabbits produce soft droppings called caecotrophs or caecals which owners often mistake for diarrhoea. These faeces are immediately ingested by the rabbit since these soft droppings are simply partially digested food. It is essential for the rabbits to consume this because they provide the animal with its main source of healthy bacteria and important vitamins, that is to say B complex vitamins. The other type of pellet is hard, usually spherical, and is not eaten. This type of pellet is drier and more fibrous in consistency. 

How do rabbits get diarrhoea?

There are countless factors which can be taken into account when concerning the causes which lead to diarrhoea in rabbits. Diarrhoea is usually known as a symptom of certain adverse health problems in most animals and can often come within a similar period of time as other signs or symptoms. Causal factors leading to the production of diarrhoea in rabbits include their diet, certain infections, stress or even some medications. Each of these causes can occur simultaneously or even occur themselves as a result of another of these factors. For example, a rabbit can become stressed if it infected with a disease.

Digestive problems leading to diarrhoea can occur as a result of the rabbit consuming incorrect foods or even the wrong balance of the correct foods.  A sudden change in diet may also result in diarrhoea. Foods likely to cause this problem are those with too little fibre and too much protein and fat. Commercial cereals sold as rabbit food in every day stores can often be the culprits. Too much green vegetation may be a cause of digestive problems and thus diarrhoea. A high quantity of fruit being included in the animal’s diet will also result in diarrhoea.

Infections caused by harmful pathogens will more often than not lead to a production of diarrhoea. Viral infections such as the animal being infected with the rotavirus, viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) or the coronavirus are possible causes of this problem. Bacterial infections may include the E. coli bacteria or a disease known as coccidiosis, caused by the coccidian bacteria. Generally it is an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria within the rabbit’s gut which result in diarrhoea. The rabbit’s digestive system relies heavily on the correct balance of the different types of bacteria.

Some antibiotics produce this adverse health implication by leading to a bacteria imbalance and thus diarrhoea. It is for this reason that care must be taken when administering antibiotics to all rabbits. Stress as a result of any of the above, that is to say diet change, infections, or the administration of antibiotics, can also result in a rabbit having diarrhoea. Other stressful situations which may be a causal factor include pregnancy and moving homes.

How do I know if my rabbit has diarrhoea?

Rabbits with diarrhoea have very loose and runny or watery stool. The rabbit will become dehydrated as the problem progresses and this may result in a lack of appetite and subsequent weight loss. The affected animal may also be lethargic and experience pain in the abdominal region. Rabbits with diarrhoea may seem reluctant to move and their quality of life noticeably diminishes.

The rabbit will not eat its own faecal matter if it happens to be diarrhoea, as it would were the droppings called caecotrophs. The fur around the animal’s bottom will be severely matted and may even attract many flies. It must be noted that many rabbits urinate and defecate in the same area or at the same time and the result can seem as though the rabbit has diarrhoea. It is important that the vet has a look at the rabbit to confirm that it does have diarrhoea and so that the underlying cause may be sought.

What do I do if my rabbit has diarrhoea?

If owners suspect their animals of having diarrhoea, then the rabbit should be immediately taken to the vet as this can be a very serious problem. The veterinarian should then attempt to find the cause of the diarrhoea in order to treat it. In addition, if the rabbit has scoured over itself and fur then it should be bathed regularly and the cage or hutch cleaned and dried.

If dietary problems are the cause then this can be simply treated by changing the foods given to the rabbit. A correct diet is vital to the health of rabbits. Pro-biotic supplements are often an effective part of the treatment programme. Bacterial infections may be cured by carefully administering certain antibiotics, all the while ensuring that this does not further increase the problem in the gut. Stress and anxiety should be reduced by keeping the rabbit in a clean, dry and quiet environment. Fluids can be administered to replace those lost, and this is especially important in cases of severe dehydration. Oral rehydration therapy is extremely useful and products can be acquired from the vets.

Can my rabbit die from diarrhoea?

Rabbits can, unfortunately, die as a result of having diarrhoea. This is because severe dehydration is sometimes a result since the necessary fluids are not able to be absorbed from the gut. Rabbits that are treated in time can have a good prognosis.


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