Rabbit Housing Requirements

The 2017 PDSA PAW Report estimated the UK rabbit population to be 1.1 million.

The PAW Report also revealed approximately 35% of rabbits inappropriately housed meaning potentially a massive THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE THOUSAND rabbits in the UK are housed in a way which doesn’t meet their minimum requirements.

This rabbit is in a hutch which is waaaayyyy too small for its needs

The RSPCA guidelines are the basis for how animals in the UK should live.  They are what the Animal Welfare Act 2006 is judged upon.

The main guidelines for the cage size for rabbits are that they can;

  • easily hop at least three times down the length of their cage/ hutch
  • can lie fully across the width of it
  • are able to stand up freely with their ears pricked so their ears are not touching the top of their cage over the majority of their floor space.

These guidelines also are only for their cage. It is suggested rabbits have a pen or another space outside of their cage to spend much of their time.

 

Rabbits in the Wild

Wild rabbits live in the complex housing structure.

Their territory covers a range of 50,000m² with them living with a huge number of companions.

Underground, they create a large number of tunnels and warrens in which they burrow into. These burrows keep them nice and warm in the winter yet cool in the Summer.  They also protect them from the winds and keep the inhabitants hidden to reduce the risk of attacks from predators. Finally, the tunnels are very dark and so keep them away from the harsh bright lights which can cause them to feel scared and, in some cases, damage their eyes.

A wild rabbit in its natural surroundings

Their large territory allows rabbits to move freely across huge expanses of land on a daily basis. This land is unrestricted and the movement allows them to keep both psychologically and physically fit. It also means you can get away from other members of their group if there are any squabbles going on.

 

Any amount of land often has areas which are higher up; even if only slightly.   Rabbits use any higher land to their benefit; they use it as a vantage point, especially if they stand on their back legs on it.  This helps them to survey the surroundings and look out for predators. The higher the ground, the further they can see and therefore, the more warning they get of approaching predators and, often, the calmer they can become.

 

Rabbits As Pets

Within captivity, whether as pets, lab animals or when farmed, most rabbits are confined to cages, hutches or pens for the majority of their lives. Even if they are not, they often only have a small proportion of the space of wild rabbits.

The lack of space can cause both physical and psychological problems and spur on fights between rabbits potentially causing the death of newborn bunnies.

 

Inadequate housing doesn’t just refer to the space provided, but also whatever is in (or importantly, not in) their cage which either doesn’t meet their requirements.

The outside of a rabbit warren

Pet rabbits have little control. They will only be let into bigger space if a human wants to and this may involve them being lifted, something which the majority of rabbits do not like. If possible, lifting should be avoided and therefore, a great compromise would be the attachment of a pen to their cage. This would reduce stress and, in some cases, it may be possible to give them continuous free access to a secure pen.

 

A lack of basic requirements may lead to something stereotypical behaviours. These are behaviours which animal do repeatedly and they do not have a normal function (an example eating is a behaviour which has a normal function).

Stereotypical behaviours include pacing around the cage or gnawing at the bars.

In order to ensure a rabbit can live as best as possible, there should be objects within their cages to replicate normal behaviours in the wild. I will explain this in more detail later on in this post.

 

How Big Should the Rabbits Cage Be?

The UK has guidelines for how big cages should be in labs, farms and those used for pet rabbits. These should not be seen as the ideal accommodation a rabbit should have but the very minimum and, if possible, a rabbit should have more space to ensure they remain healthy as possible.

 

As stated, the RSPCA guidelines suggest rabbits should be able to freely hop at least three times across the length of their cage and lay flat out across the width. Not only this but they should be able to stand straight up with their ears pricked and touching the top of the cage.

 

So, What Are the Measurements

For the average size rabbit, this equates to a cage being at least 1.8 m long and, 60 cm wide.

Large rabbits, who in some cases can hop 90 cm, their cage should be at very least 2.7m long and, 1m wide due to some rabbits reaching 0.9 m when laid out flat.

This is the not only space they need.

Rabbits need extensive time outside of their cage.

This can either be;

  • space dedicated to them within the house,
  • a space used for other things but is made safe rabbits to jump around (ie wires are moved out of the way from the rabbits),
  • or a pen which is often out in the garden.

These spaces should be larger than their cages and should be at least 2.4 m long and 1.2 m wide for small to medium rabbits.

Of course, large rabbits needed to be much bigger as a rabbit should be able to run freely within these pens.

Ideally, rabbits could have free access to large proportions of the house and/or the garden.

Though these rabbits have some good resources, like plenty of access to food and water and their hide, they have limited space and only few rabbits can go in/ on the hide at once

Both within pens and cages, rabbits need to be able to stand completely straight. This means, for the average size rabbit, this space should be at the very least 75 cm high and with larger rabbits, potentially 90+cm.

 

Apart from Space, What Do Rabbits Need?

Rabbits don’t just need water, food, hay and bedding, they also require other things to keep them busy and feeling secure.

Rabbits evolved to spend much of their time in dark small spaces so feel at ease with these.

These dark spaces help them feel safe from their surroundings by creating a barrier through which they can hide behind. Therefore, rabbits need something like a hut to go inside and either hide or sleep where neither they can see out and you cannot see in.

These dark spaces protect their eyes from any bright light. This is extremely important in albino breeds whereby even relatively low lightlevels may be too bright for them and could cause them to be unable to see their surroundings.

 

In the wild, rabbits spend quite a bit of their outdoor time watching for predators. They like to survey their surroundings so they feel like they can run from anything which may suddenly appear. Rabbits, therefore do not need their cage fully covered over or to be completely dark.

With them often standing on things to increase the distance they can see,providing them shelves or other secure objects to stand on will be beneficial and often enjoyed. Rabbits do not need to be able to stand up fully when on top of these (though that would be beneficial) however, they need enough space to comfortably sit on them.

Many rabbits enjoy tunnels. These replicate the small space in a borrow. Some tunnels also suitable for them to gnaw on, helping them to grind their teeth down and may taste nice, for example, those with cardboard coveredin hay.

Hay covered cardboard tunnel

With rabbits having continuously growing teeth, they should be provided with things to gnaw on. This may just be provided as a piece of furniture or,it may be something dedicated to such as a block of wood.

 

Issues with Lack of Space

The main issue with a lack of space is that rabbits cannot move as freely as they usually would. This negatively impacts upon their physical health.

When any animal is moving, their muscles continue to either maintain or gain their strength. If you move less your muscles become weaker and smaller.

If a rabbit can’t move as much the muscles around their spine become very weak which increases the risk of them injuring their spine compared to those with plenty of space and exercise.

Rabbits with weak spines can break their back just from jumping from small heights or, in some cases, even from thumping their feet.

I’ve seen a rabbit which had a disagreement with its cage mate and ran intoa tube. When he was in his tube he thumped his foot and then when the owners saw him leave the tube he was screaming in pain (rare for a rabbit and only seen with excruciating pain) and dragging his back legs.  He no longer had any movement or feeling in his back legs and sadly was put to sleep. Any other treatment wouldn’t have helped. Rabbits notoriously have weak backs and the lack of movement that comes from living in small spaces means increases their problems.

 

A lack of space also means rabbits are likely to become bored. They have less to do and can’t move around as far and therefore may start pacing around.This affects them really badly mentally and pacing can become a big compulsion.

 

Being confined to small cages means cagemates cannot get away from each other. They were often forced to be right next to each other in very close quarters.

It is like you being forced to stay in a room with a friend.  It may be fun at first but all it takes is one small argument and it can set up a fight which neither of you can get away from.  Having to stay close together will causethe argument to spiral and lead to both of you no longer wanting to spend time together and maybe even falling out.

Fighting due to a lack of space is a big problem.  This is intensified with rabbits who don’t know each other well, when one is in season, pregnant or has newborns.  Fighting is also common when there isn’t enough space for rabbits to eat together. With fighting worsening when kept in small spaces, keeping rabbits in small houses increases the odds of them becoming seriously injured or even needing to be separated.

 

One example of a structure which is both a hide and a platform to survey surroundings

 

Rabbits who cannot move around much become frustrated. Imagine you’re stuck it in your house for weeks can’t get out. You start feeling like you could run up the walls. Rabbits feel the same. They become frustrated that they can’t anything move around much and may have little to do which can lead to them becoming apathetic. Becoming apathetic means your rabbit has no interest in what is going on.  They often just sit or lay in a corner and do little else; they may even ignore toys.  In more severe cases they may not even react to loud sounds which would usually startle mentally healthy rabbits or at least lead to them becoming alert. Apathy is a bit like depression so rabbits in this state are not happy and may have lost hope of things improving.

 

Lack of space and things to hide under/play with can also lead to stereotypical behaviours.

These are things such as gnawing at the bars or pawing at the bars or cage walls. Behaviours such as this don’t help the rabbit and may hinder them; bar chewing can sometimes damage the incisor teeth.  These are known as stereotypical behaviours or stereotypies.

Stereotypies may be done at any time.  Rabbits are usually more active during the night and therefore these behaviours are usually worse then. As most rabbit owners are asleep at night they may not see all of these behaviours and/ or not realise how frustrated their rabbits are.

Some people spray cages and hutches with bitter substances to stop them gnawing on the walls.  This is not something I recommend.  Doing this punishes rabbits for a behaviour that they do out of frustration, boredom or as a compulsion (like OCD).  Instead, it is better to try and improve your rabbit’s cage and let them out more. Punishing or preventing them from carrying out stereotypical behaviours will make them feel insecure and become apathetic which may lead to more destructive behaviours such as self-mutilation (biting themselves).

 

Rabbits Need Friends

Just like humans, rabbits are highly social animals and need to be with other rabbits. Stereotypical behaviours and apathy are often worse when rabbits are isolated from others.

The best thing is to always house to rabbits together or, if this is not possible, house them in close contact with others such as having the cages touching.

In the few cases where rabbits cannot be housed together, placing a safe, non-breakable mirror (or something which will act as a mirror) in there cages will give them something to interact with and may reduce stereotypical behaviours. This can work well in horses who have been confined to their stables and isolated due to needing box rest to recover from an injury.

Two cage-mates cuddled up together in their cage (Twitter @sarahtait123)

As humans cannot play with rabbits 24 hours a day, and human behaviour and body language are completely different to rabbits, a person just spending time with their rabbit is inadequate; though better than nothing.

Housing rabbits with guinea pigs should not be done due to the risk of injury to the guinea pig and them having different dietary requirements.

 

Surprisingly, in some cases, both lab and farmed rabbits have more space than pets. At least with lab and farmed rabbits, there are clear requirements over the sizes and things that need to be in the cages.  The guidance for pet rabbits in the UK are much looser and open to interpretation; how can you tell for certain how long three hops are for each rabbit especially before you buy the cage.

 

To Summarise

Pet rabbits often have inadequate environments with them often being too small and having not enough resources.

Your rabbit should be able to lie down fully and flat-out along the width of the cage and hop at least three times along its length. Alongside this, they need something to stand upon and hide underneath whilst still having areas where they can see outside the cage. Finally, rabbits should have access to areas outside their cage for several hours per day to ensure that they remain mentally and physically healthy.  Ideas of what a rabbit needs can be seen in this post; though related to guinea pigs most of the suggestions are relevant.

 

Please Subscribe if you liked this blog post to find out when I release others. You can do this by typing your email address into the box on the right sidebar. Comment below with any questions and queries or to express your views about this blog post. If you want to discuss anything more personal or as complex then feel free to contact me at kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk.

Feeding Hay to Herbivorous Pets

Here I will be investigating the need to feed hay and it’s alternatives.  I will mostly cover small rodents and rabbits but will also mention farm animals and horses.

What is Hay?

Hay is dried grass.  It’s as simple as that.

It is usually cut from fields in the late Summer/ Early Autumn and then is sold throughout the rest of the year.  Hay can have differing colours with newly cut hay being a much greener colour than older hay.

The type of hay purely depends on the type of grass or crop that was cut and dried.

Hay can be cut to different lengths, made from different grasses and contain other plants. For instance, the hay I feed Carl contains Dandelion and Marigold.

Hay tends to be fed when either it’s not possible to feed grass all of the time or there isn’t enough grass.

Small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas tend to be kept in cages with little access to grass much of the time.

With large animals such as horses or cattle, however, hay may be fed when there isn’t access to enough lush grass.  Though hay may not always be as good to feed as grass. The nutritional value of grass may reduce as it dries and it containing less water means more needs to be drunk.  However, as a replacement to grass, hay is usually completely fine.

 

Why is hay important?

Grass, hay or alternatives to hay is the staple dietary component for most herbivores.  Not only does this mean sheep, cows and horses need to eat it but also rabbits and guinea pigs.

 

These animals have digestive systems that rely on a very high fibre diet and a large amount of roughage (grasses/ hays) needs to pass through it to keep the guts moving.  If they stop eating this or don’t eat enough they are at risk of their guts stopping.  This is worsened by many of these animals being unable to vomit.

Why is this important?

Rabbits, for instance, groom lots so develop hairballs in their stomachs.  Unlike cats, rabbits are not able to vomit these back up leading to the potential for blockage.  The high fibre diet ensures that the guts keep moving and, in doing so, stop a blockage developing.

Herbivores bodies are designed to have constant energy production from food.  If this stops then it may lead to low blood sugars.

These animals also rely on the naturally good bacteria in their gut to both break down food and prevent bad bacteria invading and causing them to become ill. If they don’t get grass or hay this bacteria will not get the fuel they require to survive and thrive and therefore could die, affecting digestion.

 

Guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits, as well as the aforementioned farm animals have continuously growing or erupting teeth. These teeth need to be ground down to prevent them overgrowing or becoming sharp next to the tongue or cheeks, causing damage. These animals must eat plenty of grass or hay as the movement of the teeth across this and each other allows them to become ground down.

If teeth do not grind down against each other appropriately they will become unevenly worn.  This uneven wear will make eating more difficult and prevent them getting adequate nutrition which can then lead to greater problems such as gut stasis, where the guts stop working.  It can also cause the teeth to develop sharp points which cut into the tongue or cheeks leading to severe pain.

 

How Much Hay do they Need?

The amount of hay needed depends what species your pet is. A rabbit requires 80 to 90% of their diet being hay or grass. A guinea pig, on the other hand, need slightly less than this; requiring approximately 70% of the diet being hay. The reason why these need less is that they must also eat fruit and vegetables daily to get enough vitamins C, which is not the case in rabbits. Fruit and veg will give some of the nutrients it Hay would otherwise and it also helps to grind down the teeth.

calm cat
A farm cat asleep on a large bale of haylage

It is often for that rabbits and guinea pigs should have approximately the same amount of hay during a day as their body size. However, rabbits and guinea pigs should have hay available throughout the day which is both clean and easily available for them to eat. This means that should be separated from the bedding.  Their bedding hay often has droppings and urine getting mixed in and therefore affecting not only is quality but reducing the likelihood of your pet wanting to eat it. For instance, you wouldn’t want to eat and go to toilet in the same room, and this is the same rabbits.

One way to do this is to provide hay in a hay net or a hay rack and keep this regularly topped up, checking is plenty of hay at very least twice a day. If out in a garden, remember these animals can eat grass which may even be healthier for them dependent on both the quality of hay and that the grass. This means they will need to have as much hay throughout the day. However, before giving your pets access a garden you must make sure you don’t have any poisonous plants throughout it.

If you do your pets could eat these and then become unwell. Alongside this, weed to killers can also be dangerous to make sure that you don’t use these on any grass that your pets may eat.

 

Other animals have slightly different requirements for hay. Horses, sheep and cattle all need about 2.5% of their bodyweight in hay each day. This does, however, depend on how much grass they have access to as well as whether horses are ridden, and how much, and if the cattle or sheep are pregnant or producing milk. It also depends on the amount of water within the hay.

Some horses are fed haylage rather than hay which contains more water and therefore they will need to have a higher weight to accommodate the weight of the water. Many cows and sheep are fed silage which again weighs more than hay due to the water within it and so need more than that. Realistically, the best way to feed hay is just to give a slight excess of it unless the animal is overweight at which stage, it should be reduced slightly until that animal no longer gains weight or, have a healthy weight.

 

Types of Hay

The main types of hay a Timothy hay and alfalfa hay.

Alfalfa hay is much higher in energy so is great for young and growing animals.  But it can lead to obesity in older animals. It is recommended guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits switch to Timothy hay as adults in most cases.

There are also other types of hay such as Oak hay which can be fed instead of meadow or timothy hay to horses. Oak hay is good for overweight horses due to it’s fewer calories.

There is also meadow hay. This tends to be finer. Whilst it is great for bedding in small mammals, it’s not the best for feeding. Meadow hay isn’t the best feeder hay as it easier to eat.  Though this sounds beneficial, it means it grinds his teeth down less as it takes less time to eat. As a result, it’s poorer for dental health.

Sometimes the best option is to buy hay baled with a mix of grasses creating several types of hay within one bale.  Often this type of hay is obtained from the farm rather than from a pet store.

 

Pre-packaged hay designed for small mammals can come with other ingredients mixed with it. A common one is Dandelion’s which both improves the taste and with picky animals but can help with kidney disorders especially if alongside Marigold. This is seen with Burgess hay. Often adding things to hay can also improve how well your pet eats it and therefore can help those picky eaters.  Other manufacturers add in Carrots and Apples.  These extra flavours improve how well some animals eat the hay and thus improve their health.  Along with that, it encourages foraging behaviour and thus is good for enrichment.

Burgess Dandelion and Marigold Hay when out of packaging

One thing to look for is the stem length.

To aid grinding down the teeth, and to improve their guts, long stem hay is advised. This is where the grass was longer when cut and has not been shredded down further.

A large proportion of the good quality hay in pet stores is now sold like this though not all of it. The aforementioned Burgess Dandelion and Marigold hay is cut to a shorter length. This may be good for those pets with longterm dental issues (which grinding more won’t help) whereby they can’t chew well.  However, short-stemmed hay will not wear down the teeth as well so it’s weighing up the pros and cons of each type of hay.

My own guinea pig has Burgess Dandelion and Marigold hay and he has had no dental problems. But, Carl has had urinary tract issues so the benefits of this of this hay is worthwhile.

 

What should I look out For with hay?

Hay should be sweet smelling and not be too dusty.

With horses, dusty hay is often soaked in water, especially for horses with COPD.  Soaking hay reduces it’s nutritional quality and, in most cases, it should not be left to soak for longer than 10 minutes.

Soaking hay isn’t a technique used with small animals and, instead, buying dust extracted hay is the best option. Dust extracted hay is recommended as small animals have sensitive airways so dust is likely to irritate.

It is important to make sure there is no mould in the hay, whatever the species. Something else look for is whether or not there is Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) in the hay. Ragwort is a very poisonous plant and is well known to cause liver damage in horses, farm animals and humans. I have not heard reports of whether or not it causes this in rodents and rabbits however, I feel that the likelihood is that it will. Therefore, if a bale of hay contains any rag worked I strongly suggest that you not only discard the whole bail without feeding it to your pet but, also contact the suppliers immediately to ensure they investigate this further as they potentially need to recall the whole batch.

The bright yellow ragwort plant. Watch out for it when dried in amongst hay

Mould should also not be in a bale of hay. Mouldy hay causes respiratory diseases but can cause issues to the guts as well and make your pet very unwell. Therefore, like you’ve rag worked is in a bale, I suggest that you discard the bail and contact the suppliers ASAP.

 

The colour of the hay depends on its age, when it was cut, the type of the hay and its quality. Usually, hay should be slightly green coloured however as said this does vary. The main thing easily is sweet smelling as this is a sign of not only good quality but also the lack of mould.

 

Alternatives to Hay

Many people are allergic to hay.

Alternatives to hay depend on the species. Horses often are given hayage as an alternative. This is higher in energy and is, therefore, more likely to cause obesity and so may be avoided in overweight horses. However, haylage may be much lower in dust, but I have experiences with mould within it.

 

Cattle sheep and goats tend to be fed silage which is very acidic. This has been partially fermented and should not really be fed to small animals.

 

In most cases, guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas should be fed hay. There is an alternative called ReadiGrass which is partially dried grass. Realistically though, if you are allergic to hay you’re likely allergic to this.  It is not suitable to use instead of hay due to it being very high in calcium and energy which increases the risk of obesity. However, ReadiGrass is great as an occasional treat.

In summary

The main take-home message is that guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas and herbivorous farm animals need hay or grass as a main part of the diet. Hay aids both dental and digestive health.

Unless animals are overweight, they ideally should be offered hay continuously. This is definitely the case in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas and if these become overweight the best option is to reduce their pellets or muesli feed.

There are several types of hay such as meadow, Timothy, oat and alfalfa hay. It is important that you avoid hay containing lots of dust or any mould or Ragwort in it.

Freshwater should always be provided alongside hay. If your animal stops eating hay you must seek veterinary advice straight away. Also, ensure that the supplied with hay offer before such as within a hay rack or hay net to prevent it becoming mixed with their droppings or urine.

 

If you found this educational or interesting feel free to subscribe to get informed when similar blog posts are released. Subscribing can be done by placing your email address in the box on the right sidebar. If you want to discuss anything on this blog feel free to drop a comment below or contact me via email at kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk

Fourteen Signs of Pain in Rabbits

I have commonly met owners who’ve told me that rabbits don’t feel pain.  As rabbits don’t show easily obvious signs of pain these owners completely believed this.  They believed that like people or other vocal species, rabbits in pain and act totally different which often isn’t the case.  The truth is, the signs of pain in rabbits are similar, just more subtle, than in other species.

Not only did I constantly hear this from owners but I also noticed a lack of recognition of pain amongst my colleagues in rabbits.  As a result of many vets not being able to recognise pain in rabbits I suspected they underestimated the amount of pain relief rabbits needed after injuries or  operations.

One day after being frustrated with these thoughts and after meeting another owner stating the same to me, a lightbulb shone in my head.  My brain woke up and said,

“If they don’t recognise it and there’s few studies demonstrating pain in rabbits then why not study it yourself”

A few enquiries to different universities later and, to make a long story short, my Masters Degree dissertation developed.  I spent several months reading about the recognition of pain in rabbits (amongst other species).  This was spent many many hours filming, watching and analysing video clips of rabbits who may or may not have been in pain from potentially being castrated; I say potentially, some clips were filmed before rabbits were castrated!

So, you could say detecting pain is an interest of mine, especially with my favourite rotation at vet school being Anaesthesia which included Analgesia (the posh word for painkillers!).  Some people think it’s a bit of a weird interest and that I maybe have a morbid fascination with pain.

The reality, if we are in pain we take a couple of paracetamol tablets or see a doctor for stronger painkillers.  If animals are in pain they can’t do this (well, ignoring research studies where Chickens have both normal feed and feed laced with painkillers in their pens.  Then chickens who’re in pain will likely eat the feed with painkillers in… yes I’m a geek!).

Given the choice, chickens select food with pain killers in.

How do Rabbits Show Pain?

  1. Hiding or laying more
    1. This is seen in most species
    2. Rabbits in pain tend to hide or sleep more.
    3. You may not see them at all or as much.
    4. This is to protect themselves both from predators (our pets believe there may still be one) and make sure their injuries don’t get worse.
  2. Less Active
    1. Rabbits in pain move around less as they avoid doing anything that hurts.
    2. This may not be as obvious as them stopping moving completely; many are still active at times.
    3. However, if you scare them or go to pick them up (something which most rabbits hate) painful rabbits will usually still dart away.

      Rabbits in pain eat and drink less
      Like many animals, rabbits eat and drink less when in pain
  3.  Eat and Drink Less
    1. Studies have consistently shown that rabbits in pain eat and drink less.
    2. To see if your rabbit is in pain you can just compare how much they eat and drink compared to what they usually have.
    3. If you have two rabbits it may be impossible to tell as if one rabbit eats less due to pain the other may just enjoy the extra food it has left to eat so you don’t notice.
    4. It’s not always the case, some rabbits don’t change their eating patterns at all.
    5. Also, if your rabbit stops eating there may be a reason other than pain such as stress or feeling ill.
    6. Not eating can, in itself, make a rabbit very unwell.  A rabbit’s digestive system is designed for them to eat almost constantly.  If they stop eating or eat very little this can actually stop their guts from working.  This can be life-threatening so if your rabbit stops eating for whatever reason get it checked out ASAP; sometimes even just leaving them a few hours to get checked may be fatal.
    7. An advantage to checking their food and water is that you don’t have to disturb your rabbit.  This is definitely a bonus as they don’t want to be messed with when ill or in pain.
  4. Limping
    1. If your rabbit has a sore leg they may limp.
    2. Not all rabbits that are in pain will limp, even if their legs hurt, and not all rabbits limping are in pain.  Limping rabbits may have something affecting their brain or an old injury which cause them to limp despite not causing pain.
    3. However, if your rabbit starts limping and they weren’t before it is likely they are in pain.  Just don’t rule out pain because they’re not limping.
  5. Stand differently
    1. Rabbits with bellyache may stand with their backs arched up similar to what a dog or cat may do.
  6. Move Differently
    1. Rabbits in pain, when stood, may writhe a bit.  This is often seen with belly ache where they are twisting and stretching their bodies to relieve the pain.
    2. This is not always obvious as it often is done very quickly, each time lasting only a second or two.
  7. They may sleep more
    1. Being in pain is tiring.
    2. Often they sleep more due to having less energy left
    3. This means they may be in their bed more.
    4. Rabbits may also lie with their eyes shut when in pain, even if they’re awake.
  8. They may become more aggressive
    Rabbits in pain may be aggressive
    When it pain often rabbits stay away from each other or become aggressive
    1. Rabbits often don’t want to be played with or lifted by people even when they’re not in pain.
    2. When they’re in pain this is even more likely as they don’t want people making that pain worse.
    3. To try to make sure they’re not in more pain, rabbits do all they can to stop people handling them and stop playing with other rabbits.
    4. This may mean your rabbit becomes more aggressive and may even scratch or bite especially if someone is touching a sore area.
  9. High Breathing or Heart Rate
    1. Most owners don’t constantly check their rabbit’s heart or breathing rates. But, when a rabbit is in pain, you may notice their chest rising and falling as they breathe quicker.
    2. Them breathing quicker or their heart beating faster is both a sign of pain and stress so it can be difficult to use this as a method of detecting pain.
    3. This is especially so for rabbits who become stressed when around people or if people decide to lift them to check their heart rate.  In these cases, their heart or breathing rates would rise when lifted even with no pain.
    4. A vet may notice high heart or breathing rates when examining your rabbit BUT it may be hard to tell if this is due to pain or simply stress.
  10. Changes in Grooming Habits
      1. If your rabbit is in pain it will tend to clean itself less.
      2. However, if they’re in pain in an area of the body they can get to they may lick it more.
      3. Sometimes if a rabbit has surgery and they are in pain they may remove their stitches from nibbling at the area.
  11. Screaming
    Pain in rabbits can be seen by them lying down
    Rabbits may lie down more when in pain
    1. As a rule, rabbits do not cry out when they are in pain.
    2. However, there are exceptions to every rule.  In this case, rarely and when in severe pain, a rabbit may scream out.
    3. It is unlikely that they will scream but it is heard in some cases.
    4. Sometimes rabbits can be heard making slight whimpering noises but again this is uncommon and is very quiet.
  12. Grinding Teeth
    1. This may be seen with tooth pain and, uncommonly, with gut pain.
    2. Sometimes very ill or stressed rabbit’s abdomens bloat up.  This may also be caused by certain foods. Bloating is a result of your rabbit’s digestion slowing or even stopping.
    3. This is incredibly painful and can, sometimes, cause them to grind their teeth, especially if you’re feeling over their belly.  Bloat also causes rabbits to writhe.
  13. Weight Loss
    1. Rabbits in pain over several days or longer may lose weight.
    2. Your rabbit will both eat less and use up more energy from stress and having higher heart and breathing rates.
    3. If your rabbit appears to have lost weight then it may be due to pain but there are many other causes too.
  14. Change in Facial Expression
    This rabbit is just resting rather than in pain. His ears are back but his nose is a U shape
    1. Pain causes us to screw our eyes shut and open our mouth.
    2. Many mammals do similar with pain and rabbits aren’t an exception.  Some of the signs they show are subtle but all of them together may be due to pain.
    3. Eyes Closed; rabbits in pain, even when awake, may have their eyes closed or only partially open.
    4. Tense Whiskers; their whiskers may become tense and instead of pointing outwards from their face and moving quite a lot, they may be held very close to the face, together and be held downwards
    5. Nose Changes; Rabbits normally have a U shape to their nostrils when relaxed.  When in pain, however, this alters as the bottom part of their nose is tensed causing it to become smaller and leaving their nostrils to form a V shape.  This is very subtle though
    6. Ears Closed; Rabbits normally have nice open dome-shaped ears which are help upright.  When in pain this completely changes. Their ears may be held back, sometimes lie along their backs.  Their ears also close leaving the opening very narrow.
    7. Cheeks may flatten.  This is very hard to spot.  Rabbits cheeks are usually very rounded and easy to see.  However, when they’re in pain these become tense and no longer stick out but, instead, flatten and may even curve inwards.

What Should I do If My Rabbit Is in Pain?

The first step is recognising pain.  Once you’ve noticed your rabbit may be in pain you should take them to your vet.  As rabbits stop eating when they are in pain and them notIf your rabbit stops eating you must take them to a vet straight away as not doing so could, along with the pain, make them severely unwell.

Vet checks may be scary for both you and your rabbit but they are the only way to find out exactly what is wrong and treat it.  As rabbits don’t like being handled they may find it even more stressful than other pets but if they’re in pain then getting them checked is definitely the best thing.

If your vet finds out what is wrong with your rabbit and they need medications, don’t worry the majority of thse for rabbits are liquids.  These medications can be squirted straight into their mouths and your rabbit may like the taste of some of them.  The quicker you find the cause of their pain and start their treatment, the better and the less stressed and ill they’ll become overall.

 

Quick Recap

The main signs of pain in rabbits are changes in their facial expression, an increase in their heart and rates, them eating less, wanting to be left alone, sometimes becoming aggressive, and being quiet.

If they’re in pain take them to the vet to find and treat the problem.

 

If you enjoyed this blog or found it informative I would be grateful if you could share it.  Also, if you found this useful feel free to subscribe by leaving your email address in the box in the sidebar; you will be sent updates when I release new blogs.

Please feel free to leave a comment with any questions or discussion points.  Also feel free to get in touch with me to find out more about this topic.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Tait (Twitter.com/ SarahTait123)