Sensitivity of the Rabbit's Intestinal Tract: The bacteria populations in a rabbit's intestinal tract are considered the most delicately balanced of any in all herbivorous mammals. The growth and activity of normal (favorable) bacteria tend to keep potentially harmful bacteria in check. Overgrowth of harmful bacteria usually results in production of toxins that are rapidly absorbed into the rabbit's circulation, quickly causing illness and death. In addition to orally administered antibiotics, other insults can disturb the balance of bacteria. Rapid changes in the diet are most often implicated. For example, a rabbit's diet was suddenly changed from alfalfa pellets to oats because the pet owner had run out of rabbit pellets. The rabbit died within 24 hours of this diet change. Another case of sudden death involved a pet rabbit that ate a large quantity of oatmeal cereal and died the following day. A third rabbit was allowed to consume huge quantities of lawn grass. Its intestinal tract was not adequately prepared and the rabbit died the same day. No other commonly kept house pet is as sensitive to dietary changes as the rabbit Consequently, such changes should be made very gradually. Supplements to the regular diet should be added cautiously and should not constitute more than 20% of the total diet by volume.
Use of Antibiotics in Rabbits: Antibiotics should never be used in rabbits unless they are specifically prescribed by a veterinarian. The route of administration (oral versus injectable) of antibiotics is a much more important consideration with rabbits than with dogs and cats. Because rabbits are herbivorous (plant-eating) and depend upon bacteria within their bowel for proper digestion, antibiotics given by mouth can wipe out these beneficial bowel microorganisms. When these helpful and necessary bacteria are destroyed, undesirable bacteria can overgrow and produce poisons within the bowel that can kill the rabbit When needed, injectable antibiotics are preferred because they are far less injurious to the bacteria within the intestinal tract. To help their intestinal tracts add a powdered lactobacillus or Acidophilus product, plus Tang (General Foods) to the drinking water. Rabbits seem to prefer the flavor of orange and will be unaware that they are also drinking a large volume of favorable and desirable bacteria that may help their intestinal tracts.
Venereal Spirochetosis (Rabbit Syphilis): Rabbit syphilis is a relatively rare sexually transmitted (venereal) disease of pet rabbits. This disease is caused by a slender, spiral bacterium (spirochete) transmitted by direct contact between infected and uninfected rabbits. Transmission is more likely to occur in rabbitries than in a household. In fact, exchange of bucks breeding males) among rabbit breeders helps spread the disease. Infected rabbits develop multiple raised, crusted and sometimes bleeding ulcers on the external genitalia, around the anus, and on the face (particularly the nose). Affected rabbits remain alert and the condition usually disappears after several weeks. Treatment is recommended and involves antibiotic injections.
Respiratory Disease: Most respiratory diseases of rabbits are caused by the bacterium, Pasteurella multocida, though other bacteria are often involved. In rare instances, the protozoan (one-celled) organisms that cause coccidiosis colonize the nasal passages and cause respiratory disease. Respiratory signs often include sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge, eye discharge, listlessness, inappetence and pneumonia. Respiratory disease of rabbits must be aggressively treated with an appropriate antibiotic (determined by a bacterial culture and antibiotic sensitivity test) and for an appropriate length of time to prevent relapses. Unfortunately, research has shown that the Pasteurella organism often resides within pus in inaccessible areas (such as the nasal passages) and remains isolated from the therapeutic effects of antibiotics. These "protected" organisms serve as a source for reinfection. For this reason, a total cure for Pasteurella-related disease may be very difficult.
Wryneck: A serious problem in pet rabbits is a mild to severe twisting of the head that causes in coordination and sometimes total incapacitation. Wryneck is most often the result of a bacterial infection of the inner ear and is not a true neck problem. It can be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, but the outlook with these cases is always guarded. Unfortunately, wryneck often results from abs cessation of the inner ear (and sometimes the brain). Penetration of antibiotics into the diseased area is often restricted or impossible, resulting in mild improvement, temporary relief, or no improvement at all.