Rabbits can look remarkably normal (just a bit quiet) even when at death's door. A sick wild bunny makes easy pickings for a fox - which is why rabbits seem to be programmed to conceal their illnesses. And because they are small animals, they can become dehydrated (and hypothermic) very rapidly indeed. Prompt veterinary advice is vital if your rabbit is to have fighting chance of surviving a serious illness. Delaying 24 hours to see what happens can prove fatal. So, what are the dangerous signs that indicate your bunny needs to see a vet immediately?
Rabbit has difficulty breathing: Lips and tongue are blueish colored. Normal respiration rate in an adult rabbit is 30 - 60/minute, but some breathe faster than this if they are hot or stressed. Get to know what is normal for your rabbit. The time to get worried is if breathing is labored (long hard breaths rather than rapid panting in rabbits) or grunting. If the lips and tongue are blue tinted, your bunny is not getting enough oxygen. Get to the vet fast.
Rabbit has severe diarrhea: A rabbit that has had an episode of runny or soft stools but is otherwise alert and lively can see the vet tomorrow morning. Similarly, excess caecotrophs (the smelly, shiny, dark colored droppings like little bunches of grapes) do not count as Diarrhea. The ones to worry about are bunnies who are sitting hunched in a pool of diarrhea, either liquid/watery or jelly-like material. These rabbits need veterinary help fast. Baby rabbits are especially vulnerable to developing acute diarrhea and become fatally dehydrated very quickly. Many a baby rabbit has died of diarrhea a few days after arriving in a new home.
Uncontrollable bleeding: As with all animals, bleeding that isn't controlled by firm direct pressure needs prompt veterinary attention. If the rabbit has been attacked by a dog (or cat, fox, ferret) telephone the vet for advice even if there are no apparent injuries or those you can see seem minor. There may be internal damage and/or shock developing.
Fractured back or legs: Skeletal injuries occur if rabbits are dropped or fall from a height. Spinal injuries causing partial or total hind limb paralysis are very serious, but not necessarily hopeless. Aggressive treatment with steroids as soon as possible after the injury helps to limit swelling in the spinal cord and some rabbits recover sufficiently to lead a pretty normal house rabbit life. Broken limb bones can sometimes be fixed by lightweight casts or pins and plates . A rabbit that has fallen from a height may also have internal injuries.
Rabbit is limp, floppy or cold: This rabbit are very, very sick. The common end point of dehydration, shock or sepsis is a weak floppy rabbit, often with cold ears. They tend to sit hunched in a corner and 'feel funny' when you pick them up. Wrap them up warmly and get to the vet ASAP.
Rabbit is in pain: Rabbits who are in pain sit hunched up with their eyes half closed, reluctant to move, grinding their teeth firmly. The common cause is belly ache. Call the vet for advice. Check the litter tray before picking up the phone, and specifically look for small droppings, pools of diarrhea, or droppings strung together by strands of hair. The vet will need to know if the rabbit has been eating, drinking, peeing and pooping normally!
The Appearance of Rabbit Urine: Urine from normal rabbits usually contains large amounts of a light-colored sediment and may appear abnormal to the uninitiated. The color of normal rabbit urine varies from white, to yellowish-white, to light brown. rabbits that drink large quantities of water tend to produce clearer urine containing less sediment. Rabbits that have been recently treated with antibiotics and those undergoing significant stress may temporarily produce urine that is orange or redt inged. Such urine can be differentiated from that which accompanies urinary tract infections or uterine bleeding by use of a urinalysis, performed by a veterinarian.
Poisonings and Other Hazards: Pet rabbits are often allowed the 'run of the house.' However, rabbits love to chew and often get into trouble by chewing on electrical cords, poisonous house plants, floor mats and rugs. Electrocution, serious burns, poisoning and intestinal impaction are the most frequent consequences of such chewing. Rabbits should be confined when their owners are away from the house and must be closely supervised when their owners are at home so that these accidents are avoided.
Temporary Selective Anorexia: Some pet rabbits occasionally refuse to eat alfalfa pellets. Affected rabbits usually continue to eat other items in their diets. This condition occurs most often in response to stress, such as that associated with inadequate husbandry or sudden environmental changes. Affected rabbits may continue to refuse to eat pellets for weeks. Old or spoiled (rancid) pellets will also be steadfastly refused. This condition is diagnosed indirectly. Physical examination of the rabbit reveals nothing abnormal and laboratory tests on blood samples are normal. Other causes of in appetence must also be ruled out, such as hairball formation.