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Is This Rabbit Healthy?

Picture this - you've been waiting for this day for weeks (maybe months, or a year, or even more in some cases)! Finally! You get to pick up your new baby bunny (or adult)! You have everything all set up at home, you have feed, treats, new sparkly bowls, mounds of hay, even a name all picked out! It seemed like this day would never come, but it has. You get out of the car and the panic sets in - what if this is one of those "bad" breeders who passes off sick animals to people? What if it's sick and you don't know it? How do you know?


Baby Flemish Giant / Giant Chinchilla mix bunnies


Unfortunately there are no guarantees with rabbits (consider giving the post "Why Rabbits Don't Have Guarantees" a read for more information), but there are some things you want to check before taking bunny home:


Ears - this is a great place to start. Bunny ears should be clear and smooth on the inside. There should be no sores or anything that could be described as "crusty". While ear mites are easily and simply treated, if the breeder is handing you a rabbit with ear mites I would question what else they missed. If all else looks well, no one would fault you for still taking the rabbit, but no one would fault you for walking away either. That said, if the breeder told you before you came to pick up that the rabbit had ear mites and they are treating, there is no reason to walk away. Make sure treatment is appropriate and continue on if you choose. In our years of raising rabbits we've had ear mites only once so far, but they are a thing that just happens and are not a sign of poor breeding or husbandry practices unless severe.


Teeth - Teeth should be even and aligned. If the rabbit has one tooth longer than another, one sticking out at an odd angle, or teeth at diagonal and not meeting top to bottom this is called malocclusion. This condition requires frequent maintenance and special care. It can be caused by injury or genetics, but if you were planning to use this rabbit for breeding you should walk away. No rabbit with malocclusion should be part of a breeding program. If you were purchasing bunny as a pet and the breeder has already discussed with you the needs of the rabbit with this special needs bunny that is okay. If the breeder didn't notice and seems surprised or tells you it's not a big deal - walk away. It is a big deal and the breeder should have checked for this before pick up.


Eyes - Eyes should be clear and bright. They should not be goopy, runny, inflamed or bulging. They should not be cloudy. Bulging means difference between right and left and/or sticking out significantly from the face. There are congenital defects that can cause these conditions as well as infection or illness. This is different than just bunny being nervous or scared and very wide eyed. Eyes may have a bulged appearance when a rabbit is scared, but if you compare one side to the other and/or straight on from the front you will see that it's minimal and just nervous rabbit.


Nose - the nose should be clear and free of discharge. A small amount of clear condensation under the nose can be normal and is not cause for alarm depending on temperatures and nervousness of rabbit, but any white, green, yellow, or other colored discharge is an immediate no. Even clear discharge that is actively running or dripping is a no. It is just not worth the risk. This is especially true if you have other rabbits at home who may be impacted by illness. Walk away immediately.


Front legs - Pay special attention to the inner part of the front legs above the feet. Any matting of fur, wetness, or crusts on this part of the legs is a sign that this rabbit is ill. Rabbits will clean their runny noses with their legs and the build up of mucus in the fur is usually the cause of this. This is not worth the risk, and you should strongly consider walking away from this rabbit. Now, if they clearly just stepped in a water bowl obviously that's not anything to be concerned about.


Feet - Feet should be clean (some staining is normal, particularly for light colored feet, as some rabbits just love to hang out in their bathroom) with no matting, sores, or scrapes. Nails should be short and (hopefully) recently clipped. There should be no swelling or lameness. Pay particular attention to the bottoms of the back feet. Sores on the bottoms of the back feet are called "sore hocks" and can be a lifelong issue with recurring infection. If you are planning to breed this rabbit you do NOT want this in your program - no matter what explanation the breeder gives you for why it happened.


Genitals - Presumably you are expecting this rabbit to be male or female. There are many videos and tutorials you can find to learn to tell the difference (though this can be quite difficult, particularly on young animals of smaller breeds) or the breeder should be willing to show you. The hope would be that the breeder is accurate with sexing rabbits, but even the best can make mistakes. With young rabbits, there are no guarantees as it can be exceedingly difficult. Even rabbit show judges have been known to incorrectly identify a rabbit! Genitals should be clear of sores or irritation and clean. There are several issues that could be shown by sores or rashes on the genital area, and you don't want any of them (though most are treatable).


Under Tail/Back End - While checking the genitals, also pay attention to under the tail, backs of legs, etc. You don't want to see any signs of diarrhea, rash, irritation, matting, etc. These are all signs of a sick or injured bunny.


Overall Impression - Overall the rabbit should be clean, bright eyed, and alert. It should not be lethargic, floppy, unable to hold balance, or appear sickly in any way. If you see anything concerning - ASK. The breeder should be able to explain anything you're seeing. If they can't or you don't feel that they're being honest - walk away. The hope would be that you've spoken to the breeder at length and they have been informative and helpful, and you feel comfortable with them.


Unfortunately there are many people out there who are just looking to make a buck, so it's important that you research on your own before purchase. You should know what to look for and what is and isn't reasonable. If you feel uncomfortable with the purchase, walk away. For breeders who require a non-refundable deposit you may very well lose your deposit (this depends entirely on the breeder), but that will always be better than having a sick rabbit.


Any questions I didn't answer? Ask below or send us a message.


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