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Dirty bottom syndrome in rabbits

There are a variety of reasons why rabbits may suffer with a dirty bottom, either with faeces or urine, both of which are potential attractions for flies, especially in warmer months of the year when flystrike is a common occurrence.

Your questions answered

What causes dirty bottom syndrome?

If your rabbit is suffering from a dirty bottom it is imperative to find the cause and treat the underlying problem, to ensure that your rabbit is clean, happy and comfortable, and aren't an attraction for flies.

The following are some of the most common reasons for a rabbit to suffer from a dirty bottom.

Diet

A poor diet may be the single, most common problem in causing a rabbit to have a dirty bottom.

Rabbits who are fed too much concentrated mix and therefore don't eat enough hay or are too full to eat their caecotrophs are likely to get a mucky bottom from the uneaten caecotrophs as they build up around their bottom.

Feeding too many greens has often been cited as a cause of diarrhoea in rabbits. It may be a cause of true diarrhoea (liquid faeces), but feeding greens doesn't cause the production of too many caecotrophs.

A rabbits diet should consist of a small amount of a good quality extruded nugget food (to prevent selective feeding), unlimited amounts of fresh grass and hay and a mound of fresh vegetables the size of their own body each day.

Weight

An awful lot of pet rabbits are overweight to some degree. If a rabbit can't physically reach its back end to clean itself or eat the caecotrophs as they are produced from the anus, then they will build up around the rabbit's bottom.

Losing weight is the only answer, but no rabbit should ever be put on a crash diet as rabbits must have a constant supply of food going through their digestive system at all times.

Instead cutting down on the amount of concentrated rabbit food that the rabbit is given and increasing the amount of hay and greens they eat, whilst also increasing the amount of exercise they do, should see them losing weight at a steady and slow rate, and being able to keep themselves clean.

Dental disease

You should check your rabbit's teeth regularly to make sure they are looking healthy and to ensure early detection of dental disease.

Rabbits who find it painful to clean themselves or eat their caecotrophs due to dental disease will often present with a dirty back end, as well as the classic symptoms such as excessive salivation, loss/lack of appetite and weight loss.

The rabbit should have a thorough dental examination, under sedation or general anaesthesia, which should also include skull x-rays to assess the tooth roots. If the rabbit isn't well enough to undergo an anaesthetic immediately then supportive treatment in the way of syringe/tube feeding, intravenous fluid therapy, analgesia (pain relief) and prokinetic medication (to encourage the digestive system to keep moving) should be implemented until the rabbit is deemed fit enough to cope with an anaesthetic.

If dental disease if found to be the cause of the rabbits dirty bottom, this may prove to be a lifelong problem as the rabbits teeth will continue to grow throughout its life.

Strict preventative treatment for flystrike should be implemented, especially during spring, summer and autumn months of the year, which should include checking the rabbits back end 2 or 3 times daily, cleaning it straight away if it is dirty and using a product such as Rearguard for extra protection.

Housing

Those rabbits that are physically unable to get away from their droppings and urine as their housing is too small, have no option but to sit in it.

Ensure that your rabbit has access daily to a run or enclosed and predator proof garden and has housing that is big enough (minimum of 5ft x 2ft x 2ft for the average sized pet rabbit), so they can use one corner as a toilet corner and have the rest of the hutch as a clean and dry area to sleep, rest and eat in.

Arthritis / spinal problems

Large, overweight and senior rabbits are commonly affected by arthritic and spinal conditions, such as spondylosis. Such conditions often go under-diagnosed in rabbits as they tend to hide signs of weakness and pain due to their prey species instinct. X-rays can detect problems and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAID's) often help to ease the rabbits discomfort and improve the clinical symptoms.

Urolithiasis

Rabbits suffering from stones or sludge in their urinary tract (kidneys, ureters bladder or urethra) often have urine scalding/staining as a symptom. This makes them constantly wet, sore and very smelly.

To diagnose a problem often x-rays will be needed. If stones are detected then surgery may be an option to remove them. 

Many rabbits can be found to have a degree of sludge in their bladder and show no clinical symptoms, but if the rabbit has no other diagnosis then sludge may be the cause of their problems.

A change in diet to reduce the amount of calcium that the rabbit consumes, and increase the amount of water in the diet should be implemented and your vet may also recommend surgery to flush the bladder and remove stones.

Often rabbits with bladder sludge/stones are overweight, so weight loss may be needed to.

Encephalitozoon cuniculi

E. cuniculi is a protozoal parasite. The parasite primarily affects rabbits, but cases have been reported in sheep, goats, dogs, cats, monkeys, guinea pigs, foxes, pigs and humans.  It is a recognised zoonosis (can be transmitted to humans), but the zoonotic risk seems to be minimal to healthy individuals observing basic hygiene.

Urinary incontinence and scalding are a common clinical sign with rabbits suffering from an active E. cuniculi infection.

A blood test can determine if the rabbit has at some point come into contact with the parasite, but only a rising titre from two blood samples taken a few weeks apart would indicate an active infection.

Often rabbits are treated without a definite diagnosis on clinical symptoms alone, using the drug Fenbendazole (Panacur) for 28 consecutive days and assessing the patient's response.

Often the rabbit will suffer from recurrent flare-ups during stressful occurrences and treatment will need to be repeated.

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