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New Rabbit Not Eating Right

What causes a rabbit to stop eating hay or pellets?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, DABVP
Posted: April 27, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: Our current rabbit is having a GI problem. We obtained him about three weeks ago from a rabbit rescue in Phoenix. He was fed mainly timothy hay and some pellets, greens probably weekly. We live in Prescott. He supposedly is about 1-year-old. He appeared healthy at first and ran around exploring when we put him on the ground. When we brought him home, he appeared to have a sluggish appetite. At the rescue place he lived in a small cage. At home he has his own bedroom. We called the rescue place, and the woman said his sluggish appetite was caused by the change in environment. We brought him to our vet, who gave him a clean bill of health. His appetite continued to decline — he refused to eat timothy hay or pellets. He ate greens, broccoli and his willow ball. We brought him to the vet a second time because we noticed an eye was draining, at which he had blood work drawn. We were told that he also had lost about a pound, but we only had one weighing before, so I don't know if that is accurate. He currently weights 5.5 pounds. The lab work showed low protein and potassium. Everything else was normal. We just bought some orchard grass, which he turned up his nose to. We are prior rabbit parents. Can you help us solve this problem? We do not want to lose him!

A: Your dedication to this new rabbit is just wonderful. Your new bunny is very lucky to have you.

Rabbits refuse to eat for a variety of reasons, including diet, internal diseases, dental disease or many other causes.

The diet you describe sounds very appropriate. So it is unlikely that diet is the cause of what you are seeing.

Even though it sounds like your rabbit is young, dental disease should always be considered when a rabbit turns its nose up to food. Dental disease is not always easy to diagnose. A very specific oral examination needs to be done by your veterinarian. Sometimes, that is not enough. When I suspect dental disease and I do not see any changes on an oral examination, I suggest that we sedate the rabbit and look more extensively at the teeth with a specialized scope. We can also take dental films at that time to really understand the processes going on in the mouth. Rabbits with dental disease usually have normal blood tests, as your rabbit has.

Of course, your rabbit’s problem could be something else. You have done a lot so far but have no real answers.

I advise returning to your veterinarian’s office to let them know that your rabbit is not improving. They will probably suggest further testing, such as a dental examination. You may also need whole body radiographs to search for other causes of your rabbit’s refusal to eat.

Another reason to visit your veterinarian, besides trying to find out the cause of your rabbit’s problem, is that your rabbit needs supportive care until it is eating properly. You may need to help with assist-feeding of your rabbit, and possibly even fluids and electrolytes. Your veterinarian should be able to help you find the right supportive care for your rabbit.

See all of Dr. Rosenthal's Critter Q&A articles>>

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