Starting in rabbit middle age (as early as 3-5 years old), issues with your rabbit’s urinary tract can become more common. With your rabbit aging and naturally starting to slow down (and maybe gaining a little too much weight), the risk factors for urinary troubles grow.
Urine scald is a common symptom of many urinary problems. Urine scalding happens when the rabbit’s fur becomes soaked with urine. This causes hair loss & red, inflamed skin around the legs, tail & genitals. Rabbit skin is so sensitive, this is very uncomfortable for them!
Urine scald is just a symptom of a larger problem, so it is important to take your bun to the vet to get to the bottom of the issue, but in the meantime, you can help your bunny find some relief. Keeping her clean & dry is the priority. You can find gentle rabbit shampoo at most pet stores. Rabbits should not be totally submerged when bathed. You can still clean their hind area though.
Carefully cradle your bunny and securely hold her so she doesn’t hurt herself squirming away. Gently wash the skin with warm water, using shampoo if needed to remove any solid debris. Pat the rabbit dry as best as possible. In between baths, you can also rub in a little cornstarch or arrowroot powder to keep the area dry. Keep her living area & litter box extra clean during treatments.
Like urine scald, wet tail is a symptom of a larger problem and not a disease, so even though you are treating this symptom at home it is important to visit your vet. When a rabbit urinates, they position their tail and legs out of the way and cleanly excrete the urine behind them. Many times when a rabbit is having urinary issues, it will have a constantly wet tail & bottom area that smells of urine. This is either because they are slowly dribbling urine on themselves, or it is somehow painful for them to assume the correct position to cleanly urinate. Follow the instructions above for bathing their bum and get your bunny to a vet.
Urinary Tract Infections
UTIs are caused by bacteria that have entered the urinary tract. Left untreated it could travel to the kidneys or deep in the bladder which can be a serious or even fatal issue. Rabbits at higher risk are older, sedentary, overweight, and/or have poor nutrition or dirty living conditions. But really any rabbit could get a UTI and some are genetically predisposed to them.
Treatment for a UTI should always start with a trip to your vet. They will likely perform a blood or urine analysis to test for infection. Antibiotics will be prescribed to fight the infection. Home care will include making sure your bunny drinks plenty of fresh water to flush the urinary system. If she is reluctant to drink, a few drops of fruit juice added to it might convince her. If your bunny is overweight, your vet will likely suggest some diet & exercise modifications to help her slim down a bit. Oxbow Critical Care is an excellent supplemental nutrition to aid sick bunnies. It comes as a dry mixture to which you add a little water to make a mash. My girls love the apple & banana flavored one!
Urinary Tract Obstructions
This can be a common result of an untreated UTI. With an obstruction, the urine flow is restricted and the bladder doesn’t fully empty. Signs to look for include dark and/or sludgy urine, frequent, painful urination, retention of fluids, weight loss, and difficulty or pain in moving around. Your vet will be able to feel the size of her kidneys and will find they are enlarged. The obstruction is most often caused by the rabbit excreting excess calcium. The excess calcium forms crystal-like kidney stones, blocking the urethra.
A rabbit with a urinary tract obstruction’s prognosis depends on if the obstruction can be removed with surgery or reduced with medical care. Unfortunately, many rabbits with an obstruction will not be able to recover from this, eventually leading to kidney failure.
Helping your rabbit maintain good urinary health
Prevention is the best way to treat urinary issues! The following can help your rabbit maintain good urinary tract health:
- maintain a healthy weight
- regular exercise – get him out of that cage every day hopping around!
- plenty of fresh, cool water – needed to flush the system
- go easy on the pellets – follow the manufacturer’s feed guidelines
- offer unlimited timothy hay & change it out daily so it smells inviting to eat
- keep their living area & litter box clean so bacteria doesn’t have a chance to breed
- limit high calcium supplements & vegetables (like spinach & kale)
- pay attention to behavioral changes like depression, moving less, eating or drinking less, and peeing outside of the litter box. Seek vet care when needed. Rabbits with wet tail & urine scalding need to be seen by a vet as soon as possible. Catching urinary infections early, before it moves deeper into the bladder or kidneys, greatly increases your rabbit’s chances of recovery.