Rabies in Rabbits

PetMD Editorial
Aug 12, 2008
2 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

Rabies is a very severe and almost always fatal viral disease that occurs commonly in warm-blooded animals, including rabbits. It typically results in the swelling of the brain and nervous system, which can result in paralysis, blindness, aggression, mood changes, and other symptoms.

Symptoms and Types

The signs and symptoms of this disease vary depending on the species affected, as rabies can affect other animals, including dogs and cats, and even people. It is actually not common among rabbits, but can affect them. Typically, the signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Blindness
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Abnormal salivating or slobbering
  • Loss of movement or partial paralysis of limbs
  • Anxiety or irritability, aggression or other behavioral changes
  • Dropping of the jaw or lack of mobility in the jaw (slack jaw)

Causes

Rabies is usually transmitted from the bite of another infected animal. However, because it is viral, it can enter through any wound on the rabbit's body. It can also enter through the mucous membrane and spread throughout the sensory neurons -- which relay information to the nervous system -- and salivary glands in the body.

Diagnosis

Any animal demonstrating mood and behavior changes, especially “aggressive” tendencies, must be tested for rabies. Abnormal neurological problems which are unaccounted for may be a sign of rabies. Other diseases that may cause these types of neurological symptoms may include brain tumors or abscesses, lead poisoning, parasitic infections or tetanus.

The veterinarian will collect a sample of nervous tissue. If the rabbit is diagnosed with rabies, it will likely be put down (euthanized) because the disease is fatal.

Treatment

All rabbits suspected of, or formally diagnosed with, rabies receive inpatient care, and must be isolated and quarantined, sometimes for up to six months. Humans handling the animal should be investigated for disease exposure, as well.

There are no formal treatments for the disease, and unfortunately, most animals diagnosed with rabies are euthanized.

Living and Management

To inactivate the virus, you need to disinfect (with bleach) any areas in the home where the animal was. Other animals that may have come into contact with the infected rabbit should also be checked and probably quarantined, as well. There are state and local regulations that must be followed in such cases. Be sure to follow up with your local veterinarian and state health officials for more information.

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Lorie Huston, DVM