There's two parts below describing a bit about what to look for that could be causing or leading to health problems, or behavior issues.
Health can be dictated by a number of issues, whether it be environmental, immune deficiency, or by injury. This is a small breakdown of things you should look for most common in rabbit health that we use.
Diet. Rabbits must have plenty of hay. Whether it be timothy, prairie, etc, you should always provide plenty of "unsprayed" grass hay. It's the staple to the proper diet. Pellets of no more than 16% crude protein are acceptable but only as a supplement. Treats such as yogurt chips, kale, carrot, etc should be used with caution and in very limited quantities.
Loose stools, gas, stomach aches are all problems in overfeeding.
Rabbits that are not eating or drinking to their normal levels, should ALWAYS, be considered an emergency. Rabbits eat often, and it's important that if your rabbit is not, that to prevent GI stasis (intestinal tract death or blockage) that you get medical help from a vet that handles rabbits. Several things can cause stasis....however most common is they have ingested something that has gotten stuck in their GI tract. Parasites can inflame the walls of the GI tract and also cause blockages.
Rabbit poops should be of a normal color consistent with your rabbit as well as size. If they are not, it is also a potential that your rabbit is ill. Poop should be collected and taken to your vet for analysis for any parasites. You want them round and not too hard, but not too soft.....they should almost flake into pieces when squished between your fingers....it's just poop guys!
Any sudden behavioral changes in conjunction with diet or poop changes should be noted as well in determining if your rabbit is sick. If your rabbit jumps to greet you everyday and doesn't sort of thing. Good idea to start looking at what else may be going on.
Eyes and nose......a common sneeze now and then due to dust in feed, hay, or molting season isn't much to be concerned about. However if eyes are watery, or if your rabbit has a nasal discharge, it would be highly recommended to visit a vet. Eye infections such as conjunctivitus can be treated. There are several different bacterial strains that can affect the lungs and nasal passages in rabbits. The typical treatment for a sneezing/consistent coughing is "Batril", however if you want to get a clear diagnosis, try a swab test with culture. Batril for the few days before the culture comes back is a good choice, and once the culture comes back there are other treatments depending on the strain(s) that are causing the symptoms.
Best advise is to use a 10% bleach solution on the cage during all cleaning. Do cleaning regularly or based on need but never let go more than a week. Rabbits are very sensitive and fragile animals. Cage cleaning, brushing longer haired breeds, and general common sense will go a long way in keeping your rabbit healthy and with you a long time.
One important thing to note is that uterine cancer is common in most does at about the age of 4 years old. Please spay/neuter your rabbit before or around the age of 4 to prevent long term illness and spread. almost 90% of all does will have this after age 4.
Behavior is instinctive...meaning they still hold most of their natural instinct in the wild in the pet world. Rabbits are prey animals, and as such are fearful of most things they do not know, and even the ones they do know. They can become aggressive when sick, threatened, or caught off guard. They generally will flee before they will ever fight. Having a quiet environment free from dogs or cats is important. If your rabbits are housed outside in a hutch, then your rabbit needs to be safely secured with proper latches, flooring and roof. Wire mesh should be used with caution in the smallest squares available. Possoms, hawks, raccoons will all be hunting for your rabbits and this can lead to stressors that cause panic in rabbits, as well as illness by the diseases that in particular that raccoons carry. Providing a stress free environment, with temperatures below 80 degrees F will go a long ways.
Always handle your rabbit in a way that's feet are supported. As in the wild, rabbits fear from attack from above. It's always best to allow your rabbit to come out of the cage on their own, and also to go back in. Use in treats is always a good way or a new handful of hay to coax your rabbit back into their cage on their own is always going to be a better plan than picking one up. The more you work with your rabbit, and develop trust, the easier it will be to pick up and carry them. Always hold them close to your body supporting their legs and move calmly.
Patience is vital in building that trust. They want to know you just as much as you want to interact with them. Work on this by sitting in a room with them while they play. Let the interact with you, talk to them in a calm voice, and move slowly. To prevent them being afraid of you or the hands, gently move towards them and from the side so they can see you, corral them towards their cage with a piece of cardboard if they are fighting you going back into cage. You don't want them to associate the hands to something negative.
Feed them treats from your hand as you speak calmly will let them know the hands and you are good. Over time your relationship with your rabbit will be so in sync, it'll be easier.
Under no circumstance should you yell, raise your voice, hit, or slap a rabbit. This is not only abusive, but the rabbit will only and forever see you as a threat, and further it's aggression towards you. These fragile guys live on the line from being scared all the time at every sound and movement to wanting the social acceptance and love in your home for them. A little patience, and some time for trust, even if it takes a month, will do wonders for your experience and success in the positive outcome in your rabbits behavior!
Spaying or neutering your rabbit is also an option for primarily rabbits around 6 months and older. If you have multiple rabbits, hormones can create a lot of issues in behavior. By spaying or neutering your rabbit you will see positive changes in their behavior same as with cats and dogs. This also will help eliminate the dangers of uterine cancer in does at age 4 and older.
As with any animal, there are things that you can do to help in behavior. It will in many if not most cases be the way you handle your rabbit as well as interact with your rabbit that will make the difference. We'll do more on health and behavior in the future as well as a blog on what questions you might have in relation to our experiences.