Save money by controlling disease on your farm! New biosecurity resources are available to prevent risks to animal health.


Nestbox Management

 On the basis of the Doe Facts and Kit Facts, the producer should:

  • Be sure not to place the nest box where the doe urinates or defecates
  • Do everything possible to assist the kits in maintaining a good environment in the nest box
  • Remove dead kits as soon as possible, especially in the summer
  • Use nest boxes which are small enough to discourage does from “taking up residence”
  • Put drain holes inthe bottom of nest boxes to allow drainage and ventilation
  • Use nest materials which are absorbent and will mix well with fur to make a good nest
  • Remove all dead kits and kindling waste from the nest box as soon as possible after kindling
  • When culling kits, remove the smallest
  • Foster or cull excess kits
  • Check the nest box daily for dead kits or wet/cold nest material
  • Remove nest materials if the kits are too hot or add if they are too cold
  • If the nest material gets wet, dirty or cold, replace it
  • Protect the litter from predators such as rats and protect does from disturbances
  • Construct nest boxes our of materials which can be easily cleaned and sanitized
  • Get the kits out of the nest box and the nest box out of the cage as soon as possible
  • Remove all solid waste material
  • Scrub with soap and water
  • Sanitize by soaking in bleach and drying in sunlight
  • Clean and sanitize nestboxes after every use

original article by James I. McNitt, Southern University and A &M College, Baton Rouge, LA 70813

Use Fibre to Decrease E.coli Infections

By: Carolyn Innes, Research Coordinator

foodOne of the main health problems in rabbit production systems is the occurrence of digestive disorders. These disorders can cause diarrhea, increased veterinary costs, decreased growth and increased mortality. There are two main syndromes that are responsible for digestive infections, epizootic enteropathy and colibacillosis. Colibacillosis is caused by a highly pathogenic strain of Escherichia coli (Boulier and Milon, 2006). Coliform bacteria (mainly E.coli) are normal inhabitants of the intestinal tract of many animals. Enteric disease is associated with colonization and proliferation of E.coli in the rabbit’s intestine. Digestive problems caused by enteropathogenic bacteria are responsible for much of the death and illness seen in rabbitries and play a large part in the economic losses incurred.

  1. coli is a bacterium that has several different serotypes, which when infected can cause varying degrees of weight loss and mortality in growing rabbits. One serotype causes yellow diarrhea in suckling rabbits and is associated with high mortality. However, E. coli most commonly affects 4-7 week old rabbits shortly after weaning and is characterized by severe diarrhea and dehydration. E. coli grows and multiplies in the latter part of the digestive tract causing abrasion to the absorptive surface. This results in excess secretion of fluids into the digestive tract, as well as a decrease in fluid absorption leading to severe diarrhea. Typically, infection leads to death within a few days or stunted and unthrifty rabbits, if they survive (Boulier and Milon, 2006).

The only treatment for E. coli is antibiotics, but these can cause problems due to the potential of residues in the meat, and create resistant strains of bacteria and harming the natural bacterial content of the caecum. Therefore, the best way to manage E. coli is through prevention. There has been some success in developing vaccines for E. coli, but they are not yet commonly used. Probiotics can also be used in order to promote the development of good bacteria in the caecum, preventing E. coli from multiplying (Boulier and Milon, 2006). The many benefits from a diet high in fibre can include improving the resistance of the rabbit to E.coli infections. The favourable effect of a diet high in fibre was shown in a study by Gidenne and Licois (2005). The infections were experimentally induced and compared to two diets, one low in fibre and one high in fibre.

Recent studies have looked into the protective action of milk against E. coli infections. Suckling rabbits do not commonly get infected with E. coli and it has been hypothesized that this is due to their milk consumption. In the past, studies have shown that medium chain fatty acids have antimicrobial properties. These fatty acids are highly abundant in rabbit milk, especially caprylic and capric acids (Skrivanova and Marounek, 2006; Gallois et al, 2007; Gallois et al, 2008; Skrivanova et al, 2008). One study by Skrivanova et al (2008) demonstrated that feeding weaned rabbits a diet containing caprylic and capric acids led to reduced E. coli numbers and improved growth. Late weaning may be desirable to protect rabbits against infections with E.coli. The natural characteristics of milk in protecting young animals against numerous pathogenic viruses and bacteria have been known for many years.

The inclusion of fibre is another dietary intervention that can help to alleviate the occurrence of E.coli infections in young rabbits. The benefits of a diet high in fibre are that it increases caecal activity causing an increased production of volatile fatty acids which leads to a decreased pH. This drop in pH causes an increase in feed intake and growth while reducing sickness, death and susceptibility to E.coli infections (Gidenne and Licois, 2005). Dietary fibre has a critical role to play in maintaining gut health and gut motility, all while preventing disease. High starch diets are usually not completely digested in the rabbit small intestine due to rapid transit time and because it is very easily digestible. This excess of starch results in rapid growth of microbes and of pathogenic bacteria are present. These will flourish and could lead to death or severe illness. Therefore, inclusion of a high fibre diet is a very important aspect in proactively preventing the onset of enteric disease in your rabbitry.

These changes to the diet are minor but could have a large impact in reducing the incidence of E.coli. Through small changes to the diet of weaning rabbits, the incidence of E. coli infections could be greatly decreased. Although more research is required to assess the effectiveness of these diets, the future outlook is promising.

Body Condition Scores and Impact on Fertility

By: Carolyn Innes, Research Coordinator

The female rabbit is the major cause of infertility in rabbit herds. Infertility is caused by failure to become receptive, ovulate, or become pregnant. The high nutritional needs of the rabbit doe are not completely satisfied by feed intake, the energy balance is negative and the body fat deposits are mobilized causing a poor body condition and subsequently poor fertility. The body condition and energy balance of female rabbits appears to be correlated to short and long term reproductive efficiency. There are a number of management practices that can help increase doe fertility, and thus increase the production of your herd.

Body condition scoring is a common, subjective method used to assess the nutritional status of production animals which is correlated with reproductive efficiency. This method is widely used for livestock, such as ewes, cows and sows, because it is less labour intensive than body weighing. In rabbit does, Bonanno et al. (2005) studied a simple method for on-farm evaluation of body condition. Their evaluation of the body condition score of 487 lactating rabbit does before artificial insemination (11 days post partum) was based on feeling the bone protrusions and muscle fullness of the loin and rump regions and the hind-leg muscle fullness.

There were significant correlations between body condition score, body weight and fertility. Body condition scoring is a simple, rapid and non-invasive method and does not cause stress on the female rabbits. It can be a valuable tool to help determine when does should be bred.

Nutrition is a major factor that contributes to poor fertility in does. Poor body condition can cause a decrease in fertility of 15-20% as well as a decrease in maternal behaviours such as nest building (Fortun-Lamothe, 2006; Cardinali et al., 2008). Does lose some of their body condition during lactation. After kindling, the doe increases its feed intake by 60-75%, but this is still not sufficient to cover the energy demands of lactation, especially with large litters. Over an entire reproductive cycle the doe gets 20% of its energy from its own body fat instead of from its feed (Fortun- Lamothe, 2006). This problem is even greater in does with their first litter because they consume less feed and are also still growing while they are lactating.

In rabbits, modifications in dietary composition may be associated with reproductive benefits. One method to improve body condition is to provide ad libitum a diet with a high percentage of fibre. Although this type of diet has a low digestible energy, it could improve feed intake during first lactation due to the enlargement of the digestive tract. In a study by Reboller et al. (2008) rabbit does fed with a fibrous diet in the rearing phase had lower mobilization of fat around first birth and the fertility obtained on day 11 post-partum tended to be higher. These results could indicate that a fibrous diet provided ad libitum during the rearing phase allows a regulation of body fat mobilization, helping doe recovery in their second reproductive cycle. Another study (Arias-Álvarez et al., 2008) reported similar findings with rabbits fed a high lignin diet having significantly higher feed intakes prior to and during pregnancy.

Adjusting the time to weaning may also help the doe to recover the energy lost during lactation. Early weaning of litters has been proposed as a way to both reduce doe body energy output by decreasing the lactation period and ensure better coverage of kit nutritional requirements by separate kit and dam feeding. A study by Xiaccto et al. (2004) concluded that early weaning at 21 days reduced the does energy deficit but a decline in feed intake was evident that could be due to metabolic stress. This decline delayed and limited the does body condition recovery. The practice of early weaning should be limited to primiparous does where metabolic stress is less likely to happen. Similarly, in another study (Sakr et al., 2010) early weaning at 25 days post -partum seemed to improve body energy stores of primiparous does. Although, this was not well reflected on the ovarian status at 32 days post-partum, which was similar regardless of weaning time and it could be performed later.

Poor body condition and receptivity can be major sources of culling and mortality with rabbit does. By changing a few management practices these losses can be greatly reduced. It is recommended to discuss any management changes with your veterinarian before implementing them in your rabbitry. Several strategies concerning rearing, feeding, management aspects could improve in reproduction of the rabbit does, thus increase the profitability of your rabbitry. Feed restriction during rearing increased uniformity of body weight among does and avoided excessive body fat and stimulated feed intake in first gestation.

Is Bigger Always Better?

By Brian Tapscott, Alternative Livestock Specialist, OMAFRA

kitsI recently visited a rabbitry and noticed a fair number of very large litters (14 or more kits/litter). The owner said that he would just as soon not have such large litters because of the higher mortality rates associated with them. I decided to see what research there was looking at litter size, birth weight and mortality.

A research team from Hungary set out to explore the effect of litter size and birth weight on kit mortality, rate of gain and live weight during growth in two experiments using Panon White rabbits. Panon Whites were developed at the Kaposvár University in Hungary by reciprocal crossing of New Zealand White and Californian rabbits.

The does used in the trial had kindled 1 – 6 previous litters. Early on the 31st day of pregnancy, kindling was induced using oxytocin at 1 IU/kg. body weight. The kits were individually weighed and identified immediately after kindling, before they could nurse.

Experiment #1 (Exp1) included 50 litters that were “formed” (i.e. – made up by researchers) to include 6, 8 or 10 kits with an equal proportion kits in each litter considered to be low, medium and high birth weights (Table 1). The theory was that bigger kits in litters would have a competitive advantage over the smaller kits in terms of nursing.

Experiment #2 (Exp2) was made up of 60 litters “formed”, again with 6, 8 or 10 kits/litter; however this time each litter was made up of exclusively low (39 – 43 g), medium (53 – 56 g) or high (63 – 70g) birth weight kits. In other words litters in Exp2 contained either all low, all medium or all high birth weight kits. The paper uses the term “homogenized” to describe litters that have been “formed” of kits of similar birth weights. The premise was that if all kits within a litter were of similar size, that they would all have a similar chance to nurse.

To ensure there was no effect on litter size, any rabbits which died up to 21 days of age were replaced with rabbits of the same age and weight. The litters were weaned at 5 weeks of age and were then housed for the growing period with 6 rabbits/pen. The rabbits were weighed weekly up to 6 weeks of age and then every other week until they reached 10 weeks of age.

Mortality Results 
In Exp1 where rabbits of different birth weights within litters were raised Is Bigger Always Better? By Brian Tapscott, Alternative Livestock Specialist, OMAFRA together, the mortality rate up to 3 weeks of age was 13.3%, compared to only 10% in Exp2 where litters were homogenized for birth weight (Table 2). This suggests that homogenizing litters decreased mortality rates ~3.3% during the early suckling period.

In both experiments the mortality rate increased as litter sizes got larger, which is precisely what the farmer had indicated to me. In Exp1 (litters of mixed birth weights) the mortality rate up to 3 weeks of age was significantly higher in litters of 10 kits (22.2%) compared to 6.8% in smaller litters of 6 kits. The same was true in Exp2 where the mortality rates were 12.0% and 6.4% for homogenized litters of 10 and 6 kits/litter respectively.

The trial also showed kit birth weight significantly affected mortality rates – especially with kits of low birth weights.

The PROs of Probiotic Use in Rabbit Production

rabbitRabbits in commercial production systems are rather sensitive to digestive diseases, especially when they are exposed to stressful situations (i.e. weaning or heat stress), these situations may cause high losses in the rabbitry. Antibiotic treatments are commonly administered for treatment. However, as public perception about healthy food is having a great impact on farm management practices; new alternatives to antibiotics are needed for the future. One option for reducing the need for antibiotics is the use of probiotics as an alternative treatment strategy. Probiotics are live cultures of harmless bacteria or yeast species that could help to balance the intestinal microflora for the benefit of the animal. Probiotics promote microbial colonization that will have competitive growth against harmful pathogenic bacteria.

Nowadays, natural substances are being used with an increasing frequency in food animal production. There is additional interest in using natural alternative products that allow for the maintenance of high production and a reduction in morbidity and mortality. There is also a growing demand for organic meat that is hormone and antibiotic free. There are concerns from an increasing number of consumers about the side effects and antibiotic resistance that using antibiotics can cause and many producers are trying to phase out the use of antibiotics, especially in animals raised for meat because of these growing concerns. It is therefore a good idea to consider some alternatives for antibiotic use in your rabbitry.

The research on the use of probiotics in commercial rabbit production is limited in comparison to other livestock species such as pigs. Several studies exist nevertheless, which access the effects on growth, feed conversion, reproduction, mortality, caecal activity and digestibility. These studies have shown that the addition of probiotics to the feed or water supply can result in increased growth, increased average daily gain, increased slaughter weight and improved feed conversion (Maertens et al. 1994; Amber et al. 2004; Trocine et al. 2005; Falcao-e- Cunha et al. 2007). Probiotics have also been shown to improve lactation in does, resulting in higher litter weaning weights and reduced kit mortality (Pineheiro et al. 2007).

The addition of probiotics to breeding doe diets can shorten the re-mating interval from 15 days to 10 days, and can improve productivity by 10 rabbits per doe per year (Nicodemus et al, 2004). With respect to mortality rates, results differ. Some studies report increased mortality with probiotic use, while others show a significant decrease (Maertens et al. 1994; Kustos et al. 2004). One study in particular, found that probiotic use decreased the mortality in the summer months by 17% (Kustos et al. 2004). These results are supported by the outcome found by Abdel-Samee (1995) which indicated that probiotic use can decrease the negative impacts of heat stress.

The weaning period is a very crucial time for rabbits as this time can be associated with stress and an increased sensitivity to diseases. A study which compared probiotic and non-probiotic fed rabbits from the fourth day post weaning to day 88 of age reported a significantly higher average daily gain and feed conversion ratios (Kritas et al. 2008). Overall, the inclusion of probiotics in a feeding program appears to have a positive impact on growth and production, especially during the summer months when temperatures can reach a maximum. Through the provision of an exogenous source of bacteria, it is possible that these good bacteria can become established in the intestinal tract, thereby reducing the chance for harmful pathogenic bacteria to also become established.

Will you see improved health or growth of your rabbits if you feed probiotics? There are no guarantees. The probability of seeing a response depends on several factors including the level of management on the farm, the amount of stress to which the rabbits are exposed and to which the normal bacterial populations are challenged or damaged during the period of stress. It is advisable to consult with your veterinarian as to whether including probiotics in your feeding program may be a worthwhile investment for your rabbit operation.

Kit Facts


  • Change nipples frequently during nursing
  • Are stimultated to urinate by cold and wet
  • All urinate within a few minutes after the daily nursing
  • Dig through and fluff up the bedding material after urinating
  • After the digging activity, move into one or more groups and remain there until the next nursing period
  • Move to the top of the nest material shortly before the daily nursing
  • Nibble fecal pellets left in the nestbox by the doe
  • Have primary responsibility for maintenace of a good environment in the nestbox

original article by James I. McNitt, Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, LA 70813

Doe Facts


  • Have particular places in their cages where they urinate and defecate
  • Nurse only once each day for a short period (3-5) minutes
  • Don’t care which kits they nurse
  • Decide when the nursing period is finished and leave the nestbox whether or not kits are still nursing
  • Don’t care what nestbox is used
  • Don’t retrieve young which are outside the nest
  • Do very little to clean the nestbox of blood and debris after kindling
  • Leave fecal pellets in the nestbox sometime during the first two weeks
  • Do not “cover the kits” or adjust the amound of fur in relation to the temperature
  • Do not have to lick the kits to stimulate them to urinate or defecate

original article by James I. McNitt, Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, LA 70813

When Break-ins Occur

By: Kendra Keels, Industry Development Manager Kendra

Break-ins on farms can be a scary event. The first thought of many livestock producers is: Was it an activist attack? Are my animals OK? Sometimes the animals are stolen or released. Other times the owner knows that someone was in the barn and nothing appears to be missing but what happened? Were photos or personal information taken? Was the equipment or the vehicles sabotaged?

As farmers, we need to protect ourselves 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. We need to make sure that when we leave the barn that the barn is locked and secured. This even includes during the day when you go out to cut hay for a couple hours.

Break-ins can occur anytime during the day or night. Most commonly, farm break-ins occur between 2 am and 5 am. Any suspicious activity should be reported to the Ontario Rabbit office and to the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC) with as many details as possible. Sometimes you may think your barn break-in may be an isolated event and it is not worth reporting but this is not the case.

OFAC Issues Specialist Leslie Ballentine advises that in all cases, your local police should be notified and a police report should be made. The name of the officer and the incident number should be kept on file at the farm along with a written report of the incident(s) for future reference.

By notifying police, Ontario Rabbit and OFAC, a common denominator may be identified and a profile could be compiled. Similar incidents may have occurred at other rabbit farms. Perhaps similar break-ins occurred within the same geographic area. By collecting information in one confidential central place OFAC can help law enforcement to piece together patterns and evidence. In all cases, the police must be notified. Some of the documented break-in actions in other cases include:

  •  Theft or release of animals (“liberation”)
  • Removal or copying of proprietary and confidential information
  • Identity theft Computer hacking
  • Photography/video documentation (accurate or staged)
  • Vandalism, sabotage or arson

Source: Facing the Opposition, OFAC

Remember, that prevention is the key. We can do a few things on the farm to help prevent break-ins. Make sure the barn is locked when nobody is around and you have security lights that are motion activated. A bright well light barnyard will help to deter any unwanted visitors. If you are worried about your livestock you could also install a security camera in the barn. A little pricier but you will know what is going on in the barn when you are not there.

If a break-in does occur, it does not take long to make the necessary phone calls, notify the right people and work together to stop break-ins on farm. Remember, we are here to help in your time of need so please do not hesitate to contact the Ontario Rabbit office with your questions.

Pododermatitis: Is it a problem in your herd?

By Kendra Keels, Industry Development Manager

podermatitisPododermatitis- also known as sore hocks and bumblefoot- can be a problem in a commercial rabbitry. Excessive pressure on the foot may cause loss of hair and calluses. When the hair is gone it leaves the skin exposed and when the rabbit sits it creates a pressure on the skin. Without a buffer- like fur- it can cause the skin to die because of this pressure point. The problem can be worsened when the rabbits sit on hard surfaces or in wire cages. The area most affected is the bottom of the hind feet and hocks. The hock is the lower part of the back leg that touches the ground when the rabbit is sitting. Sore hocks is an inherited trait especially in the large breeds. The condition is compounded by water and urine, high humidity, excess body weight or injury.

Rabbit growers should be aware that the most common signs of pododermatitis are sores covered by scabs, inflammation, bruising or raw bleeding spots. Under the scab there may be a runny discharge, infection or abscesses. Severely affected rabbits may become anorexic, debilitated and eventually die if this condition is not attended to as soon it is detected.

Affected rabbits should be given a resting board in the wire cage or if on a hard surface they should be given soft dry bedding to rest on. The hock should have the matted fur clipped away. If a secondary infection is present you should wash the infected area every day with warm, soapy water and dry thoroughly. You can use topical zinc and iodine ointments or an antibiotic ointment on the affected area however if the rabbit is debilitated or abscesses are present, injectible antibiotics should be used. Once the affected rabbits are cured they should be culled from the herd. Be sure to clean and disinfect the cages of afflicted animals thoroughly and inspect the wire for any rough spots.

What to look for in the herd?

Rabbits with sore hocks may start to favour one or both of the hind feet. They may appear lame and reluctant to walk. Those rabbits should be examined to see if there is hair loss, thickening of the skin, swelling, redness and if there are scabs present.

This condition is more common in larger breeds. However, if the rabbits are obese they do exert more pressure on the feet possibly causing the condition to occur. If rabbits are housed on a wet surface, which includes wet resting boards or wet bedding, the feet can become softened predisposing the hocks to infection. Other possible causes are lack of movement in a small cage, abrasions from rough, irregular or wire floors, poor sanitation, and in some cases where rabbits repeatedly thump their hind feet.


For mild cases a few minor management changes may be all that is needed. For example, if your rabbits are overweight reducing feed intake will reduce size therefore reducing pressure on the feet. If housing is not as clean and dry as it should be then simply increasing cleanliness and having drier surfaces for the rabbits will go a long way to reducing the chances of having sore hocks. Regular checking of feet will help with prevention catching the problem before it becomes out of control. Regular toenail clipping and ensuring the cages are large enough for the size of rabbit so there is adequate area for exercise will also help with prevention of pododermatitis.

Dave Kabbes has implemented a prevention program of his own at his Kabbespatch Rabbitry. Dave has been selecting replacement stock from seasoned does that have not had any trouble with sore hocks. At each breeding he takes a good look at the doe first to make sure that it is okay to breed her back. He then checks for ear mites, mastitis, odd shaped teeth and most importantly sore hocks. Dave is very concerned about sore hocks because the doe would rather lie on her babies to relieve the pain than to lay on the cage wire. This increases his overall herd mortality, increases his cost of production and reduces the number of fryers he has ready to go to market. Once the doe passes all of these checkpoints, he then proceeds with the breeding. In addition to this protocol many does now receive a floor mat after their 4th or 5th litter to reduce the chances of getting sore hocks.

Consider adding checking for sore hocks to your herd management checklist. An ounce of prevention can really be worth a pound of cure.

Springtime Pneumonia in the Rabbitry

By Kendra A. Keels, Industry Development Manager

eyePneumonia in the rabbit herd is not uncommon at this time of year. The more seasoned rabbit growers know all too well the signs and symptoms of Pasteurella multocida (P. multocida) or pasteurellosis.

  1. multocida is the bacteria that can cause an infection in the upper respiratory tract of the rabbit. This includes the sinuses which show up as a sneezing, runny nose (commonly called snuffles and the most common form of P. multocida) and runny eyes. The tear ducts become clogged with dried discharge, causing excess tearing and subsequent scalding of the skin around the eyes and face.

If left untreated P. multocida can cause significant losses in the herd, not only with mortality but the rabbits will with failing to thrive. This will increase days to market and
reduce feed efficiencies. That is money lost to the producer.

Pneumonia is mainly transmitted by nasal secretions, direct nose to nose contact or sneezing. When the rabbit sneezes the bacteria is spread in the barn. This bacteria is
pretty hardy, it can survive for days in moist secretions and in water. Most does carry the bacteria, for the most part the does can manage it, the problem is with the kits and fryers. The does have constant contact with the kits and fryers and are spreading the bacteria to the young. On some farms, the mortality with fryers can be between 15-20%. If this is a big problem on your farm you may wish to investigate an early weaning program so that you can reduce the amount of contact the doe has with the kits.

What causes the bacteria to become stronger and cause sickness, possibly leading to death? Most of the time, the cause will be a ventilation problem in your barn.

Perhaps there are too many rabbits in the barn and the ammonia or humidity levels get out of control. This is enough to tip the balance in favor of the bacteria. If ventilation is not working optimally for the number of rabbits in the barn this can lead to a big problem especially in the spring and fall when temperatures are fluctuating. One tip is to check the fans regularly to ensure they are working well and brush the dirt and hair off of them. You want to ensure they are moving sufficient air for the rabbits.

Not only can P. multocida cause respiratory problems it can also be responsible for abscesses, septicemia, and middle ear infections. Be aware P. multocida can be
present without any clinical signs. In severe cases Pasteurella can cause neurological damage to the rabbit and cause, circling to one side, and severe tilting (wry neck) of the head. Diarrhea may or may not be present.

healthCurrently there are no effective vaccines to prevent infection by this organism. Treatment of P. multocida includes antibiotics. It is best to consult with your veterinarian if P. multocida is a problem on your farm. Together you and your vet can come up with a management plan to get P. multocida back under control on your farm.

You may wish to send samples away to the University of Guelph for testing to ensure his is the bacteria you are dealing with.

The best way to treat the infected rabbits is to medicate the water. If samples were sent to University of Guelph, you will be given recommended medications to fight the
infection. If you have not sent samples away, consult with your veterinarian and they will be able to suggest effective medications.

At the recent rabbit grower workshop, Dr. Paul Morris suggests that “P. multocida is certainly preventable in the rabbitry.” It all comes down to management he suggests
and add that “close attention should be paid to feed, light, air, water, space and sanitation- all the FLAWSS of rabbit production.

  1. multocida, or snuffles, is not fun to deal with in your rabbitry. If this is a problem on your farm pay close attention to the ventilation, make sure the air is fresh and moving
    freely in the barn. Check for drafts and obstructions in the room that cause changes in air flow. Make sure the temperature is warm but not too warm. If the air in the rabbitry is not fresh enough for you to spend the day in think about the rabbits. Keep it fresh!


Rabbit Examination

The following is a systematic method of examining a rabbit starting at the head and working back. The rabbit should be on a table or other flat surface covered with a towel or mat so the rabbit can sit comfortably without sliding around.

  1. Overall Appearance 
    To start with, look at the overall appearance of the rabbit. Note how the coat looks and feels, and whether the animal is alert and responsive.
  2. Ears 
    Next, examine the ears; are they clean inside or is there black debris. This could be ear mites and should be treated. If the animal is a New Zealand White take note of the ear coloring. Are they pale bluish or yellow? Pale can mean the rabbit is anemic. Blue ears mean it is not getting enough oxygen and may have pneumonia. Yellow ears may signal liver problems. Ears can be a good indicator of animal health.
  3. Eyes 
    The eyes are also useful indicators. Examine their coloring as well as their alertness. Are they dry or weepy? Weepy eyes may mean infection. If one or both eyes are enlarged or cloudy the animal may be suffering a form of glaucoma common to rabbits which may be genetically transmitted. It is wise not to keep breeding stock from these rabbits and to mark your records accordingly in order to stop the genes being passed on.
  4. Teeth 
    Teeth should be checked for alignment and breakage. If the teeth are maloccluded, try and determine if it is genetic or due to pulling on cage wire. If you are able to trim overgrown teeth ( a pair of side-cutters works fine ), trim them on a regular basis so that the rabbit can eat properly. If the rabbit shows low production then cull it. If the problem is thought to be genetic then make a note on the records of both the rabbit and its parents in order to ensure the problem is prevented in future generations.
  5. Nose 
    Examine the nose. Clear, watery discharge is normal but thick, white or yellow discharge signals infection (probably pasteurella). These rabbits should be culled in order to prevent the spread of disease.
  6. Neck 
    Check the neck next. If there are any lumps under the chin that seem to be just under the skin, these are abscesses which will get larger and eventually burst open. They are full of pus and are the result of an infection. These rabbits may be either culled or the animal isolated so that when the abscess bursts other animals are not infected. Also, check that the neck is straight and not tilted to one side. This could be a sign of wry neck or a middle ear infection.
  7. Front legs and Feet 
    Check the feet and front legs are straight and free of sores or abscesses. Also check the sides of the feet for signs of snuffles. Rabbits will use the inside part of the front paws to wipe their noses which leaves the fur crusty and yellow. If the rabbits nose was clear but the paws are dirty then it more than likely has snuffles.
  8. Body
    The overall feel of the body should be fleshy, not boney and not fat. You should be able to feel the ribs slightly, but not see them. Check the body for lumps and bumps. Feel the abdomen and note whether it feels normal or bloated. Bloating is a sign of eneteric problems or coccidiosis. Patches of chewed fur on the back are a sign of fibre deficiency in the feed. This loss of fur could also be caused by fur mites (Cheyletiela) also called walking dandruff. Your veterinarian should be able to make this daignosis for you if you are concerned.
  9. Back legs and Feet 
    Next, hold the rabbit securely and carefully belly up so that you can examine the back legs and feet. The legs should be straight and not splayed. Check for sores on the bottom surface of the feet, or thinning fur that could become sore hocks. Take a look under the tail for soiling, swollen testes or an inflamed vulva. In the case of a doe the mammary glands should be checked for mastitis or abscesses.

Regular health checks allow you a much better picture of a rabbits overall health. The more you do it the easier it becomes. Such checks also will help you become more confident in your ability to make the right choice of which rabbits to keep and which to cull.

Ear Mites

earsEar mite or ear canker is a very common infection in most rabbitries and is economically important because of the loss of condition and poor reproductive performance that this infestation can cause. Ear mites are parasitic insects and are able to spread from one rabbit to another, especially from does to kits. It is also possible to spread from cats and dogs to rabbits.

Therefore if you must have other animals in your rabbitry, it is very important that you have them checked often for ear mites and treated if necessary.

Typically, infested rabbits exhibit signs of sore or itching ears. The brownish discharge which is present in most cases can be examined under a microscope and the mites identified.

Ear mites can be readily treated using commercially available ear mite drops which are generally a combination of mineral oil and an appropriate insecticide. Ideally all rabbits should be treated once a day for three days, then every other day for three treatments, finishing with a once weekly treatment for three weeks. Ear mites have a 21 day cycle from egg to adult, so it is therefore important to carry out the full treatment schedule in order to eradicate all of the hatching eggs. For long standing problem animals continue to treat once a month for three to six months.

An injectible product, Ivermectin, is also used as an “off label” treatment for ear mites. This drug is very effective but does have a meat withdrawal time which is extremely long and therefore cannot be used on rabbits used for meat purposes. All breeding and replacement stock can be treated. The dosage is 400 micrograms per kilogram, administered by subcutanmeous injection under the skin. repeat this treatment 30 days later at a dosage of 200 micrograms per kilogram. Ivermection is available through your veterinarian by prescription only.

Any new stock that is purchased from outside sources should be quarantined and treated for ear mites before entering the main population of the rabbitry. Prevention is definitely the best medicine when it comes to ear mites. If you ensure that everything coming in is mite free then it will stay that way.

Article by Dr. Bruce Hunter of the Lincoln Animal Clinic.


Collection program for obsolete pesticides, animal health products and used sharps: Coming to a community near you this October!

 A well-established obsolete pesticide collection program is being expanded this year to also provide farmers with safe disposal for unused animal health products and sharps. This first-of-its-kind program is taking place October 20 – 22 as part of an Ontario government-supported Great Lakes Basin water quality initiative that offers farmers a way to recycle these items.


How it works

As part of this project, farmers will be able to bring their obsolete agricultural pesticides, unused animal health products and used sharps (needles, syringes and scalpel blades) to a series of 16 collection sites across the province for safe and environmentally responsible disposal. The service is free of charge for farmers.


Agricultural pesticide products should have a PCP number on the container, although in cases where the label is no longer present or it is unknown which particular pesticide was in the container, the product should be labeled “pesticide unknown” when it is brought to a collection site. Acceptable animal health products should have a label that contains a Drug Identification Number (DIN).


The program is available to all farmers as long as the products brought in for collection meet the above-noted requirements. Product is collected on a first come, first serve basis until the secure collection totes are full. If you know in advance that you will have a large volume of product to bring in, please call AGCare at 519-837-1326 so that we can make appropriate arrangements for additional collection boxes.


Loose sharps not accepted

Collection sites will not accept pesticides and animal health products in aerosol containers, medicated feed, premise disinfectants, or any household or human use items. Loose sharps will not be accepted – they must be brought in a closed container. Ziploc bags are not acceptable.



The program will run at the following locations during their respective business hours:


  1. Ailsa Craig: Hensall District Co-operative, 116 Main Street
  2. Arnprior: M&R Feeds and Farm Supply Ltd., 70 Decosta Street
  3. Bethany: Thompsons Limited, 9 Elevator Road
  4. Brodhagen: Hoegy’s Farm Supply Ltd., 6777 Perth Line 44
  5. Courtland: Cargill, 159 Talbot Street
  6. Dundalk: Huron Bay Co-operative, 35 Dundalk Street
  7. Harriston: North Wellington Co-operative Services Inc., 56 Margaret Street South
  8. Kitchener: GROWMARK Inc. – Distribution Centre, 1 Chandaria Place, Unit 7
  9. Lancaster: Munro’s Agromart Ltd., 6011 Hwy #34
  10. Napanee: O’Neill’s Farm Supply, 1 Dairy Avenue
  11. Jordan Station: Vineland Growers Co-operative Ltd., 4150 Jordan Road
  12. Thornloe: Co-op Regionale – Temiskaming Ag Centre, 964027 Development Road, New Liskeard
  13. Orangeville: Holmes Agro Ltd., 473088 County Road 11
  14. Thunder Bay: Thunder Bay Co-op Farm Supply, 560 Boundary Drive
  15. Tilbury: Cargill, 23404 Wheatley Road
  16. Vienna: Max Underhill’s Farm Supply Ltd., 56532 Calton Line


(Note: letters correspond with map locations)


Background and funding

Pesticide collection programs have been run in Canada by CropLife Canada since 1998 under the CleanFARMSTMbanner. More than 270,000 kilograms of obsolete product have been collected in Ontario during previous collection campaigns in 2001 and 2005. A pilot project collecting just animal health products and used sharps was held at six collection sites in Ontario last fall. This year’s expanded program is being run on a trial basis in conjunction with a feasibility study looking at long term, sustainable collection options for these products.

This program is co-ordinated by AGCare with financial support from CropLife Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Other project partners include Ontario Farm Animal Council, Canadian Animal Health Institute, Ontario Veterinary Medical Association and Ontario Agri Business Association.

For more information
Designated volunteers will be available at each site during the collection period to receive product and answer questions. In advance of the collection days, please contact AGCare at 519-837-1326, email or visit