Below is a list of the common illnesses and diseases found on Australian rabbit farms. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and sadly many rabbits on farms are likely to suffer from sicknesses beyond these.
Spread through rabbit faeces and mainly affecting young rabbits, this parasite is fatal when left untreated. Coccidiosis is rife in the unhygienic conditions found on Australian farms, with many animals suffering from coccidia diarrhoea. In tiered cage settings, rabbits confined to the bottom cages are more susceptible to infection as faeces from the animals above drop down on them. For more information on coccidiosis, click here.
Housing conditions in intensive rabbit farms often lead to “splay leg” developing in the animals. This is due to their inability to gain traction on the raised wire flooring of the cages. Rabbits with a genetic predisposition for weak connective tissue are the most susceptible to this disease. For more information on splay leg, click here.
Mange is caused by contagious, parasitic mites, which burrow into the skin and ears of the rabbits and lay their eggs. This causes a great deal of itchiness and discomfort, with mites spreading rapidly from rabbit to rabbit in the severely over-crowded conditions.
Head tilts are caused by middle ear infections, neurological problems, or most commonly the protozoan parasite Encephalitozoon cuniculi. E. cuniculi is carried naturally in approximately 75% of healthy rabbits; however infections can develop in immunodeficient animals. Due to the severe stress suffered by rabbits raised on intensive farms their immune systems are often compromised, allowing for the development of E. cuniculi infections and therefore head tilts. E. cuniculi is contagious due to the production of spores which are released in the urine. Rabbits on the bottom of tiered cage systems are consequently at high risk of infection. Rabbits with head tilts are dizzy, roll and are unlikely to be stable enough to eat properly, hold their head upright or even stand. For more information on head tilts, click here.
Lactating female rabbits on farms are highly susceptible to mastitis; an extremely painful condition affecting the mammary glands. Caused by poor hygiene, bacteria enter and infect the teats which become red, hot, sore, swollen and full of pus.
For more information on mastitis, click here.
Ulcerated hocks are weight-bearing pressure sores on the foot of the rabbit which develop from living on hard surfaces. In severe cases the ulcers can become infected, with the infection spreading throughout the body of the rabbit and even into the bone. Ulcerated hocks are so painful that rabbits will often resort to dragging their legs behind their body to gain some relief.
For more information on ulcerated hocks, click here.
Abscesses are pockets of body tissue which have become filled with pus. Untreated wounds from fighting and cage wires commonly result in abscesses on intensive rabbit farms. These can be as large as tennis balls, with the infection leading to death if the rabbit is not taken to slaughter before this. Abscesses are one of the most common problems in factory farms, second only to upper respiratory tract infections. For more information on abscesses, click here.
The most common illness found on rabbit farms, respiratory infections are often caused by the putrid air within farm sheds. Built up piles of excrement encourages bacteria spores to become airborne, and pools of ammonia-rich urine beneath cages further aggravates the lungs of rabbits. Many respiratory infections are communicable, so with rabbits being in such high density, the illness quickly spreads between individuals. For more information on upper respiratory tract infections, click here.
Rabbits often suffer from severe injuries brought about by other rabbits or the wire cages they are confined to. Small wounds will more often than not become infected, with bacteria spreading rapidly throughout the entire body of the rabbit. Lack of proper inspection by farm owners or staff and no professional medical care means the rabbits suffer extensively.
Mortality of young
The mortality rates on intensive rabbit farms are the highest of any farming industry. Entire rabbit litters can die on farms due to a number of factors. Mothers are often underweight and overbred, resulting in a lack of milk to provide their kits. They can also be so stressed that they will leave their young to starve, rather than nurture them. Infections passed on from the mothers, as well as stress from the disgusting living conditions also contribute to kit death. Approximately 15% of babies die before they are weaned.