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Posted on 10-02-2017
Poopy Butt and Urine Scald in Rabbits
Rabbits can be wonderful pets but they do require careful management, especially when kept outdoors. Two relatively common issues that cause distress for rabbits are poopy butt and urine scald. "Poopy butt" is a descriptive term for the rabbit's failure to keep its rear area clean. Rabbits normally pass two different types of feces. Most people are familiar with the round, hard pellets normally seen, but there is also a softer, wetter form of feces called cecotropes. Rabbits should consume this type of feces directly from the rectum. Consuming the cecotropes is normal and necessary for the rabbit's health. When a rabbit fails to consume cecotropes, the feces will stick to the fur on its bottom and accumulate until there is quite a mess. In outdoor rabbits, this mess will attract flies. The flies will lay eggs on the rabbit's fur, maggots will develop and begin to feast on the rabbit itself. This is known as flystrike and it must be prevented as a rabbit can die very quickly if this happens. Failure to consume cecotropes can be caused by obesity, arthritis, improper diet, or dental problems. A high fiber diet is usually the first line of defense against poopy butt. Feeding timothy hay helps to keep a rabbit's teeth in good shape and benefits the digestive system. Rabbits seldom need more than good quality hay and fresh water. Large amounts of treats or feeding only pelleted food will contribute to poor digestion and overgrown teeth. Rabbits teeth grow constantly, so they must have fibrous foods to keep their teeth from developing sharp points. A veterinarian can check the rabbit's teeth to see if this is an issue. An obese or arthritic rabbit may be unable to bend properly to clean its butt. A veterinarian familiar with treating rabbits can help devise a weight-loss strategy, smooth sharp dental points, or prescribe pain medication if arthritis is present.
If a mess has accumulated on the rabbit's fur, it must be GENTLY removed. Rabbit skin is very fragile so one must avoid pulling at the fur or tears may occur. If the mess is not too advanced, dusting the area with cornstarch and carefully combing the mass loose may work. Again, be very gentle and careful not to pull the hair. If the mess is too sticky or matted, a bath may be necessary. Use just enough warm water to cover the matted area. Rabbits do not usually enjoy baths and may try to escape. It is best to use a small tub placed on the ground and not on a higher surface in case the rabbit does manage to jump out. Use a small amount of pet shampoo (NOT a flea shampoo for dogs, as this may harm the rabbit) and gently massage the feces from the fur. This is not fun for the rabbit or the owner but it must be done! Rinse the area thoroughly and towel dry. Keep the rabbit in a warm location until the fur is completely dry. Hopefully, if the cause of poopy butt is identified and treated, bathing will not need to be repeated. Once the rabbit is healthy and comfortable it should resume keeping its butt clean on its own.
Urine scald is another common problem that plagues rabbits. Scald occurs when urine is not properly expelled but instead drips or dribbles onto the hind legs and soaks the fur. If this happens frequently, the skin will become irritated and red and look “scalded.” If the problem is not addressed promptly, skin infections and flystrike may occur. Urine scald is an issue that must be addressed by a veterinarian familiar with treating rabbits. Bathing the urine soaked fur is only a temporary fix. Scald is very painful for the rabbit and is a problem that cannot be ignored. The underlying cause must be addressed. Urine scald is more common in neutered male rabbits because the urethra may become constricted due to hormonal changes. Other causes may be neurological disease or injury, bladder stones, or bacterial infection.
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