Rabbit Urinary Tract Issues by Dr. Carolynn Harvey DVM
presented at Northern California Bunnyfest May 4, 2014
Care for Rabbits with urinary problems

By Marinell Harriman
Dr Carolynn Harvey, Chabot Veterinary Hospital

Signs of urinary tract disease that might prompt an exam by your veterinarian include new scalding, urine soiling, change in litter box habits, straining, blood in the urine, thick sludge, drinking and/or urinating more. UTI issues may be treated and be cured. Taking good care of a rabbit with UTI symptoms is essential.

If your bunny is diagnosed with urinary disease, the home care that you will provide will consist of following veterinary instructions and giving prescribed medications. Your diligence in support and preventive care and treatment will aid in your bunny's recovery and possibly prevent recurrence.

Bladder sludge or stones

After a bladder stone has been surgically removed and/or a bladder infection has been resolved, your veterinarian may want your keep your bunny's urine diluted (USG under 1.010). The good news is that this can often be done with diet.

Dr. Carolynn Harvey put together this high-fluid diet several years ago for convalescent bunnies who were recovering from bladder stone problems. It works very well.

Leafy greens: 4 large handfuls
Root/stalk: 4 oz
Fresh fruit: 1/2 oz
Wet pellets: 1 tbsp
Unlimited grass hay

If your bunny has kidney or bladder disease, your veterinarian may advise you to avoid feeding banana, dried fruit, squash, or melon. Regular monitoring and test results may suggest other diet adjustments, along with medical care and treatment.

Caring for incontinent rabbits

Some illnesses or injuries that are unrelated to the urinary tract may nonetheless result in urinary problems for a bunny and caregiver. Injured bunnies may experience incontinency (the involuntary excretion of urine), but this is often caused by leakage from an overly full bladder. A bunny who cannot empty his/her bladder will need help. You must express the bladder 2-3 times a day. Your veterinarian can show you how to do this.

On the other hand, many disabled rabbits are perfectly capable of holding urine and then releasing it when the bladder is full. Unfortunately, a disabled rabbit is not often able to posture in a way that directs the urine stream away from the body. This results in soaked fur and skin, which in time leads to urine scald.

When you first notice wet fur on the hindquarters, you may try rinsing the area and blotting it dry. However, with a daily routine of rinsing and drying, you may be surprised when you begin to notice the chafing of the skin under the wet fur. Pay attention to the skin! It can quickly deteriorate into a painful condition.

Prevention of urine scald: Whether your bunny is wet from inadequate posturing or from bladder leakage, the first thing to do is to trim away all wet fur with electric clippers, and then gently clean the skin with warm water or a pH balanced cleanser. Warm-water bathing should be done on as small an area as possible. Frequent wetting of the fur even from bathing will damage the skin.

My most important cleaning tool is a 7-inch tapered barber's comb. It can be used with warm water or with a human (perineal/personal) cleanser, which is safe if applied to areas that the bunny can't lick. An all-around good cleanser is clorhexidine solution (Nolvesan) dispensed by your veterinarian. You simply squirt the cleanser onto the soiled area, and then work the comb from underneath. Blot dry and then apply a protective ointment to rebuild the skin's moisture barrier. The major protective ointment ingredients are either petrolatum or lanolin. I've had positive results with petrolatum, but that's a personal choice.

Other options might include herbal healing salves (check with your veterinarian as to safe ones to use on rabbits) and if infection is involved, you may have periods of applying an antibiotic ointment, such as Silvadene.

The importance of wicking: Treating wet fur and subsequent urine scald can be greatly circumvented by keeping bunny's bottom served by wicking devices. This consists of an absorbent-bedding liner (i.e. a cotton terry-cloth towel) underneath fake fleece rugs or Palace bedding. The synthetic fibers of the bedding allow the urine to drain to through. The absorbent towel under the rug further wicks the moisture downward, leaving the upper layer (next to the bunny) dry.

In principle, diapers do the same thing-wick moisture away from the body. Diapers are especially useful if the urine is saturating an area higher up the hindquarters without falling into the flow-through bedding. Because diapers wrap around the body, they catch all the moisture. Diapers can be fastened either frontwards or backwards, depending on what is easiest for you. The important thing is to punch a tail hole in the middle to anchor the tail and slash the inner-leg edges so that they follow the contour of bunny's legs.

Insect netting: Even when dry, bunnies who have urine residue on their fur will attract insects, leaving them vulnerable to fly strike. For this reason, bunnies with urinary problems should be kept indoors only. However, flies have a way of sneaking in, and it's a good practice to use a flea comb on your bunny's tail area daily. If mild weather permits some supervised outdoor time in a pen, make sure that the pen is covered on all sides and top with mosquito netting or vinyl window screening, Window screening is long lasting and provides excellent insect protection for special-needs bunnies.

The goal of support care at home, for any medical condition, is to provide the best possible environment along with the greatest physical comfort.

Designed by James Farris