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Urinary Disorders in Rabbits

By: Dr. Natalie Antinoff

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Normal rabbit urine can vary in color from almost clear yellow to very dark orange or rust color. The color is produced by a pigment called porphyrin, which may be caused by eating plant pigments, especially those foods high in carotenes, like carrots. It may also be produced in times of stress or illness, but should not be considered abnormal. The exact reason this pigment is produced is not known. The urine can also range from clear to cloudy or milky, because rabbits normally excrete large amounts of calcium in their urine.

Types of Urinary Disorders

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Bladder stones or kidney stones
  • Calciuria, the accumulation of excess calcium sand in the bladder

    The main dietary factor related to this disease is excess calcium consumption. High levels of calcium are present in alfalfa pellets and alfalfa hay.

    Although males and females can develop urinary disease with equal frequency, males may be more likely to suffer from complete urinary obstruction, as the opening of the penis is narrower than the opening of the vulva, increasing the likelihood that stones or sand will "plug" the opening. This condition can be life threatening within 24 hours.

    The sand (crystals) or stones can irritate the bladder wall, scraping along much like sandpaper, which can then provide a route for bacterial infection. The presence of bacteria, crystals or stones in the bladder can be very uncomfortable to your pet.

    Bacteria in the bladder can travel upwards into the kidneys, and if untreated, can lead to kidney damage and even kidney failure.

    Urinary tract disease can develop in any rabbit at any age, although it is more common in older rabbits. Symptoms of urinary tract disease may be very subtle or very severe.

    What to Watch For

  • Decrease in appetite
  • General lethargy
  • Straining to urinate
  • Urinating outside of the box
  • Passing only small amounts of urine frequently
  • Drinking excess water and urinating excessively
  • Inablity to urinate
  • Blood-tinged urine
  • Dribbling of urine
  • Urine scald (redness and hair loss) around the genitalia or the insides of the legs

    Diagnosis

  • Urinalysis should be performed to look for bacteria, white blood cells or crystals.

  • Radiographs (X-rays) of the abdomen can help show sand or stones, either in the bladder or kidneys.

  • Ultrasound might be recommended to look at the bladder and kidneys, as well as the other organs in the abdomen (body cavity). Some types of stones will not show up on radiographs, and can only be seen on ultrasound.

  • A culture and sensitivity should be performed on the urine sample if there is evidence of bacteria and/or white blood cells in the urine.

  • A blood profile is recommended to look at kidney function, blood calcium levels, and the white blood cell count to evaluate for the body's response to infection.

    Treatment

  • If a urinary tract or bladder infection is diagnosed, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics.

  • Fluids may be given to your rabbit, either subcutaneously (under the skin) or intravenously (into the vein).

  • If calcium sand is diagnosed, your rabbit may need to have his bladder flushed. Some rabbits require sedation for this procedure. This step is not always necessary.

  • If bladder stones are present, your veterinarian may recommend surgery. Some very small stones may pass, but the larger stones create a risk of obstruction, in addition to pain and discomfort.

  • If your rabbit has calcium sand or stones, your veterinarian will recommend diet change to eliminate most foods high in calcium.

  • Close monitoring and follow up visits will be required in all cases.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Follow-up appointments are essential to be sure the infection is gone or the calcium is resolved. If infection is present, give all antibiotics.

    Follow your veterinarian's instructions for feeding. Diet changes are likely to be necessary if calcium is the problem. Pellets should be restricted to 1/8 cup per 5 lb. body weight. Alfalfa hay should be eliminated. Instead, offer timothy or grass hays that are lower in calcium. Fresh leafy vegetables can also be offered.

    Observe urination habits closely, and report any changes to your veterinarian. Keep fresh water available at all times. Ask your veterinarian to check a urine sample as well as full blood profile on a yearly basis after age three.

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