Preventative Disease Control

by Dr. T. E. Reed

A preventive disease control program is of the utmost importance in the rabbitry. Preventing diseases in the rabbitry is easier, less costly and more effective than trying to treat any type of disease outbreak once it occurs. If a person is going to have a successful rabbitry, they must have an outstanding and progressive preventive disease control program.

The major factors to a successful preventive disease program in the rabbitry whether it be a large commercial rabbitry or a one-rabbit 4-H program, should include the following:


The success of any rabbitry, whether large or small in terms of productivity and quality, will depend upon the management program. This part of the preventive disease program is frequently one of the most neglected elements because many of the management practices require extra work and labor for the program to be successful. The management practices important to good disease control include the following:

1. Proper Physical Facilities. The physical facilities for a rabbitry should include such factors as the ease of cleaning and disinfecting the facility. This is imperative in both new structures and in structures that have been adapted to the rabbit project. If the structure is constructed so that there is easy access to cages, the likelihood of proper cleaning and disinfecting is much greater than in those physical facilities where access is limited.

2. Adequate Ventilation System. Proper ventilation is one of the most, if not the most, important factor in a sound management program to prevent diseases in the rabbitry. The entire ventilation system should be examined very closely so that the animals have a good, constant supply of high quality air to inhale. It is very important that the ventilation system provides quality air and assists in temperature control. Many individuals think of ventilation only in terms of temperature control.

There are many types of ventilation systems which are adequate; however, each should attain the goal of at least ten complete air changes in the rabbitry per hour in the winter. The number of air changes per hour in the summer may need to be increased to assist in controlling the temperature. Improper ventilation will predispose the rabbits to many different types of diseases due to the stress factors involved.


This is one of the most important practices employed in the rabbitry to maintain an essential preventive disease control program. Sick animals, as well as animals with hereditary predisposition to disease, should be culled from the herd immediately. Only those animals that show signs of disease resistance should be kept in the herd as replacement animals. With proper culling, each generation of the herd should improve the ability to maintain disease control.

Sound Genetic Pool

It is imperative that one starts the herd with animals that possess sound genetic characteristics concerning health. One should continue to replace animals in the herd in each succeeding generation with animals that have improved genetic characteristics to disease resistance. Some of the inherited traits that one should look for are as follows:

1. Reproductive capacity. This includes such factors as being receptive to mating on a "year-around" basis rather than just seasonally. A high conception rate, the ability to kindle large litters with ease, the ability to construct and maintain an adequate nest, the ability to lactate sufficiently without the need for supplementation, the ability to raise a high number of offspring with a low mortality rate, and the ability to produce the desired end product economically, whether it be meat, laboratory animal, fur, wool, or show stock.

2. Disposition. The disposition of the animal is a highly inherited trait. One should look for animals with the proper disposition to meet the needs that you require in you r existing facilities. Most growers prefer an animal that is not nervous and excitable to extraneous noises. Eating habits, maternal instincts, and defecation and urination habits all appear to be highly inherited, and those traits should be selected to meet your own personal housing situations.

3. Disease resistance. One should select animals that are thrifty and tolerant of environmental extremes. One should also select animals with sufficient respiratory capacity to be resistant to respiratory diseases. Your animals should have an inherited resistance to a variety of bacterial diseases. This resistance to bacterial diseases should increase with each succeeding generation of your rabbits through proper culling.

Although not all rabbits with "buck teeth" (malocclusion) are due to heredity, one must select animals that do not have the predisposition of weak tooth beds so that malocclusion can be kept to a minimum.

Another highly inherited trait is the predisposition for "sore hocks". The predisposing factor for "sore hocks" is a large body that does not have the necessary corresponding foot size to withstand the pressure of the large body. Thin furred foot pads (front and rear), thin skin in the foot areas, and excitable disposition are also predisposing factors. "Sore hocks" cannot be tolerated in the rabbitry due to the fact that they often lead to the predisposition to bacterial diseases. The use of a resting board to avoid "sore hocks" also increases the concentration of bacteria within the rabbitry.

Proper Record Keeping

This is an area that is neglected by most rabbitries, whether a commercial operation or a fancier. Proper record keeping is essential to allow the manager to examine the susceptibility of the animal to certain disease conditions, and cull accordingly. Good records also allow for a selection of animals with the greatest potential for replacement, which is an area that is very important to the producer.

Rodent and Pest Control

This is an absolute must for all rabbitries. Mice, rats, birds, flies, strange dogs, cats, etc. do not have any place in the rabbitry, where they can gain access to the rabbits, or to their food and water supply. Rodents and strange animals will frighten the rabbits, and are often the cause of mate mal neglect at kindling or shortly after kindling. These pests are the most common carriers of external parasites, as well as carriers of some of the most dreaded bacteria that can infect a rabbit colony. They should be banned from the rabbitry, the feed storage area, the bedding area in your rabbitry, as well as at the local feed stores.


Nutrition has a large contribution to make toward a preventive medicine program. We should follow the advice of the professional nutritionist's guidelines to aid our preventive disease program.

Much has been said and written about rabbit nutrition; but basically most commercial rabbit pellets are very similar in nature, and meet the rabbits' nutritional requirements. Many breeders fortify the commercial pellet with other food stuffs. One should remember that when the commercial pellet is supplemented by other materials, this will "unbalance" the ration, unless these additives also have the proper ratio of nutrients.

Water is an important element of nutrition and must be considered seriously. Water must not only be abundant in supply, but should be of high quality. Periodic water samples should be taken to assure that high quality is always maintained. Adequate maintenance of the water supply system by flushing the lines and cleaning the crocks is an essential part of any disease prevention program.

Chlorination of the drinking water in the rabbitry is just as essential as chlorination of the drinking water in our metropolitan cities. This practice not only helps control the bacterial level in the watering system, it also helps in the sanitation and ease of cleaning the watering system. Continuous chlorination of the drinking water will assist in controlling many respiratory and enteric diseases.

Disinfection and Cleaning

The amount of time and the method of cleaning a rabbitry will depend entirely upon the physical makeup of the rabbitry. All rabbitries must have rigid cleaning and disinfection programs. There are many disinfectants on the market that are of high quality; however, it is important to remember that the disinfectants are less effective in the presence of organic matter (manure).

Therefore, it is essential that the organic matter be removed prior to disinfection. This can be done by use of a wire brush or high pressure water spray before the disinfection process. The effectiveness of the disinfection process is proportional to the time of exposure of the cages and utensils to the disinfectant. To be totally effective, it is often necessary to submerge items in the disinfecting agent. Nest box sanitation is one area that requires extra special care with disinfection. This is the mechanism by which many disease-causing bacteria are passed from the dam to the offspring. Sunlight is a very cheap and effective disinfectant.

Caution should be used in the disinfection process, in that many disinfectants are corrosive to the cages, and can be injurious to human skin. Therefore, adequate protection of the operator, and thorough rinsing of all rabbit equipment should take place following the disinfection process.

Through the proper disinfection and cleaning process, the rabbit manager will be able to hold the total bacteria to a tolerable level, as well as controlling the pathogens for certain diseases.

Animals Relatively Free From Internal Parasites

The presence of internal parasites in abnormal numbers in the rabbitry will decrease the resistance of the rabbit to many different types of diseases. It is imperative that each rabbitry have a parasite and coccidia control program. The frequency of use of parasiticides and coccidiacides in the rabbitry will depend upon management practices. The type of parasiticides and coccidiacides should be altered on a routine basis so that the organisms do not develop a resistance to these chemical agents.

It is totally impossible to bring animals into prime condition on a regular basis when there is a moderate to high level of parasite infestation. This is particularly true of wool and fur producing breeds of rabbits.


To have an adequate disease prevention control program, one must spend a great deal of time in the rabbitry observing the rabbits' normal behavior, so that one can detect abnormalities when they occur. The animals should be observed at the site where the animals are maintained. One should examine the quality of the air at the level of the rabbit's habitat, not at other areas of the rabbitry.


For a good disease prevention program, one must start with and maintain breeding stock which has a sound genetic pool of desirable disease resistant characteristics. One must have a good sound nutrition program, keep adequate and informative records, have an effective rodent, parasite and pest control program, and implement rigid cleaning and disinfection programs. One must locate a good source of professional information concerning disease control, and bind all of the above factors together with a good sound management program. It is then that your rabbit enterprise will have a workable disease prevention program.

HLRSC Official Guidebook - 5th Edition 2002