When you’re purchasing a new rabbit, it’s OK to take the time to examine it. You want to make sure it’s healthy and just what you are looking for. You are bringing it into your rabbitry and will likely have it for a few years. This is an investment in your future rabbitry, so take your time.
Here are the different parts of the bunny to examine, some idea of what you are looking for, and what might indicate a problem.
The ears should be clean and dry. They should be the size, shape, and position appropriate for the breed (for example, a non-lop should have upright not droopy ears).
If there are scratches or scabs on the outside of the ear, it may have been in a fight, but scabbing inside the ear is usually a sign of ear mites. (It’s easy to treat, but you will need to treat it before it comes into contact with any of your other bunnies.)
Related article: Ear Mites - (or OMG what is that crud in his ear?!)
Eyes should be bright and clear. A little bit of sleepy dust is normal in mammals, but a buildup of mucous or wet sticky discharge is a sign of a problem. Avoid hazy eyes or swelling around the eyes.
Rabbit noses feel fairly dry. Occasionally they may be slightly moist, but any snot should be clear. They shouldn’t be overly wet or have a lot of snot (white or colored). Some bunnies sneeze (dust, allergies, etc.), but just be aware of it and find the source. A sneeze because the feed is a bit dusty is not a big deal. A sneeze along with yellow snot and wheezing is a serious problem.
I had a bunny that started sneezing on the way home from purchase. I just about lost it and kept it in quarantine for quite some time. Turns out he was just a “sneezer.” Dust on the ground – sneeze! Dust on the food – sneeze! Just because – sneeze! He was fine and fathered many healthy kits.
Gently pull back the lips to look at the teeth and gums. Their teeth should be straight and not overgrown. The top teeth slightly overlap the bottom teeth. Make sure there are no abscesses in the gums. Significant drooling usually means trouble with its teeth.
(If you are concerned about being bitten by a new-to-you bunny, wear cut gloves or sleeves. They’re amazing.)
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Check for thick fur on the bottom of the feet. Bald spots or sores (sore hock) can be about cage conditions or genetics. (Rex bunnies are more likely to have a problem with this. Check them often.) Look at the length of the nails (learn how to clip nails). If its paws are wet or crusty recheck the nose. Rabbits groom themselves and the wetness can transfer from nose to paws.
Make sure the bunny is the gender you want (always check!) and look for any sores or pimples (a possible sign of venereal disease). There are scent glands on either side of the genitals. If they are a bit messy, they can be cleaned with a cotton swab and a bit of mineral oil.
While you’re checking gender, look at its anus. The area should be dry with no sign of wet poop. A messy bum is generally a sign of a digestive issue. If there are droppings in the cage/container, they should be round and relatively dry (think Coco Puffs). If any of the rabbit’s underside is urine stained that may be a concern. Piddle happens and bunnies can spray, but significant stains are usually about poor cage conditions or a bunny that doesn’t groom itself well.
Check for lumps and bumps. Make sure their spine is straight. Check legs for breaks. Watch its overall movement for ease.
Look for shiny, soft fur (unless your breed carries a unique kind of fur). There are seasons of molting where the fur can look a bit sketchy, this is normal and will pass. If the bunny has been raised in a colony it may have a scratch or two. Dandruff or bald patches may be a sign of skin mites (they tend to show up on the back of the neck first, check there). A dull, rough coat may be a sign of parasites, illness, or poor diet.
age, size, & weight
Ask about their age (a kit should be 8 weeks or older) and feel free to bring along a scale and weigh it.
(I once bought a “weaned” rabbit. When I got it home it just seemed a bit young. I called the breeder only to find out that it was 4 weeks old and newly weaned. It failed to thrive and died. Learn from my mistake. Ask questions. Buy kits that have had time to adjust to adult food and grow up a bit.)
If you know the breed, you can know if the rabbit is a normal size and weight. (For example: If I were to buy an 8-week-old New Zealand kit, I would want it to be healthy, with good energy, and weigh around 4-5 pounds (more would be better). If I were buying an adult New Zealand, I would be looking for a 9-11 pound male or a 10-12 pound female.)
attitude & energy
Bunnies should be relatively alert (a young kit might be sleepy). A curious or friendly bunny is a plus. Lethargy and lack of movement are concerns, though a frightened bunny may freeze. Take your time and let it relax and move around a little.
questions to ask the breeder
When you are done with your inspection, ask the breeder about how the bunny has been housed and what it’s been eating. If the rabbit is used to being in a colony, you want to quarantine it in the largest cage or pen possible. If it’s used to eating dandelions and pellets, give it dandelions and pellets and gradually transition its feed to what you use in your rabbitry.
The idea is to imitate those conditions the rabbit is used to so as to reduce stress and keep its digestive track running normally.
If your breeder is a bit on the chatty side or you have any questions about raising rabbits, now is a good time to ask. Most rabbit lovin’ folks love to talk about rabbits, are happy to answer questions, and are generally willing to give you their best advice. You can also ask if they know of any local rabbit groups, animal swaps, etc.
No matter how healthy the rabbit looks at purchase, it is wise to quarantine your new rabbit for at least two weeks (four is better). Keep your new rabbit 20+ feet away from any other rabbit and handle it last when doing your bunny chores, followed by hand washing.
Some health conditions may take a while to show up and this gives you a little cushion to make sure there are no health surprises.
Enjoy your new rabbit!
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rabbit in tractor © Lori / Dandelion Hill Homestead
rabbit ear with mites © Lori / Dandelion Hill Homestead
rabbit nose © Sandy Millar / Unsplash
bunny feet & tail © Gail Botha / Pixabay
young rabbit © Regina Ajes / Pixabay
rabbit pictures © RitaE / Pixabay
Pinterest image / rabbit nose © Sandy Millar / Unsplash