Arthritis due to Bacterial Infection in Rabbits

By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 25, 2008

Septic Arthritis in Rabbits

Arthritis is the general medical term for inflamed joints. Septic arthritis, on the other hand, is a condition that occurs when bacteria infects one or more of the rabbit’s joints.

There is no age, breed, or gender predisposition for septic arthritis in rabbits.

Symptoms and Types

  • Sluggish behavior
  • Lameness
  • Anorexia
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Warmth emanating from the joints
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Signs of infection (e.g., urinary tract infection or dental disease)


Pyogenic bacteria causes septic arthritis. There are many types of pyogenic bacteria, including staphylococci, pasteurella, and anaerobic bacteria (which can survive without oxygen). These bacteria may lead to an infection in the body and can also migrate to the joints, where they cause septic arthritis.

There are some characteristics that may put an animal at higher risk for developing septic arthritis. These include long-term (chronic) cases of bacterial infection, traumatic injuries to the joints, and immunosuppressive disorders (immune system does not function properly). Some other sources of infection may include dental disease, an infection of the upper respiratory tract, or a wound.


A rabbit with a history of upper respiratory tract infection, dental disease, or previous traumatic wound – such as bite wound – may suggest septic arthritis.

If septic arthritis is suspected, a number of tests can be done by the veterinarian. An analysis of fluid taken from around the joints (synovial fluid analysis) may reveal characteristics of septic arthritis, such as an increased volume of fluid or the presence of bacteria. These fluid samples are submitted for testing so the type of bacterium may be pinpointed and treated accordingly. Alternate tests include X-rays and a urine analysis.



When treating the rabbits, it is essential to treat the primary cause in order to cure septic arthritis. In most cases, antibiotics are prescribed to fight the infectious agent, although sometimes surgery is required.

Living and Management

There are a few things you can do to make your rabbit more comfortable and improve its condition. Soft bedding, for instance, can help increase the time of recovery from surgery. And activity should be restricted until the pet's symptoms have resolved. It is also essential to ensure that the rabbit is eating throughout recovery; offer fresh foods such as moist greens and good-quality grass hay.

If the veterinarian prescribes medication, follow the instructions carefully. In particular, antibiotics are generally administered long-term. There is also a danger of residual degenerative joint disease -- a chronic condition that causes the cartilage surrounding the joints to deteriorate – as a result of septic arthritis.


Because of the many causes which lead to septic arthritis in rabbits, listing all the preventative measures would be impossible. However, it would be wise to keep the rabbit safe and away from potentially dangerous situations to avoid wounds; also, clean its cage regularly.

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