Infection in the Bladder or Urinary Tract in Rabbits

PetMD Editorial
June 15, 2010
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Lower Urinary Tract Infection in Rabbits

Bladder Infections ussually occurs as a result of high concentrations and accumulation of bacteria in the bladder or urinary tract. However, for these bacteria to cause active an infection and thrive, a rabbit typically has to have some preexisting underlying factors such as a poor immune/defense system or high calcium levels in the urine.

Urinary tract infection is seen most commonly in middle-aged rabbits, around 3-5 years old. Obese rabbits with a sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition are also at risk.

Symptoms and Types

 Some rabbits with bacterial infections of the lower urinary tract may not show any signs, but many more do. A few of the more common signs include:

  • Bloody urine (hematuria)
  • Thick, beige- or brown-colored urine
  • Urinary incontinence, especially during confinement or at places that are not customary (i.e., locations he has not peed before)
  • Frequent urination, but only in small amounts
  • Skin scalding/burns due to urine, especially around genitals and hind legs

Causes

Although the bacteria ultimately causes the bladder infection, there are many factors that may make the rabbit more susceptible to the infection, including:

  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Cage confinement
  • Exclusive diet of  alfalfa-based pellets
  • Conditions that can cause urine retention or incomplete emptying of the bladder (e.g., obstruction of the urinary tract, bladder)
  • Not drinking enough water (due to unavailability or poor source of water)
  • Inadequate cleaning of litter box or cage
  • Excessive administration of vitamin and/or mineral supplements such as calcium

Diagnosis

You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your rabbit's health and onset of symptoms. He or she will then conduct a blood and urine analysis on the animal. If an infection is present, the urine will typically show apparent abnormalities such as abnormal coloring or increased white blood cell counts. Based on these, your veterinarian will order a urine culture in order to determine the exact strain of bacteria that is present in your rabbit's urinary tract.

Because other disorders may be present as well, your doctor will need to differentiate a urinary tract infection from other urinary tract diseases, such as a more severe bladder infection, kidney stones, bladder stones, tumors, etc. Visual diagnostics may include ultrasound of the bladder or urethra, and both regular and contrast X-rays – by which an oral or injected dose of liquid barium, a material that shows up on X-rays, is used to provide a better view of the internal organs as the material travels through the body's fluid systems.

Films are taken at various stages to examine the passage of the barium through the body, making clear any abnormalities, objects (stones), or strictures in the passages. A biopsy may also be necessary to collect samples from the bladder wall for laboratory analysis if tumors are suspected. A cystoscopy, a relatively minimally invasive procedure in which a flexible tube with a camera and or surgical devices is inserted into the bladder via the urinary tract so that the doctor can conduct a visual examination of the internal organ, may be sufficient for this procedure.

Treatment

Rabbits that have been diagnosed with a urinary tract infection are usually treated as outpatient. Affected rabbits often respond to a combination of antibiotic therapy, increased water consumption, dietary modification, weight loss, and an increase in exercise alone. In more severe cases, such as for rabbits with large amounts of calcium in the bladder, fluid therapy and manual massage to empty bladder will be necessary.

If urine scald is present on the skin or genitals, gentle cleaning, with a zinc oxide plus menthol powder will help to heal the skin. Otherwise, keeping the area around the genitals/urinary tract clean and dry will be amongst the basic care.

Living and Management

Increase your rabbit's activity level and encourage bladder emptying by providing large exercise areas along with plenty of fresh water. Providing multiple sources of fresh water in several locations and flavoring the water with fruit and/or vegetable juices (with no added sugars) may also be helpful. Reduce calcium in diet to discourage formation of calcium stones in the bladder and urinary tract. Encourage oral fluid intake by wetting leafy vegetables, and offer a large selection of fresh, moistened greens such as cilantro, romaine lettuce, parsley, carrot tops, dandelion greens, spinach, collard greens, and good-quality grass hay. Feed timothy and grass hay instead of alfalfa hay and discontinue alfalfa pellets from your rabbit's daily feeding unless your veterinarian instructs otherwise.

Monitor your rabbit's urine output and contact your veterinarian if the symptoms should recur.