Killer diseases of rabbits that farmers should be aware of

The Havana rabbit breed whose origins are from Holland. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Rabbit farming, also known as cuniculture, is becoming increasingly popular in Kenya as an alternative agricultural venture. Their high reproductive rate coupled with low capital investment, high demand for rabbit meat, low operating costs and their efficiency in space utilisation are some of the forces that are driving this business venture.

However, these furry creatures are susceptible to a range of diseases that have significant economic consequences. Some of the diseases can be fatal if left untreated. 

These diseases can be caused by bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infections, as well as other factors such as genetics, diet, and environmental conditions.

Today, I will highlight three of the most common rabbit diseases in Kenya, their causes, symptoms, and prevention strategies.


Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease that affects the intestinal tract of rabbits. The disease is caused by the parasite Eimeria, which can be transmitted through contact with contaminated faeces or bedding. The symptoms of the disease include diarrhoea, weight loss and lethargy. Treatment involves giving affected animals anti-parasitic medication and supportive care.

Rabbit snuffles

Also known as Pasteurellosis, this is one of the most common bacterial infections in rabbits. The disease is caused by the bacteria Pasteurella multocida, which can be transmitted through contact with infected rabbits, contaminated food or water, or from infected wounds. The symptoms of pasteurellosis include nasal discharge, sneezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, the disease can lead to abscesses, pneumonia, and death. Treatment involves administering antibiotics, and supportive care.


Myxomatosis is a viral disease that is transmitted by fleas, mosquitoes, and other biting insects. The disease causes swelling around the eyes, nose, and genitals, as well as fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite. In severe cases, myxomatosis can lead to respiratory failure and death. There is no specific treatment for myxomatosis, and infected rabbits must be isolated to prevent the spread of the disease.

Prevention tips

Rabbit farmers must be aware of the symptoms of these diseases and take preventative measures to minimise the risk of infection.  Here are some key prevention strategies:

Proper diet and nutrition

A balanced and nutritious diet is important for maintaining a healthy immune system in rabbits. Ensure that your rabbit has access to fresh hay, water, and a high-quality rabbit pellet, as well as occasional fresh vegetables.

Proper hygiene

Ensure that your rabbit’s living environment is clean and well-maintained, with regular cleaning and disinfection of cages, litter boxes, and other equipment.

Vaccinations: Vaccinations are an important preventive measure against many diseases in rabbits, such as myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease. Ensure that your rabbit is up to date with its vaccinations, as recommended by your veterinarian.


If you are introducing a new rabbit to your household, it is important to quarantine the new rabbit for several weeks before introducing it to other rabbits. This will help prevent the spread of any diseases the new rabbit may be carrying.

Parasite control

Parasites such as fleas, mites, and worms can cause serious health problems in rabbits. Ensure that your rabbit is regularly treated for parasites, as recommended by your veterinarian.

Prompt veterinary care

Rabbits are often very good at hiding signs of illness, so it is important to monitor them closely to detect signs of trouble early enough. If you suspect that your rabbit may be ill, seek prompt veterinary care from a veterinarian who has experience in treating rabbits.

By following these strategies, your rabbits will remain healthy and productive for years.

[The writer is a Veterinary Surgeon and the Resident Vet at Farmkenya]

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