Rabbits are generally clean, but some bunnies may have problems cleaning themselves due to age, ailment, or physical condition. This can lead to urine scald and dirty bottom. Those problems left unaddressed, can become quite serious, indeed.
What Is Urine Scald?
The name ‘urine scald’ is self-explanatory. If a rabbit cannot clean itself of urine, the urine remains against the rabbit’s delicate skin. This, in turn, burns and damages the skin. Other names for urine scald include ‘hutch burn,’ ‘urine burn,’ and ‘wet tail.’
Although the problem mainly occurs near a rabbit’s rear end, it can also affect a rabbit’s feet or belly, if the rabbit habitually sits in its own urine.
Left untreated, urine scalding can cause moist dermatitis and other rabbit skin problems. It may also cause the skin to dry and crack. This, in turn, can provide an entry for bacteria, which can lead to skin infections.
Also, the smell of urine attracts flies, and this can lead to flystrike, a painful condition that can turn deadly fast.
Symptoms of Urine Scald include:
- Inflamed skin, especially around the hind legs
- Fur loss around the hindquarters
- Wet fur, wet tail, or wet hair on the tummy
- Skin lesions
Check your bunny every day to make sure it’s keeping itself clean. If your bunny is having problems in this area, you will have to help.
What is Dirty Bottom?
Dirty Bottom, or “mucky bottom,” as you might guess, happens when a rabbit can’t clean its rear end of faeces. Some rabbits, particularly obese and arthritic buns, are unable to clean the faeces away. The faeces then becomes matted in the fur, where it can cause skin irritation and other problems.
In addition to skin damage, faeces attracts flies, and that can result in flystrike.
What Causes Dirty Bottom and Urine Scald?
There are numerous individual causes for these conditions, but whatever the underlying cause, ultimately, both conditions come down to a rabbit’s inability to clean itself. Why might a rabbit neglect its toilette? Here are a few reasons.
Arthritis is a painful joint disease. It can make grooming painful and difficult. It can also make movement painful, so a rabbit might be more likely to stay sitting in its own urine and / or excrement.
Rabbits groom themselves with their mouths. If their mouths are hurting, they may neglect their grooming.
A poor diet can lead to soft stools, diarrhoea, and other digestive problems. A diet with too much excess calcium can cause urinary tract problems, which we’ll discuss in a bit.
Obese rabbits may struggle to reach their backsides, and that can result in inadequate grooming “down there,” and, subsequently, a dirty back end.
Urinary tract problems such as urinary incontinence, urinary tract infections, problems with the kidneys, and so forth, can also result in urine leakage and urine scald. Some of these problems include:
- Bladder sludge, which can clog the urethra and obsruct urine flow
- Bladder stones
- Cystitis (inflammation of the lining of the bladder)
- Insufficient water intake
Dark urine is a sign of potential dehydration. This can lead to urinary tract infections and urine scald.
Rabbits excrete oxalate salts through their urine. This is normal, and the reason you might see white stains where your rabbit urinates. If your rabbit’s excretions are mustard-coloured and pasty, however, this is a sign of bladder sludge, and a trip to the vet is in order.
If your rabbit is straining to pee, or if you notice red flecks or blood in the urine, this can be a sign of a serious problem. Talk to your vet sooner rather than later.
Uterine cancer can cause incontinence in female rabbits. This incontinence can lead to urine scald. Spaying your rabbit eliminates the risk for uterine cancer, which is just one reason it’s important to spay your female bun.
A hormone imbalance can cause urinary incontinence in female rabbits. If your bunny is suffering from a hormone imbalance, your vet can prescribe a hormonal treatment for her.
A Dirty Enclosure
If your rabbit’s enclosure isn’t clean, they will struggle to stay clean themselves.
An Ounce of Prevention
The good news is, you can prevent both mucky bottom and urine scald by grooming your bunny when it can’t groom itself. There are a number of other steps you can take, as well.
Start With a Health Check
Is your rabbit in tip-top health? Are they at a healthy weight? Do they suffer from arthritis or other problems that may affect mobility, and therefore grooming? How are their teeth?
A veterinary checkup can give you a good idea of your rabbit’s overall health, as well as any chronic issues your bunny may be facing.
Also, keep your eyes open for symptoms of problems with your rabbit’s urinary tract, kidneys, bowels, and teeth.
Litter Train Your Rabbit
Did you know that bunnies can use a litter box like a cat? They can. Rabbits, like cats, like to be clean and tidy. They’re clever too, and can easily learn to use a litter box. Check out our article on litter training rabbits for more information.
Set Up a Regular Grooming Ritual
Keeping your bunnies clean and tidy doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, it can be an enjoyable way to bond with your bunny. Set up a weekly and daily ritual. This should include brushing, nail clipping when necessary, and, of course, checking your bunny’s tail area.
Do a Regular Bottom Check
Whether your rabbit has any ongoing health issues or not, check their bottom daily for problems with both urination and defecation, such as:
- Matted fur, especially matted fur with faeces
- Irritated skin
- Wet skin or hair
- Hair loss
Remove matted fur, and use rabbit safe pet wipes to clean your bunny’s bottom if necessary.
Bathing Your Rabbit: Yes or No?
Short answer: no.
Rabbits don’t like to get wet, and bathing your rabbit can cause more harm than good, especially if your rabbit is in pain from arthritis or another condition.
You can, however, give your bunny a gentle butt bath with warm water and gentle shampoo. You can also use rabbit safe pet wipes to give your rabbit’s skin a wipe-down. A dry bath with cornstarch is another option.
Here’s how to safely bathe the legs and backside of your bunny.
Always make sure to dry your bunny thoroughly after removing any shampoo residue.
If your rabbit is paralysed or otherwise disabled, you might consider diapering. Modern diapers are made to keep moisture away from a baby’s skin, and they can do the same for a bunny.
Choose a small size diaper, such as those made for premature babies or small dogs. Some diapers also have a coloured strip on the outside that tells you when the diaper is soiled.
Watch how it’s done here.
Whether your rabbit grooms itself independently or needs a little help, it always needs a clean enclosure. Set up a daily and weekly hutch maintenance routine to keep your rabbit’s home clean, free of mould and mildew, and in good repair.
- Spot clean the litter box
- Remove wet litter and bedding
- Remove uneaten food and hay
- Empty, wash, and refill food dishes and water bottles
- Inspect for mould and mildew
- Check for signs of rodents or other pests
- Change out bedding
- Wash blankets and toys
- Wipe down plastic and metal parts of the hutch with water and vinegar
- Remove white urine stains with vinegar and water
- Disinfect metal and plastic parts with a rabbit-safe disinfectant
A Proper Diet
Just like with humans, many rabbit ailments come down to a poor diet.
A diet that’s too high in calcium, as we mentioned, can cause urinary problems. A diet that’s too high in protein or carbohydrates can cause digestive problems.
Rabbits are prey animals and will hide symptoms of pain or illness for as long as they can. For this reason, by the time a rabbit owner notices a problem, it may have become quite serious indeed. If you notice signs of infection or irritation in your bunny, consult your veterinarian immediately.
In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to help your bunny out.
First, gently clean the area with rabbit safe pet wipes, or by giving your rabbit a bottom bath.
Next, clip the hair away from the affected area. This will allow you to see any skin damage. If your rabbit is in pain, your vet may need to sedate it in order to clip away the soiled fur.
Your vet will probably prescribe something for pain relief. This may be an anti-inflammatory medicine or an analgesic cream. Your vet may also prescribe antibiotics to clear up an infection, or to prevent a potential infection.
Your vet will probably also instruct you to use a barrier cream to prevent further irritation. Barrier creams like Vaseline or zinc oxide help skin to heal by repelling moisture.
Some rabbit owners also use calendula cream or Bag Balm to help heal the skin.
When to Call the Vet
Urine scald and dirty bottom are almost always symptoms of a different underlying problem. If this is the first time your bunny has had this problem, or if you don’t know what’s causing it, your vet needs to examine your rabbit to find and treat the underlying cause.
These problems are also quite painful, though your bunny won’t tell you as much. Your rabbit may need to be sedated in order to clip off the soiled fur and treat the problem properly. Your vet will also be able to prescribe pain relief.
If the skin is red, warm, inflamed, or cracked, and especially if there are sores or lesions, your rabbit may need an antibiotic to treat or prevent infection.
Mucky Bottom and Urine Scald are painful and unpleasant and can lead to very serious problems for your rabbit. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to prevent both of these problems.
Have you dealt with these problems? What worked for you? Tell us about it in the comments!
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