Kidney disease is a condition also referred to as renal disease that occurs in rabbits. Renal disease is characterized by the inability of the kidneys to maintain normal function. Kidney failure is normally a result of poor husbandry and a diet high in calcium. Other causes such as severe trauma and stroke may lead to acute development of the disease.
Older rabbits are particularly prone to this condition; however, younger rabbits can also develop the disease. Often symptoms are not present until significant kidney damage has occurred. The causes for kidney disease include:
• Bacterial infection
• Extreme stress
The symptoms of kidney disease are strongly paired with elimination behavior, but other behavioral symptoms may be observed if your rabbit had developed the condition. The symptoms of renal disease include:
• Excessive water consumption
• Weight loss
• Excessive amounts of urine excreted
• Poor appetite
Treatment & Prevention
Any abnormality in the urinary system must receive immediate medical attention, as this can represent a life-threatening emergency. Many times inpatient care is necessary until the rabbit can properly urinate on its own. In the case of kidney disease, treatment options will vary depending on the underlying factor of the disease. The permanent effects of kidney disease will depend on an owner’s timely response to the symptoms as well as the ability of your veterinarian to restore proper urinary flow.
A major step in preventing renal disease is to provide your rabbit with a diet that is low in calcium. The accumulation of calcium in the urinary system can lead to mineral deposits that hinder the function of the kidneys. Alfalfa hay, which is also used in the formulation of rabbit pellets, is high in calcium. Feeding your rabbit a high-quality grass or timothy hay will help prevent the ingestion of excess calcium.
Rabbit owners should also practice good husbandry techniques. Providing rabbits with a continuous supply of fresh water will ensure proper fluid balance in the urinary system and help prevent a rabbit’s urine from becoming overly concentrated. Rabbits should also be kept in an area that is free from environmental threats that could cause extreme stress.
Lisa Karr-Lilienthal, Ph.D. & Amanda Young – University of Nebraska-Lincoln