Some rabbits are prone to self-mutilation, especially on the forefeet.:292 Self-trauma can be so severe that digits may be lost.
- lesions and skin irritation
- reddening of the skin
- excessive licking
- excessive "air boxing"
- removal of digits
The cause of self-mutilation is not clear, and it is likely a number of conditions can result in this type of behavior.
Some conditions that have been considered as causes::292-293
- obsessive/compulsive behavior
- contact dermatitis
- psychological disorder
- genetic predisposition
- intramuscular injections of ketamine and xylazine in the thigh near the tail (caudal)
A genetic predisposition for compulsive self-mutilation has been identified in one particular strain of laboratory rabbits.:293 The symptoms begin with a reddening of the skin on the front feet digits, and rabbits would lick their feet and "air box" frequently. There appeared to be a seasonal incidence in the late summer and autumn.:293
Symptoms due to intramuscular injections of ketamine and xylazine appeared 2–3 days post-injection, and while lameness was not observed, skin irrition was obvious, and the rabbits would shake their paw with every step. Post-mortem examination showed axonal degeneration in the sciatic nerve.:293
Sometimes hay seeds or grass awns can be embedded in the skin and cause intense irritation.:293
Treatment should always include a parasiticide such as ivermectin or selamectin in case of mites.
If the self-mutilation appears to be a psychological disorder, some methods of treatment are the following::293
- environmental enrichment such as exercising opportunities and a bonded companion.
- neutering to prevent frustrations associated with finding a suitable nesting site or receptive companion.
- a high fiber diet because chewing through hay or grazing grass can prevent boredom.
- strategies such as scatter feeding (pellets are scattered through hay or another toy)
- toys such as cardboard boxes or branches
For laboratory rabbits with a genetic predisposition for compulsive self-mutilation, treatment with haloperidal was successful.:293
- MediRabbit, Esther van Praag, Ph.D., Self-mutilating behavior in rabbits
- Varga, M. (2013). Textbook of rabbit medicine. (2nd ed.).