4 of 5 Baby rabbits sold to pet store died

by Pat
(Mascotte, Fl, USA)

On September 14 I sold 5 6 week old rabbits 4 Lionheads and 1 Netherland Dwarf to a pet store. Four of those five died starting Friday, September 21, the week following the sale. They were eating and healthy, then just died.

My barn with 13 2x3x2 cages is sterilized every 2 weeks on a rotating system of 3 every 2 days.
Water bottles and food crocks are sterilized at the same time.

A fresh cardboard box is added to each sterilized cage after it is cleaned.

I do not use hay in my cages, but I do use Timothy hay to line my nursery boxes.

During the same week that I sold the 5, I also sold several pedigreed babies from the same litters to breeders, and sold a group that had malformations at a small critters auction. I've checked on all of those and none have died. The transport cages are sterilized after every use.

Before I sell any baby rabbit, I:
1) wait for it to be 6 weeks old and weaned
2) check for any physical abnormalities
3) move it to a weaning cage to make sure it is eating and pooping on its own
4) is in overall good health.

The owner of the pet shop told me that the purchaser of one of the dead rabbits took it in for a necropsy. The vet told them that it must have been a bacterial infection.

My questions are:
1) If it is a bacterial infection, could it have come from my barn? Are my show and breeding rabbits in danger?

2) Could there be any other reason for a perfectly healthy rabbit to just drop dead, at such a late date after birth? I do know that newborn rabbits die if you sneeze too hard, or the weather changes too much, or if the Great Unknown got out of the bed on the wrong side (ie: they die for almost no reason).

Any help out there?

***** Karen Sez *****
The fact that you're racking your brains for reasons is evidence that you have scruples as to taking excellent care of your rabbits, and that you did the right thing at your end, and that the rabbits were no doubt healthy when they left your hands to the best of your understanding.

Given the entirety of your scenario, and given the timing of one week later, I'd suspect a stressful situation at the pet shop (something outside your control) may have resulted in a stress-induced enterotoxemia in your bunnies.

It's an infection, yes, but caused by stress and not from something at your barn. Your rabbits are most likely not in danger.

At this age, bunny diarrhea can be swiftly fatal before there's even a drop of loose stool because of the toxins in the clostridia germs causing the enterotoxemia. The fact that you sold bunnies from these same litters and they did fine is an indication that the problem was outside your control.

To learn from the experience:

1) How much time transpired from the kits getting moved to a weaning cage, until they were sold to the pet store? These two events are best separated by a solid period of time, like 3-7 days, to give the kits a chance to get comfortable with the changes in their lives.

2) Next time instruct the pet shop to feed the kits lots of grass hay, and do not give any treats. None. Additionally, the pet shop should wait for 24 hours from receipt of the bunnies before adding rabbit pellets to the ration along with the hay and fresh clean water.

Hopefully these measures will go a long way to preventing a bloom of diarrhea and death-causing bacteria in other bunnies.

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