Excessive licking on its own is not a definitive sign of pain, though it can be a definite outward indication that something is wrong with your bunny. Excessive licking can be an indication of skin problems such as mites or worms. It can also be a symptom of an allergic reaction, bone, muscle or tendon problems, or it can be a psychological problem resulting from agitation, anger or loneliness.
Usually, excessive licking is a sign of pain if it is accompanied by other unusual activities. Licking a limb would be a sign of pain if combined with the rabbit favoring that limb, limping or shaking the limb as though it is asleep.
Licking at other parts of its body accompanied with biting that same area could indicate an internal pain. When excessive licking is also accompanied by such behaviors as grunting, aversion to being picked up, or sitting and staring at the back corner of the hutch, then it would be a very good sign that your bunny is in pain.
It is not always easy to determine if excessive licking is a sign of pain. As in the case of Mr. Whitehead at Diana’s Rabbit Rescue, your veterinarian may need to perform several tests or try different medications to help eliminate certain problems. Mr. Whitehead licked one thigh and leg so much that he licked all the hair off the limb. He did not limp, stare at the back corner of his hutch, grunt when picked up or approached, or exhibit any other signs of pain, so his treatment was trial and error. The veterinarian tested for mites and ring worms, gave medication to eliminate the diagnosis of an allergy, did x-rays to eliminate breaks or fractures in the bones, and tried pain and anti-inflammatory medications. All of the tests were negative, and the medications did not curb the licking.
In the end, the solution was found by accident. Mr. Whitehead’s excessive licking problem was psychological. He was stressed from loneliness. We gave him a stuffed toy to play with one day in hopes of distracting him, and he immediately stopped his excessive licking. He transferred his attentions to the stuffed toy and it became his hutch-mate.
Excessive licking, as with excessive chewing, is a good indicator that something is wrong with your bunny. Do not ignore these outward signs of problems. Immediately begin observation of your rabbit’s attitude and behavior. Watch how your rabbit hops and moves. If the licking is on a limb, observe how your rabbit reacts if you touch or move that limb. Then, contact a rabbit trained veterinarian and describe all of your observations. Continue working with your veterinarian until you find a solution to the licking problem. Do not give up!
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