Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Management / List of hyperlinked Techniques & Protocols:

History & Documentation

Introduction and General Information

  • The history is a vital part of disease investigation, whether concerning an individual, group or epidemic. The findings of the history should be used alongside the assessment of the immediate environment of the affected animal(s), the examination of affected live individuals (Physical Examination of Birds, Physical Examination of Mammals) and the post mortem examination (Necropsy of Birds, Necropsy of Mammals) of dead individuals.
  • A good history includes details of the individual or group affected, including the population from which the affected individual(s) originate, the number and percentage of a group affected and the species involved, the time course of the disease (in the individual and in the group), the environment from which the affected individual(s) originate and any changes in the environment, including recent weather changes/events.
  • The use of standard history forms for individuals and for group problems reduces the risk of important information being omitted, and there should always be a section for notes/comments to cover non-standard information.
  • In zoos, sanctuaries etc., the daily caretaker of the animals is best placed to provide most of the history of the animal and the group.
  • For animals in a group, it may be difficult to confirm whether a given individual is eating or drinking more or less than normal, or to determine which animal is producing diarrhoea or vomitus.
  • N.B.
  • The name and contact details of the person finding/reporting the animal(s) should be noted, whether this is the owner, caretaker or a concerned member of the public.
  • It is better to collect "too much" information at the time of an incident than too little, as it is difficult if not impossible to go back and collect missing information. This is particularly true when dealing with wildlife disease events but also applies to animals from collections.
  • Information about the previous disease history in the collection, location and individual bird should be included as well as recent history.
  • It is important that information on previous disease history should not be allowed to lead to preconceptions as to the likely cause of the problem and thereby lead to the omission of the collection of some types of data.
  • If an animal is presented away from its usual environment then information about its normal surroundings, or the area in which it was found, should be described as part of the history. (see: Environmental Assessment).
  • Photographs may be very useful for depiction of both general environmental conditions and specific features (see: Chapter 1 - B36 Field Manual of Wildlife Diseases - Recording and submitting specimen history data).

(B11.2.w16, B15, B32.1.w34, B36.1.w1, P108.12.w2, V.w5)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Water plays a role in the occurrence or transmission of many waterfowl diseases. Details of water, including general appearance, source, changes in water level etc. should always be included.
  • For group problems, details of which species (Anatidae and others) are and are not affected may provide valuable information.
  • A complete history should be obtained before the crane is removed from its enclosure for examination. (B115.8.w4)

Elephant Consideration

  • A complete history is recommended.
  • Variables such as age, gender, geographic location and environment may be associated with specific diseases in elephants and should be recorded.
  • Record the previous clinical history, diagnostics, surgery and/or treatments, diet, housing and/or environment, exercise and foot care.
  • Record the presenting problem or problems, any signs detected by keepers, the duration and progression of any signs or problems.
  • Record the number of animals affected and the chronology of the presenting complaint if it affects more than one individual.
  • Ask general questions about the elephant's behaviour and attitude, reproductive activity, appetite, faeces, and urine.
  • Ask about any changes in the diet, housing and environment or the introduction of any potential environmental or social stressors.
  • Always ask the keeper about the elephant’s temperament.
  • Provide the keeper with the opportunity to contribute any additional observations.


Bear Consideration
  • A complete history is recommended.
  • Variables such as species, age, gender, and past history (e.g. wild or captive born, rescued "dancing bear" or from a bile farm) may be associated with certain diseases.
  • Record the previous clinical history, diagnostics, surgery and/or treatments, diet, housing and/or environment.
  • Record the presenting problem or problems, any signs detected by keepers, the duration and progression of any signs or problems.
  • Record the number of animals affected and the chronology of the presenting complaint if affecting more than one individual.
  • Ask general questions about the bear's behaviour and attitude, reproductive activity, appetite, faeces, and urine.
    • Sudden apparent changes in personality (changes in behaviour or temperament) may indicate the development of medical problems - illness or injury. (D247.8.w8, P83.1.w1)
  • Ask about any changes in the diet, housing and environment or the introduction of any potential environmental or social stressors.
  • Give the keeper the opportunity to contribute observations; remember that usually the keeper is the person most likely to notice subtle behavioural changes, although some changes, developing gradually over a long period (e.g. activity level, weight), may be more easily noticed by a person who does not see the bears every day.
Lagomorph Consideration A complete history preferably should be obtained before starting the physical examination, as it may help to direct the examination. (B601.2.w2)
  • A thorough and accurate history is often vital for correct and timely diagnosis. (B601.2.w2, J213.2.w2)
Ferret Consideration
  • A complete history is important. (B339.9.w9)
  • Normally, a history is acquired first, before any examination or treatment. In an emergency, stabilise the ferret first before taking a history. (B631.18.w18)
Bonobo Consideration
  • History is an essential part of diagnosis of disease in nonhuman primates. (B644.7.w7)
Published Guidelines linked in Wildpro

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Time and Reporting Procedure

The time course of a disease, both in an individual (see below) and in a group may give valuable information. The history should indicate whether the disease problem has an acute onset or is a chronic condition: has the problem developed over a period of hours, days, weeks or months?
  • Where more than one animal is involved, it is important to distinguish between the time-course of the disease in the group and the time course in individuals within a group.
  • With some diseases, mortality or illness may have been noted within the population for a number of weeks, but each individual may show only a transient illness or a short time from showing clinical signs to death.
  • Acute or peracute diseases are likely to result in many more dead than sick animals being reported; the opposite may be noted with diseases taking a longer time course
  • The date of onset of the problem should be recorded. For wild animals in particular it may be possible only to record the date at which the problem was initially observed and it must be remembered that this may not be the same as the true time at which the problem started.
  • In the case of an individual wild animal it must be remembered that the animal may have been ill/injured for some time prior to being detected. This may also be true in the case of captive animals, particularly when managed in extensive enclosures with plentiful natural vegetation within which an animal may hide, or for females which may have been left undisturbed and therefore unobserved while sitting on a nest or tending juveniles.

The timing of the problem should be recorded regarding:

  • Time of year (season, date).
  • Time of day at which the problem has been noted (e.g. animals found dead in the morning).
  • Life-history events such as onset of courtship, mating, egg-laying, birth/hatching, moulting, migration, arrival or transport of the affected animal(s), and of other in-contact animal(s) in the population.

Additionally, it is important to note the relationship of the onset of the problem to:

  • Changes in the environment (e.g. storm or precipitation, flooding, lightning, algal bloom, fire, temperature changes);
  • Other recent events, or events at the time the problem was first noted;
  • Changes in management such as food (type, batch, supplier etc.) or feeding regime, use of chemicals (disinfectants, pesticides etc.), power failure, water draw-down, crop management.

(B11.2.w16, B15, B32.1.w34, B36, B109, B127)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Recent cold weather may have led to Frostbite, particularly in tropical crane species.
  • Recent thunderstorms, hailstorms. fog or other inclement weather conditions which are known to be associated with diseases such as Drowning, Electrocution, Impact Injury
Elephant Consideration  --
Bear Consideration
Lagomorph Consideration
Domestic rabbit

For pet or house rabbits, it is important to consider:

  • How long the present owner has owned the rabbit.
  • Where the rabbit was acquired from.

(B601.2.w2, J72.48.w1)

Wild lagomorphs
  • For free-living wildlife casualties, the date and time at which the animal was found, as well as the circumstances in which it was found, and any traumatic event witnesses, should be recorded. (J213.9.w4)
  • The name, address and telephone number of the rescuer should be notes, and their signature (dates) should be obtained, releasing the animal into your care. (J213.9.w4)
  • Any treatment or care (food, water etc.) that has been given already should be noted. (J213.9.w4)
  • For non-domestic lagomorphs in permanent human care (in zoos etc.), the same information should be requested as for domestic rabbits. (V.w5)
Ferret Consideration
Bonobo Consideration As with other species, the rate of onset of signs of illness, time of year, and relationship to any management changes should be noted. Cross-referencing with daily husbandry notes can be very useful.
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro
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Location may be identified in a variety of ways: the address of the owner or the collection from which the animal or animals originate, an official or local name for the area in which the animal(s) were found, distance and direction from landmarks including roads, towns etc., or a map reference. Political boundaries should be noted.
  • Where location is given by the owner/caretaker, accurate identification of the site should be straightforward.
  • Location given by a member of the public who has found one or more ill or injured wild animals may be less accurate, and is less likely to be standardized ("by the bus stop at the end of Rush Street").
  • Outside urban/suburban areas, location may commonly be given in terms of a map reference - latitude/longitude, or a grid reference (e.g. Ordnance Survey Map reference in the UK).
  • Within built-up areas, the location will normally include details of the road on or near which the animal(s) were found, and may include a complete postal address. Any extra information is useful to allow the animal to be returned into its own territory if appropriate. Similarly, if found by a member of the public in a public area not easily identified using road names, such as within a park or by a river, any identifying features are helpful ("under the big oak tree near the bench at the narrow end of the lake in the park off Hill Street" provides much more information than "by the lake" or "in the park").
  • Within a collection, it is important to know which aviary/enclosure/cage/house the animal comes from, and if more than one individual is involved, whether they come from the same or different enclosures, and if from different enclosures, whether the enclosures are apart or adjacent, have a direct connection (e.g. water flowing from one enclosure to another, animals looked after by the same caretaker) and any other similarities between affected enclosures or differences between affected and unaffected enclosures. Also, whether the animals are permanently confined or partially or totally free-ranging.
  • Topography may affect distribution and movement of toxins or infectious micro-organisms, e.g. if air-borne or water-borne.
  • For a cage bird within a house, exact location of the cage may be relevant (e.g. small cage birds in or near the kitchen may be affected by fumes from overheated non-stick cooking pans).
  • For egg or chick problems, information on whether the affected eggs/birds were from the same incubator or brooder box should be recorded.
  • Altitude should be noted, as this may affect occurrence of disease, particularly where vector-transmission is important (e.g. avian malaria in indigenous Hawaiian birds).

N.B. If the animal(s) are presented for examination away from their original environment, then a further description of the location at which they were found is useful (see: Environmental Assessment).

(B11.2.w16, B13.8.w20, B15, B32.1.w34, B36.1.w1, V.w5)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Individual waterfowl casualties may be found near the physical hazard which has caused the injury, e.g. power line, telephone wires, roads etc. (see: Crushing, Electrocution, Impact Injury, Lacerations / Punctures)
  • Waterfowl which are free-ranging or semi free-ranging may have more opportunity to come into contact with toxins or other disease agents not present in the environment of confined birds.

(B36, B127, V.w5)

Crane Consideration
Elephant Consideration --
Bear Consideration
  • Bears in collections open to the public may be more likely to be fed inappropriate or toxic items by the public, even if feeding is prohibited. (V.w5)
Lagomorph Consideration
Domestic rabbit

For pet or house rabbits, the likelihood of exposure to various physical disease agents, pathological organisms and toxins may vary depending on the rabbit's location and contact with other animals. The owner should be asked: 

  • Whether the rabbit is kept in a rural or urban location. (B601.2.w2)
  • Whether there are wild rabbits in the area. (B601.2.w2)
    • Infectious diseases such as myxomatosis can be caught from wild rabbits; this may occur if the pet rabbit escapes or if wild rabbits visit the hutch or run (a pile of droppings may be found outside the hutch or run if a wild rabbit has visited). (B600.3.w3)
    • If a female rabbit gets out and there are wild rabbits around, it may become pregnant. (B600.3.w3)
  • Have wild rats, mice, foxes or birds of prey, or cats, been seen in the garden? (B601.2.w2)
  • Where the rabbit is housed:
    • In the house (and if so, which areas it has access to)? (B601.2.w2)
      • Rabbits may chew household objects, and are therefore more likely to get heavy metal poisoning or risk electrocution. (B600.3.w3)
      • Traumatic injuries and fractures are more common in house rabbits than in rabbits kept in a hutch. (B600.3.w3)
    • If outside, whether in a hutch, shed, or run, and how these are constructed (size, materials, ventilation) and located (in direct sunlight, shade etc.)
      • Hutch-kept rabbits are less likely to be observed on a daily basis, therefore disease may be well progressed before the rabbit is presented for diagnosis and treatment. (B600.3.w3)
      • Rabbits kept in hutches with inadequate ventilation (e.g. inside a poorly ventilated shed) are more likely to develop pasteurellosis and URT infections. (B600.3.w3)
      • Rabbits kept in hutches in exposed locations are more likely to present with heat stroke and stress-related diseases following thunderstorm, severe frost or attack by a predator. (B600.3.w3)
    • Both indoors and outside? (B601.2.w2)
    • Given free run of the garden? (J72.48.w1)

Wild lagomorphs:

  • When a free-living lagomorph is presented, the exact location at which the animal was found should be recorded. (J213.9.w4)

Groups of lagomorphs:

  • When dealing with groups of lagomorphs, whether of domestic rabbits or non-domestic lagomorphs, gathering information on housing is extremely important. (B601.2.w2, V.w5)
Ferret Consideration
  • Some diseases are known only in particular locations or countries. For example:
  • Ask about where the ferret is housed:
  • Ask about how much time the ferret spends outside its cage/enclosure, where, and under what level of supervision. (J213.2.w6)
    • Potential exposure to toxins and opportunities for foreign body ingestion (particularly foam, rubber and plastic objects in the home) must be considered. (J213.2.w6)
Bonobo Consideration --
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro
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Individual and Population (Species) Data

  • If an individual animal is involved, then the following information should be recorded: - age, sex, genetic, breeding and health records, individual markings/identification.


  • If a number of animals are affected, then the species affected, number, age, sex and health records of the animals affected should be noted.

ANALYSING DATA - Specific needs for information:

  • Similarities (e.g. taxonomic, behavioural, ecological niche) between affected individuals/species and differences in these characteristics between affected and apparently unaffected in-contact animals, of the same and the species are also important.
  • The observed host range of the disease may give an indication of the cause of the disease (e.g. for pathogens with a limited host range, or considerable variation in pathogenicity between species). Additionally, this information may be used once the diagnosis has been made, to determine which other animals are "at risk".
  • For example, the species affected may be very helpful in distinguishing between several vesicular diseases (Foot-and-Mouth Disease), swine vesicular disease etc.) in mammals (B47), while toxoplasmosis causes death/serious illness in a variety of unrelated groups (e.g. lemurs, new-world monkeys, marsupials, crowned pigeons, as well as abortion in others (e.g. sheep) (Th3).
  • A disease may be found to be affecting only grazing species, or herbivores, or fruit-eaters, which may suggest a nutritional or food-borne problem, including exposure to toxins related both to the food items consumed and the site at which it is gathered or consumed.
  • It may be useful to look at this in terms of the differences between affected and unaffected individuals: age, sex, feeding habits etc.
  • Full usefulness of data comparing affected and unaffected animals requires an understanding of their natural history (e.g. regarding differences in feeding habits or habitat use) as well as differences in disease susceptibility.
  • Vaccination status/immune status: - of animal(s) affected, and of in-contact animals unaffected.
  • Recent movements of animals:
  • Have any animals recently been acquired or recently arrived at the affected location?
  • Have animals from different locations met at their present location?
  • What is known about the disease history of the site/collection from which the animals have come?

(B11.2.w16, B13.8.w20, B15, B32.1.w34, B109, B127)

Waterfowl Consideration Different waterfowl species may be affected to a greater or lesser extent in a disease outbreak. Reasons for this include:
  • A real difference in susceptibility to the disease-producing agent:
  • Different exposure to the disease-producing agent, related to differences in lifestyle such as feeding habits:
  • Fish-eating waterfowl are more likely to be affected by pesticides which are concentrated through the food chain.
  • Grazing species are most likely to be affected by chemicals applied to turf.
  • Ducks and swans may be more susceptible than geese to diseases picked up while feeding in water, such as Leech Infection.
  • Considerable differences in feeding habits and food items consumed between adults and juveniles.

Which if any species other than waterfowl are affected may be important information:

  • Only waterfowl are affected by Duck Plague
  • All species of waterfowl are considered very susceptible to Type C Botulinum Toxin, with dabbling and filter-feeding species most likely to ingest the toxin (as are shorebirds feeding by probing mud); other birds (waders, gulls, herons) are less susceptible to Type C Botulinum Toxin. Raptors, gallinaceous birds including domestic poultry, songbirds, and mammals - cattle, horses, dogs, mink, cats - are affected occasionally. Vultures appear to be resistant. (see: Avian Botulism).
  • A wide variety of birds may be affected in an outbreak of Avian Cholera.

(B15, B36, B127)

Elephant Consideration For some diseases, there may be differences in susceptibility between the different elephant species. 

If species other than elephants are also being affected, then diseases to be considered include (depending on the clinical signs):

Bear Consideration
  • The social situation in which bears are kept may affect disease; it has been suggested that the development of clinical skin disease in Ursus maritimus - Polar bear may be associated with social stress, being more likely to develop in bears kept in groups and specifically in individuals in the group which are of low social rank. (P6.1.w5)

Consider the age and species of the individual affected.

Lagomorph Consideration
  • The age, sex and species (for non-domestic lagomorphs) or breed (for domestic rabbits) should be noted.
  • Note whether the individual is a breeding animal, or if it has been neutered (spayed or castrated).
  • For non-domestic lagomorphs, species identification (at least to genus level) is important particularly for very young individuals, as there are important developmental differences between rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit , Sylvilagus spp. etc.) and hares/jackrabbits (Lepus spp.) which need to be taken into account for hand-rearing and management. (B284.10.w10, B338.1.w1, J82.16.w1, J82.16.w2, N35.12.w1, V.w5)


Domestic rabbit

There are age differences in diseases susceptibility:

  • Suckling rabbits are susceptible to:
    • Colibacillosis. (B600.3.w3)
  • Newly weaned rabbits are susceptible to:
  • Young rabbits are susceptible to:
    • Congenital malocclusion. (B600.3.w3)
    • Pasterellosis associated with stress. (B600.3.w3)
    • Rhinitis following removal from a breeding colony to a pet shop for sale. (B600.3.w3)
    • Infectious disease. (B600.3.w3)
  • Older rabbits are more susceptible to:
    • Acquired dental disease. (B600.3.w3)
    • Musculoskeletal disease. (B600.3.w3)
    • Neoplasia. (B600.3.w3)
      • Note: neoplasia has been seen occasionally in young rabbits, e.g. lymphosarcoma in a rabbit at 8-10 weeks old. (B600.3.w3)

There are breed differences in the incidence of various diseases:

  • Dwarf breeds:
  • Giant breeds:
    • Cardiomyopathy. (B600.3.w3)
    • Arthritic conditions. (B600.3.w3)
  • Lops:
    • Superficial pyoderma of skin folds (under the chin and in the perineal area). (B600.3.w3)
    • Entropion. (B600.3.w3)
  • Rex:
    • Sore hocks (due to the thin fur). (B600.3.w3)
  • Netherland Dwarf:
    • Blockage of the nasolachrimal duct (due to the "squashed face"). (B600.3.w3)
Ferret Consideration
Age, sex and reproductive status

Record the ferret's age, sex, whether it has been neutered. (B631.18.w18)

Vaccination / preventative medicine
Bonobo Consideration
  • Consider whether only one individual or several in the group are affected.
  • Check whether other groups of primates are showing similar signs, particularly those which are cared for by the same keepers.
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Features of the Disease

The following should always be included in the history:
  • The presenting problem.
  • Any observed incident (e.g. collision).
  • Any clinical signs including behavioural changes which have been noted by the owner/caretaker, even if not obviously relevant to the presenting problems.
    • Cessation of normal behaviours should be noted as well as the occurrence of abnormal behaviours.
  • Any changes in clinical signs, e.g. between individuals affected early in a disease outbreak and individuals affected at the time of investigation.
  • Any changes in faeces/droppings/urine output (quantity, appearance).
    • See: Environmental Assessment - Substrate and ground-covering vegetation condition
    • Note: with group-housed animals it may not be obvious which animal is producing diarrhoeic faeces, or if a single animal has decreased faecal output or increased or decreased urine output. Careful observation by the caretaker over time may be required.
    • Animals should be observed for e.g. straining without passing urine or faeces.
  • Any signs which may indicate an injury or other localised problem, e.g. repeated attention of an animal directed towards one area of its body (for example repeated licking of the area).
  • Any signs indicating pain or discomfort - restlessness, awkward posture, frequent shifts of position.
  • N.B. an experienced owner or caretaker may be aware that an animal is ill before clinical signs become obvious. Their eye may be drawn to a particular animal which "does not look right", even though they may not be able to describe what exactly is wrong.
  • Any treatment/ control measure already implemented, and the results or lack of response to that action, should be recorded.
For conditions affecting more than one animal in a group:
  • Both morbidity (number affected) and mortality (number dying) should be noted.
  • Prevalence (proportion of the population affected at any one time) and incidence (number of new cases over a given time) should be recorded or estimated.

(B11.2.w16, B13.8.w20, B14, B109, B134.w1, P108.12.w2)

Waterfowl Consideration See: Physical Examination of Birds: Observation
Crane Consideration See: Physical Examination of Birds: Observation
Elephant Consideration See: Physical Examination of Mammals: Observation
Bear Consideration See: Physical Examination of Mammals: Observation
Lagomorph Consideration

See: Physical Examination of Mammals: Observation

Domestic rabbit

Ask if the owner if the rabbit has shown: (B539.1.w1, B601.2.w2, )

  • Any recent unusual behaviour? (get details). (B601.2.w2)
  • Any changes in:
    • Bodyweight?
    • Appetite - amount eaten or type of food eaten?
      • Note: if water is not available, food intake is decreased and may cease. (B600.3.w3)
      • Anorexia may be associated with: (B601.App2.w20)
        • Dental disease.
        • Pain.
        • Stressors.
        • Gastrointestinal disease.
        • Any systemic disease.
      • A rabbit which readily eats its hay probably has good teeth. (J29.16.w5)
    • Water consumption?
      • Normal water intake is 50 - 100 mL per kg per day. (B600.3.w3)
        • Intake of more than 120 mL/day over three days with the rabbit in its normal home environment confirms polydipsia. (B601.9.w9)
      • Rabbits eating large quantities of food with a high water content (e.g. green foods) may drink little or no water. (B600.3.w3)
      • Rabbits on a high protein diet drink a lot of water. (B600.3.w3)
      • Dry fibrous diets lead to absorption of water from the gut, therefore to drinking. (B600.3.w3)
      • Rabbits deprived of food may drink more. (B600.3.w3)
      • Water consumption increases in hot weather. (J213.2.w2)
      • Polydipsia may occur with: (B601.9.w9)
        • Boredom or stress
        • Pain, particularly dental disease
        • Anorexia
        • Food deprivation
        • Polyuria
    • Faecal pellets - size, number, consistency and colour?
      • It is normal for a rabbit to produce about 150 hard pellets a day. Occasional caecotrophs may also be found. (B600.3.w3)
      • Owners may report seeing their rabbit eating droppings from the anus. It is normal for rabbits to ingest caecotrophs, which are dark, soft and smelly, in this manner. (B600.3.w3)
        • Uneaten caecotrophs, being softer and smellier than the normal hard pellets, may be reported as diarrhoea. (B600.3.w3)
        • Rabbits may fail to eat caecotrophs due to obesity, spinal problems or dental disease. (B600.3.w3, J213.2.w2)
        • Changes in diet or provision of succulent foods may lead to production of caecotrophs which are softer, stickier or even liquid. (B600.3.w3)
      • Smaller and fewer hard pellets are produced when food intake is reduced.
        • Following a period of zero stool production, passing of smaller than usual pellets indicates that intestinal motility is increasing. (J213.2.w2)
      • Lack of production of hard pellets indicates anorexia (no food intake) or reduced gut mobility. (B600.3.w3)
        • Note: any rabbit failing to pass faeces for 18-24 hours needs immediate attention, since either obstruction or complete anorexia can be fatal quite quickly. (J213.2.w2)
      • Diarrhoea: soft or liquid faeces, which cannot be identified as either caecotrophs or faecal pellets, are a sign of enteritis, enterotoxaemia or coccidiosis. (B600.3.w3) See:
      • Increased mucus around faeces may indicate disturbance in caecal flora and the potential of Mucoid Enteropathy in Rabbits. (J213.2.w2)
    • Urine - amount or colour?
    • Gait?
      • Changes in gait may not be noticed if the rabbit is always confined to a hutch and is therefore not observed while hopping around. (B600.12.w12)
  • Has there been any known recent trauma, such as the rabbit falling, or being attacked by another animal?

Ask the owner what the problem is - why they have brought their rabbit to be seen, including: (B601.2.w2)

  • How long has it been ill?
  • How severe is the illness?
  • Is the rabbit getting worse, better, or remaining the same?
  • How often are the signs of illness noted?
  • Are the signs present all the time or are they seen:
    • At certain times of the day?
    • In association with any obvious trigger factors (if so, what)?


  • Subtle changes in demeanour, or signs which are apparent only when the animal is relaxed, are unlikely to be noticed during the physical examination; it is important to get descriptions of these from the owner. (B600.3.w3)
  • Not all pet rabbits are observed/handled every day, therefore the owner's information about the duration of illness or the frequency of clinical signs may not be completely accurate. (B601.2.w2)
  • Owners may not have noticed subtle changes in behaviour. (B601.2.w2)
  • Owners may not realise the significance of changes in e.g. food preference or droppings; careful questioning may be needed to get the owner to report such changes. (B601.2.w2)
  • Owners of rabbits may not be aware of urination and defecation habits of their rabbit, particularly for hutch-kept rabbits or if rabbits live together. (B600.3.w3)
  • If only one rabbit is affected out of a group, a metabolic disturbance, rather than an infectious disease, is more likely. (J213.2.w2)
Ferret Consideration Ask about:
  • General activity level and attitude. (J16.30.w1, J213.2.w6)
    • Sudden increases in the incidence or duration of the ferret collapsing into the "slump" position on the floor during intense activity and play (a gradual increase is to be expected as the ferret gets older). (J213.4.w7)
    • Sudden change in activity level - an active ferret becoming quiet or a normally quiet ferret suddenly becoming much more active. (J213.4.w7)
  • Any exercise intolerance or respiratory distress. (J213.2.w6)
    • Sudden increase in the  effort the ferret needs to perform normal/routine behaviours. (J213.4.w7)
    • Sudden change in speed of normal behaviours such as grooming, urination, defecation, eating or drinking. (J213.4.w7)
    • Episodes of weakness and lethargy may indicate Insulinoma in Ferrets. This can progress to acute episodes of hypoglycaemia, during which the owner may find the ferret recumbent, depressed and minimally responsive, often with glazed eyes and sometimes with excessive salivation or pawing at the mouth. (B602.8.w8)
  • Any changes in weight. (J213.2.w6)
    • Weighing the ferret daily for several days can confirm weight change. (B661.29.w29)
  • Any sneezing or coughing. (B602.2.w2)
    • Note: sneezing is common while ferrets are running around and exploring, because they use their sense of smell extensively and, being close to the ground, inhale dust. (B602.1.w1)
  • Drooling (excess salivation). (J213.2.w6)
  • Excessive licking at the lips; this may indicate oral pathology such as Fractured Canines in Ferrets or mouth ulcers. (J213.4.w7)
  • Whether the ferret has shown any signs scratching or grooming more than usual (pruritis). (B631.18.w18)
    • The owner may have noticed this even if there are no obvious signs of skin scratches/excoriation to indicate pruritis. (B631.18.w18)
    • Some scratching is normal, but development of a "hot spot" or rash is not. (J213.4.w7)
  • Check whether any hair loss is normal (seasonal) for the individual ferret. (B631.18.w18)
  • Any changes in drinking, eating, urination or defecation, including specifically:
  • Any changes in the ferret's attitude to other ferrets, or to people, or to other animals. (J213.4.w7)
  • Routine behaviours being performed out of context, particularly by an older ferret. (J213.4.w7)
  • Periods of the ferret standing still for a long time, eyes wide open, particularly if the ferret also shows ataxia or salivation. (J213.4.w7)
    • This is classically seen with hypoglycaemia (Insulinoma in Ferrets), but a similar posture is also seen with cardiac or respiratory problems, ear mites or inner ear problems. (J213.4.w7)
  • Shivering: this normally may be seen as the ferret warms up after sleeping, and trembling may occur when the ferret is very excited or scared. Shivering at other times is abnormal and may, for example, indicate adrenal disease (Adrenocortical Neoplasia in Ferrets (Miscellaneous Disease)). (J213.4.w7)
  • Lying on one side, rather than on the stomach, except when sleeping, may indicate distress. (J213.4.w7)
  • Note: in older ferrets in particular, more than one disease process may be present. (J213.2.w6)
Bonobo Consideration
  • History is an essential part of diagnosis of disease in nonhuman primates. (B644.7.w7)
  • Reduced appetite or complete anorexia is a common non-specific sign. Sudden onset or gradual onset of reduced appetite suggests an acute or a more chronic condition.
    • Reduced feeding may be seen as a result of dental pain. (B644.10.w10)
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Management / Human Activities

  • In captive animals, it is important to consider a variety of management factors, including:
  • Feeding and water provision
  • Provision of shade, shelter and heating
  • Whether animals are maintained in their enclosure/cage at all times, or let out (e.g. cage birds allowed to fly around the house), or shut in to night-time or winter accommodation.
  • Information given in the history regarding food storage and preparation, and feeding, should be compared to observations of these whenever possible (see: Environmental Assessment).
  • Note whether any browse has been given recently and identify the plant species given. It is very important that the veterinarian is informed if there is any suspicion that toxic plants may have been given to an animal.
  • Consider whether there has been any change of diet, including e.g. a new batch of feed, or a new source of hay. 
  • For free-ranging animals, consideration should be given to any recent human activities which may have an impact, such as spraying of pesticides, sowing of crops etc. Also artificial feeding, which may increase population concentration as well as introducing the possibility of contaminated food.

(B11.2.w16, B13.8.w20, B14, B36, B127, P6.4.w1)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Recent spraying of turf with pesticides may be associated with poisoning particularly in geese and other grazing waterfowl (See Anticholinesterase Toxicity).
  • Recently-sown grain may also be associated with poisoning, particularly if spillage has occurred or covering is inadequate.
  • Feeding of seed-grain treated with pesticides has been associated with poisoning in geese.
  • Diet should be considered for potential imbalances, e.g.
  • Feeding of thiaminase-containing fish without concurrent thiamine supplementation (see: Thiamine Deficiency);
  • Excessive feeding of mealworms with attendant risk of calcium/phosphorus imbalance (see: Calcium / Phosphorus / Vitamin D Imbalance);
  • Excessive provision of palatable but nutritionally-poor food leading to dietary insufficiencies despite availability of other, nutritionally-adequate foods (see: Caloric Exhaustion).

(B15, B16.19.w1, B35.13.w5, B36)

Crane Consideration Note any recent changes or management procedures:


Elephant Consideration
Bear Consideration
Lagomorph Consideration
Domestic rabbit

Note: When a rabbit is brought to the veterinary surgery, the information indicated here (housing etc.) must be used to assess its home environment. (V.w5)

For pet or house rabbits, the following information should be collected. It is important to ask questions in a neutral manner to encourage the owner to give accurate information. (B601.2.w2)

  • How long have you had the rabbit? (B601.2.w2, J213.2.w2)
  • Where did the rabbit come from? (B601.2.w2, J213.2.w2)
    • Rabbits recently acquired from a pet shop may have been exposed to infectious diseases. (B600.3.w3)


  • Is the rabbit kept in the house, outdoors, or both? ((B539.1.w1), B601.2.w2)
  • For a rabbit living partially or totally in the house, does it have access to the whole house? (B601.2.w2)
  • Is the rabbit known to chew household items? (B601.2.w2)
  • What is the average temperature of the rabbit's housing/enclosure? (J213.2.w2)
  • What is the range of temperature's in the rabbit's housing/enclosure? (J213.2.w2)
  • What size is the hutch and the run? What are they made of? Where are they positioned? (B601.2.w2)
    • Outside accommodation may be exposed to extremes of weather (heat, cold, thunderstorms) and attempted predation (which may cause stress even if the predator cannot get to the rabbit). (B600.3.w3)
    • Is the hutch kept inside, outside or in a shed or similar outbuilding? (J213.2.w2)
    • How many animals (rabbits and others) are kept in the hutch/enclosure? (J213.2.w2)
      • Multiple rabbits kept at high concentration increases the risk of infectious disease transmission. (J213.2.w2)
  • For rabbits kept in a hutch/run, how much time is it given outside this?
  • What is the substrate of the rabbit's housing/enclosure? (J213.2.w2)
  • What kind of bedding is provided? (B601.2.w2)
  • What lighting system(s) is/are used in the rabbit's housing/enclosure, and for how many hours? (J213.2.w2)
  • Is the rabbit litter-box trained, and if so, what type of litter is used in the box? (B601.2.w2)
    • Clay-based litters if eaten can cause impaction of the caecum. (B600.3.w3)
    • Pine shavings may be hepatotoxic. (B600.3.w3)


  • What is the rabbit fed (a list of items, with their sources and the amounts given)? (B601.2.w2, J213.2.w2)
    • What food is actually eaten? (J213.2.w2)
  • Note: check what is provided as bedding, as straw or hay may be provided as bedding, with the owner unaware the "bedding" is being eaten by the rabbit. (J72.48.w1)
  • How is food presented? (J213.2.w2)
  • Is the rabbit given any treats, if so, what, how much and how often? (B601.2.w2)
  • Is the rabbit given any supplements, including vitamins, minerals, probiotics etc. ? If so, what and how often? (B601.2.w2, J213.2.w2)
    • Are these added to the food or to the water? (J213.2.w2)
  • Is the rabbit given water in a bowl, a sipper bottle or both? (B601.2.w2)
    • A rabbit may not have learned how to use an automatic waterer, for example (some rabbits never learn and will only drink from a bowl). (B600.3.w3)
  • Does the rabbit chew (hutch, furnishings etc.), and if so, what? (J72.48.w1)


  • Is the rabbit handled, and if so, how often, and who handles it? (B601.2.w2)
    • Trauma is more likely in a rabbit which has contact with children. (J213.2.w2)
  • Has the rabbit been dropped, or attacked? Or could this have occurred? (B539.1.w1)

Contact with other animals

  • Does the rabbit have contact with:
    • Other pet rabbits? (B600.3.w3, B601.2.w2, J72.48.w1, J213.2.w2)
      • Alopecia can occur following fur chewing or fights. (B600.3.w3)
      • Wounds and abscesses can occur following fights. (B600.3.w3)
    • Other pets? (B539.1.w1, B601.2.w2, J72.48.w1, J213.2.w2)
      • Guinea pigs can be asymptomatic carriers of Pasteurella multocida. (J213.2.w2)
      • Trauma is more likely in a household where the rabbit is in contact with cats or dogs. (J213.2.w2)
    • Are any of the other pets unwell? (B601.2.w2)
  • Has the rabbit had any exposure to other animals outside the home (at a show or groomer)? J213.2.w2

Recent changes and events:

  • Has there been any recent change in food type or brand used? (B601.2.w2)
    • A rabbit may have found a new batch of food unpalatable. (B600.3.w3)
  • Is the rabbit given water in a bowl, a sipper bottle or both? Has there been any recent change in water container? (B601.2.w2)
    • A rabbit may not have learned how to use an automatic waterer, for example (some rabbits never learn and will only drink from a bowl). (B600.3.w3)
  • Has there been any recent change in housing? (B601.2.w2)
  • Has there been any recent change in the people of the household (new baby, someone moving in or out) or in pets (e.g. new pet, another pet dying)? (B601.2.w2)
    • Note new pets added within the past year. (J213.2.w2)
    • A rabbit may be depressed and anorexic after it has lost a companion. (B600.3.w3)
    • A new, dominant cage mate may be preventing access to food, with resultant weight loss. (B600.3.w3)
    • Addition of a new rabbit gives the opportunity for introduction of infectious diseases. (J213.2.w2)
  • For rabbits not permanently kept in the house, has there been any recent extreme weather: thunderstorm, extreme cold or heat?
    • Extreme cold and thunderstorms may cause stress and predispose to various conditions. (B600.3.w3)
    • Very hot weather can lead to heat stroke. (B600.3.w3)
  • Is there any chance the rabbit could have eaten anything unusual? (B539.1.w1)



  • Inappropriate housing or diet can predispose to a wide variety of rabbit diseases. It is important to detect potential problems in these areas and educate the owner (even if the management deficiencies are not the cause of the presenting problem) so that the risk of development of management-related diseases can be minimised. (B601.2.w2)
  • In general, hutch-kept rabbits are more likely to suffer from neglect than are house rabbits. (B600.3.w3)
  • Note: Owners may not wish to admit that they have not cleaned out the hutch for several weeks, or that it has been months since the rabbit was let out of its hutch. (B600.3.w3)
  • Ask for specific amounts: "a lot of green food" may mean that the rabbit has hay and plenty of vegetables, or one cabbage leaf a week. (B600.3.w3)
  • If the rabbit is given access to grass for grazing, ask how often and for how long. (B600.3.w3)
  • If the rabbit has access to grass in a moveable run, ask how often the run is moved, what length the grass is, and how large an area of the garden the run is moved over.
  • Some owners insist that their rabbit won't eat grass or weeds. (B600.3.w3)
Ferret Consideration
Contact with other Animals
Contact with Humans
  • Check whether any person in the family or in close contact with the ferret has a recent severe respiratory tract infection - ferrets are very susceptible to influenza (Influenza in Ferrets). (B631.18.w18)
Bonobo Consideration
  • Check whether there have been any management changes in food, substrate, bedding etc. which may affect allergic conditions such as Atopy in a Bonobo or might involve potential access to toxins (e.g. Lead Poisoning).
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Records of Disease and Management

Records of disease, for individuals, populations and sites are important for future disease investigations.
  • Records are most useful if they are clear, detailed and complete, and include any treatment or control measures implemented, together with the results of the management actions.
  • Information should be given in as objective a form as possible, and units of measurement should always be given, never assumed.
  • Standardized records may simplify the comparison of records between different disease outbreaks. This may, for example, indicate that the magnitude of an observed recurrent problem is increasing.
  • Records showing the scale of disease problems may be invaluable in explaining the need for management actions aimed at disease prevention.

(B15, B36, B127)

Waterfowl Consideration Diseases which commonly recur on certain sites include avian botulism (Avian Botulism), avian cholera (Avian Cholera) and a variety of toxic diseases related to local contamination.

(B15, B36)

Crane Consideration
  • Records are vital and should include recording general husbandry actions and factors such as weather (which may affect disease) as well as any signs of illness or unusual behaviour, specific diseases and veterinary management and treatment activities, both for the flock and for individual birds. (B115.10.15)
Elephant Consideration Record keeping of diseases, and photo documentation, is essential:


Bear Consideration
  • Skin diseases in bears are often recurrent and may involve more than one agent (e.g. concurrent ringworm (Ringworm in Hedgehogs (with notes on Elephants and Bears)) and Sarcoptic Mange). Records should include information on both positive and negative findings, as well as the results of previous treatments and any routine preventative measures which are in place
Lagomorph Consideration Records should be kept of illnesses and treatments. 
  • If a sheet with appropriate questions can be given to the owner to fill out at the time of their rabbit's first visit/illness, this can be made part of the patient's permanent record and can updated at subsequent visits. (J213.2.w2)
Domestic rabbit
  • As part of the history, the owner should be asked if the rabbit has any previous illnesses or injuries (plus further information if there has been previous illness/injury).
  • The owner should be asked if the rabbit is presently receiving any medication, and if so, what and how much. (B601.2.w2)
Ferret Consideration
  • Owners should be encouraged to keep records of the general behaviour, food intake and any breeding activity of their ferret(s). (J16.30.w1)
    • Records such as these help in identifying slowly-developing changes which may indicate chronic disease conditions. (V.w5)
  • Records should be kept of each ferret's weight and general condition. (D397 - full text included, D404 - full text included)
  • Records should be kept of illnesses and treatments, including preventative treatments such as vaccines and application of parasiticides. (V.w5)
Bonobo Consideration
  • Detailed daily records should be kept by the keepers including general behaviour, appetite etc. Such records are particularly important for recognising gradual-onset of clinical signs such as reduced appetite or reduced movement, as well as temporal patterns. (V.w5)
  • Medical records should be kept up to date. (D428.8.2.w8b)
  • Note: cross-referencing between medical and husbandry records may allow detection of interactions or triggering factors. For example, in two female bonobos with epilepsy (Epilepsy and Convulsions in Bears, Lagomorphs and Great Apes), records showed that in one case seizures occurred on the day of ovulation, and in the other, in the week before the menses. Additionally, examination of historical records in the bonobo with ovulation-associated seizures showed a history of injuries at the time of ovulation; in retrospect these could be linked to probable unobserved seizures. (J2.42.w1)
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Authors & Referees

Authors Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5), Gracia Vila-Garcia DVM, MSc, MRCVS (V.w67) & Suzanne Boardman BVMS MRCVS (V.w6)
Referee Frances Harcourt-Brown BVSc FRCVS (V.w140); Susan K. Mikota DVM (V.w72)

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