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If your Peter Rabbit has a runny nose, he may have more than a
case of the sniffles. He could have "snuffles," a common upper
respiratory infection in rabbits.
"Snuffles is a disease which affects the eyes and nose and
sometimes the lungs, skin, or even the middle ear of rabbits," says
Dr. Jill Heatley, associate professor at the Texas A&M College
of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). "Also
referred to as paranasal sinusitis, snuffles is most often caused
by a certain bacteria known as Pasteurella multocids, but sometimes
other bacteria can also be involved."
Heatley adds, "Snuffles is a very common disease of rabbits and
can be found in up to 10 percent of rabbits which appear normal. It
is found in almost all rabbits that show clinical signs, such as a
runny nose, skin infections, or a head tilt.
Symptoms for snuffles vary among rabbits. According to Heatley,
the most common signs to look for relating to snuffles are nasal
discharge, head tilting, and skin sores.
"Many times a veterinarian will make a presumptive diagnosis of
snuffles based solely on a physical examination," explains Heatley.
"However, radiographs (x-rays) and blood work are also often used
to determine a diagnosis. This disease can progress to a serious
infection like septicemia and pneumonia, which rabbits are very
good at hiding."
"The treatment plan for snuffles varies based on the clinical
signs, but antibiotics are often prescribed because it is a
bacterial disease," Heatley says. "However one must be very careful
with antibiotic use in rabbits as improper types or routes of
antibiotic administration can cause problems within the rabbit's
stomach and intestines that could lead to death. Please make sure
the veterinarian you visit is familiar with antibiotics that are
safe for use in rabbits."
Heatley also recommends using probiotics in rabbits, because
they help replace the good normal bacteria in the rabbit's gut
which it needs to live.
If you are looking into purchasing a new rabbit for your
household, it is best to talk with your breeder or pet store
representative about a particular animal's health history and
breeding conditions. Very few facilities can guarantee a completely
disease free environment. If any rabbit in the facility shows even
the slightest symptom of snuffles, such as wet facial fur or paws
due to a runny nose, it would be better to look elsewhere for your
Sub-clinical snuffles (infected rabbits that show no symptoms)
can be diagnosed through a physical examination administered by
your veterinarian. Physical examinations should be a routine part
of your pre-purchase or initial 'well pet' health exam.
To try to avoid snuffles in your current pet, keep its
environment stress free.
"Most, if not all, rabbits have this bacteria and can have a
bout with snuffles if they become stressed," Heatley says. "So for
your rabbit we recommend a healthy diet, stress free environment,
and plenty of enrichment and exercise. Their diet should consist
primarily of grass hay, such as oat or timothy, but not alfalfa
which has too much protein and fat. A grass hay diet will ensure
normal tooth wear and good gut health. Also, remember to regulate
their temperature, because if they get too hot or too cold they
will become stressed."
Snuffles is extremely contagious among rabbits, and infected
rabbits should never be allowed to come into contact with healthy
rabbits. Any cage or bedding that has been in contact with infected
rabbits should be thoroughly disinfected with a mild bleach
solution before using for healthy rabbits. Humans that handle
infected rabbits should wash their hands and clothes before
handling healthy rabbits.
"Pasteurella multocida, as with most bacteria, is contagious to
man, but usually requires a skin break such as a bite or a wound to
enter the system," says Heatley. "This bacterium can cause diseases
to other animals such as chickens and pigs. So if your bunny has
snuffles, it should not play with other animals until it is well or
at least until it starts an antibiotic treatment program."
"With adequate care and treatment most cases of snuffles can be
resolved and have a good prognosis," Heatley adds. "However, some
cases of snuffles can have multiple bacteria or may involve a tooth
problem or bone infection in the rabbit's nose. These bunny
patients may require months of treatment and require much patience
on the part of the owner."
To ensure a healthy pet rabbit at home, begin with a healthy
rabbit and then maintain that good health by avoiding any contact
that could infect your rabbit. When in doubt, hop down to your
veterinarian for a complete checkup.
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