Snuffles in Rabbits

Oct 24, 2012

The formal term for "snuffles" is nasal catarrh or pasteurellosis. This condition is caused by a bacterium called Pasteurella multocida, and sometimes another bacterium, Bordetella may have a role in some cases (particularly pneumonia). It is considered highly contagious. It is not just a nasal (nose) germ. The infection may also produce pneumonia, abscesses, genital, eye, and inner ear infections.

Rabbits are infected by both direct contact with infected rabbits and by contact with a contaminated environment such as common food, bedding, or water containers. Unfortunately, some rabbits go on after recovery from illness to continue to shed the bacteria as healthy carriers. Rabbits under stress (crowding, temperature extremes, birth /kindling), recently transported, or the very young are most susceptible.

Snuffles can produce a profuse thin or thick (pussy) discharge from both the nose and eyes. Often the fur on the front legs and "bib" become soiled with discharge as the rabbit attempts to clear the secretions from the face. The infection can progress quickly and severely, resulting in a bloodstream infection (septicemia) that can kill a rabbit in two days. At the other end of the spectrum, the infection can be a low-grade chronic condition that waxes and wanes over weeks. The most common presentation is somewhere in between wherein a sudden "cold" develops. Poor appetite, lethargy, coughing, sneezing and difficulty breathing may result.

Treatment of this condition requires the use of antibiotics, supportive care, and good environmental hygiene. Rabbits will need to be separated for treatment so that they do not pass the infection along. The handler should also wash up between animals, preferably donning gloves and "gown" and different shoes when going into the area where the sick animals are isolated. The gown can just be an old XL sized clean, cast-off shirt. Simple precautions, like not washing all the rabbit dishes together in one tub can also help to control the disease spread. The airspace should also be separated so that aerosolized bacteria liberated during sneezing cannot travel to the hutch next in line. A disinfectant should be used to properly clean surfaces after they are washed. Your veterinarian can advise you on the best choice. In severe cases, euthanasia may be recommended. Euthanasia may also be recommended in a breeding facility to help contain an outbreak.

As preventive measures in a breeding facility, the expectant females and their newborns should be kept away from the other rabbits. If a new rabbit enters a house or facility, the newcomer needs to be isolated for a while in case they are carriers. There is a test that can be done on nasal swabs to identify carriers, and ideally, the incoming rabbit should be tested prior to purchase.

Contact your veterinarian promptly if you suspect that your rabbit might have snuffles. The best prognosis occurs with prompt treatment. The health care team can also provide specific antibiotic therapy, nursing care recommendations, and appropriate environmental cleaning protocols. Not all veterinarians treat rabbits, so contact a few local facilities if necessary so that you can be sure your veterinarian is comfortable working with this species.