Sneezing is a common complaint in rabbits, and is generally caused by a respiratory bacterial infection, Pasteurella multoci. Other organisms can be responsible, such as Bordatella spp. and Pseudomonas spp., so it’s ideal if you to take a swab for culture to check. For many rabbits, the infection is chronic, often lifelong, with signs regularly recurring whenever the animal is stressed.
Posted: 12 August 2019
A rabbit presenting with sneezing is typically chronically infected and slow to respond to any treatment. The pus they produce tends to be thicker and drier than that found in a dog or cat, resulting in it being harder to expel. The debris produced from the initial infection remains in the nasal cavity and causes further damage to the delicate tissues.
Rabbits are infected by both direct contact with diseased rabbits and by contact with a contaminated environment, such as shared food, bedding or water containers. Unfortunately, some rabbits continue to shed the bacteria after they appear to recover, acting as latent carriers. Rabbits under stress are most susceptible, and these would include those subjected to over-crowding, temperature extremes, parturition, transport and inappropriate housing and/or diet. Prevention of pasteurellosis is certainly the preferred option, as a cure is hard to achieve.
A golden rule to remember is that happy, healthy, stress-free animals get fewer infections. We need to feed them well and keep them in good living conditions to ensure they remain stress free and healthy.
This chronic condition requires the use of antibiotics, good environmental hygiene and supportive care. Infected animals will need to be separated from others to reduce the chance of horizontal spread.
Anyone in your practice involved in handling and nursing should adhere to strict biosecurity, washing their hands between animals as well as wearing gloves and a disposable gown. Simple precautions, like not washing all the rabbit food and water bowls together in one tub can also help to control the spread of infection.
A. Antibiotics – these are usually given for prolonged periods depending on the severity of infection. Unfortunately, relapses are common when treatment is stopped, especially if there has been permanent damage to the nasal tissues, with some animals requiring treatment for many months. The number of antibiotics that are safe to use in rabbits is very limited.
Examples of commonly used, safe, and effective oral antibiotics for Pasteurella spp. Include;
High-risk antibiotics – those that should be avoided as oral treatments in rabbits include;
B. Anti-inflammatories – these drugs are often used to manage inflammation of the respiratory system and make the animal feel more comfortable. Examples include meloxicam or carprofen
C. Mucolytics – these are drugs that help to make mucus more fluid and easier to remove.
D. Assisted feeding – great care and attention must be given to any rabbit struggling with illness. Food and fluids are given orally keep them to stay hydrated and keep their guts moving.