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Rabbit Respiratory Disease (Snuffles, Pasteurellosis)

By: Dr. Heidi Hoefer

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Pasteurellosis in rabbits is most commonly caused by the bacteria Pasteurella multocida. It is highly contagious and can be transmitted by direct or indirect contact. It is one of the most common disease-causing agents in rabbits.

P. multocida is highly infectious and many infected rabbits remain clinically normal until they are stressed and then clinical signs of disease may occur. Rabbits develop little effective immunity after infection.

Infections vary in severity and can cause varied clinical signs. Some affected rabbits die with few premonitory signs others develop more chronic forms of infection.

Discharge from the eyes and/or nares and abscesses are common in affected rabbits.

What To Watch For

  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Discharge from the nostrils
  • Swelling of the tissues around the eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Moistened forelimbs from rubbing the eyes and nose
  • Abscesses
  • Blood in the urine
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Abortion
  • Head shaking
  • Head tilt

    Diagnosis

    Accurate diagnosis and treatment of pasteurellosis is important to reduce spread of this bacterium, particularly in multi-rabbit households or rabbitries. Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and isolation of the organism. Tests may include:

  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistries
  • Cytology (microscopic evaluation of cells)
  • Radiographs (X-rays)
  • Serology (testing for antibodies)
  • Culture for P. multocida
  • DNA probe-based test (PCR) on swabs from the eyes or respiratory tract
  • DNA probe-based test (PCR) on swabs from affected tissues

    Treatment

    Treatment is difficult and may not eradicate the organism. Generally, treatment includes:

  • Surgical removal of abscesses
  • Flushing of affected areas with sterile saline
  • Systemic and local antibiotics
  • Fluids and supportive nutrition

    Home Care and Prevention

    Keep infected rabbits in isolation during treatment. Thoroughly clean and disinfect enclosures, food bowls, water containers and non-porous toys. Discard porous (wood, natural fibers, etc.) objects that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected and do not replace them until treatment is completed.

    On a daily basis, monitor fecal and urine output to assure proper food and water consumption and digestion. Monitor your pet's weight daily.

    An effective vaccine has not been developed. Establish the pasteurella status of your rabbit using a combination of an antibody test and a DNA probe-based test.

    Keep your rabbit out of direct or indirect contact with other rabbits. Enjoy the rabbit you have. If you decide to add a new rabbit, she should be quarantined for at least 90 days and be examined by a veterinarian at the beginning and end of quarantine.

    Have any new rabbit tested using a combination of an antibody test and a DNA probe-based test during quarantine. Purchase young rabbits from sources that provide documentation that each bunny has been tested for pasteurella prior to sale.

    Never return a rabbit to a rabbitry if she has been exposed to other rabbits.

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