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Rabbit Respiratory Disease (Snuffles, Pasteurellosis)

By: Dr. Heidi Hoefer

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Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Because this disease is readily identified in rabbits, symptoms are more important in diagnosis than laboratory tests. There are some tests, however, that should be considered in severely affected rabbits or those not responding to routine treatments.

  • Radiographs (X-rays). Because it can be difficult in some cases to distinguish between upper respiratory disease and pneumonia, radiographs of the chest can be helpful. Pneumonia results in lung consolidation and sometimes discrete abscesses which can be identified with the chest film. Radiographs can also distinguish between pneumonia and other causes of labored breathing like heart disease and cancer.

  • Deep nasal culture and sensitivity testing try to identify which bacteria are responsible for the condition. The veterinarian can then choose an appropriate antibiotic. This sounds simple but it can be difficult to get deep enough into the nose in most rabbits. Sedation or anesthesia can help immobilize the bunny long enough to allow a deep probe into the nasal passages. Also, some bacteria like Mycoplasma may be difficult to grow on a culture medium and a falsely negative culture can result.

  • Pasteurella antibody tests. This blood test can lead to interpretation difficulties as it does not always distinguish infected bunnies from non-infected ones. Rabbits infected with Pasteurella should develop an immune response that we measure as antibodies in the blood. But some "normal" rabbits can have antibodies and some infected rabbits may not have developed antibodies at all.

    Treatment In-depth

  • Antibiotics are the first line of defense against this disease. There are very important guidelines as to which antibiotics can be safely used in rabbits. Oral penicillin, amoxicillin, the cefa drugs and the "mycin" family (clindamycin or erythromycin e.g.) can cause gastrointestinal tract problems in rabbits that can be difficult to reverse. These drugs should not be given to any rabbit. Penicillin can be given by injection only. Make sure your veterinarian is familiar with treating rabbits.

  • Safe antibiotics include: enrofloxacin (Baytril®), ciprofloxacin (Cipro®), orbifloxacin (Orbax®), trimethoprim/sulfa combinations (Sulfatrim® or Bactrim® or Septra®), chloramphenicol, tetracycline (Panmycin®), injectable penicillin (Flocillin® or BenzaPen®), metronidazole (Flagyl®) and injectable gentamicin and amikacin.

  • Eye ointment or drops are used in cases that have eye discharge. Eye preparations usually contain one of the above listed antibiotics. Eyes that tear a lot may have blocked tear ducts. Once blocked, there is no way for the normally produced tears to drain from the eye. These ducts can be flushed and unblocked in some rabbits but, in long-standing cases, these ducts can be permanently obstructed. These rabbits will have persistent tearing problems but not necessarily infection.

  • With severe sneezing and nasal discharge, a human nebulizer can be used to provide relief for the nasal passages. The nebulizer comes with a medicine cup that can be filled with sterile saline and antibiotics. This medicine then becomes vaporized and the affected individual breathes in the fine mist containing the drugs. These units are purchased from medical supply stores and have to be adapted for use in animals. This is simple to do and your veterinarian can help you with the set-up.

  • Antihistamines and steroids don't usually work and are not often used to treat respiratory diseases in rabbits. Steroids must be used with great caution in rabbits because they can suppress the immune response.

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