Rabbit Respiratory Disease (Snuffles, Pasteurellosis)

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


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:


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

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.

Respiratory disease in rabbits is a common condition most often caused by a bacterial infection. Respiratory disease affects rabbits of all ages and results in sneezing, eye discharge (conjunctivitis), and labored breathing. Untreated rabbits become very debilitated as the condition progresses.

Most respiratory problems in rabbits are caused by bacteria and not viruses like in people or in cats. Rabbits do not get "colds". One common bacteria is called "Pasteurella" but there can be other bacteria involved as well like Mycoplasma, Bordetella and Pseudomonas. Some older rabbits can have breathing difficulty from heart disease or cancer and not have infection at all.

Rabbits of all ages are susceptible but symptoms often occur in juvenile rabbits, as they become infected from the mother or other bunnies. Most rabbits are exposed to the Pasteurella bacteria but not all rabbits show symptoms.

There are two components to the respiratory tract and both of these can be affected: the upper respiratory tract and the lower respiratory tract. The upper respiratory tract involves the head, sinuses, the nasal passages and the ear canal. This system is most often involved.

Upper respiratory infections ("URI") result in the "snuffles" syndrome of runny eyes, runny nose and sneezing. Occasionally, a bunny with snuffles will develop a deep ear infection. The lower respiratory system involves the trachea and lungs. Lower respiratory involvement usually means pneumonia (lung infection).

Because rabbits are "obligate nasal breathers" (can only breathe in through the nose), sinus infection can lead to labored breathing and "snorting" during respiration. Some of these bunnies really struggle to breathe.

Most common symptoms include: sneezing, conjunctivitis (eye discharge), loud breathing and lethargy. Inner ear infections can develop and result in a head tilt or circling behavior. Watch for runny eyes, runny nose and dirty front paws in rabbits that clean their face.

Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests may include:

Treatment In-depth

Optimal treatment for your rabbit requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your bunny does not improve quickly. Follow-up may include: