Rabbits

Signs and Cure for Snuffles in Rabbits – Pasteurellosis

Are snuffles in rabbits contagious and can they affect humans? Which symptoms should you watch out for and how can it be treated?

Snuffles is a non-specific term used to refer to a highly contagious upper respiratory tract (URT) infection characterized by sneezing, runny nose and eyes caused primarily caused by Pasteurella multocida.

However, the condition has also been associated with other culprits such as Bordetella bronchisepticaPseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, [1] among others.  

Snuffles in rabbits
Snuffles in rabbits

This infection colonizes the upper respiratory system as well as the nasal cavity. It often begins at the nose and if untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body including to the ears through the eustachian tubes, to the eyes through the nasolacrimal duct, and lower respiratory tract via the trachea.

The infection can also spread to the bones and joints via blood (septicemia) and to other vital organs.

Understanding Pasteurellosis

It is common to find sources using the term ‘snuffles’ and ‘Pasteurella’ synonymously. However, ‘Pasteurella’ or ‘Pasteurellosis in rabbits’ could also mean other infections caused by the Pasteurella multocida besides snuffles which include enzootic pneumonia, otitis media, genital infections, sinus infections (rhinitis), or internal abscesses, dacryocystitis, septicemia, among others.

The P. multocida is a Gram-negative, facultative anaerobic and opportunist bacterium that harbors inside the respiratory system of even healthy animals with 30-90% of domestic rabbits being asymptomatic carriers.

It is believed that various stress factors including poor diets and feeding habits, poorly ventilated hutches, overcrowding, high ammonia levels, high temperatures, old age, pregnancy, early weaning, among other factors cause the population of this bacteria to flareup up resulting to the various disease we have mentioned. [2]

Also, malnutrition weakened immunity, social changes such as adding a new member or death of a longtime companion may be stressors.

Is rabbit snuffles contagious to humans?

Yes. This zoonotic disease can be transmitted to human beings through animal licks, bites, scratches, and animals do not need to be sick to be able to pass it to human beings. [3]

Transmission and susceptibility

Transmission in rabbits is by mother to kit during delivery, “direct contact, through the air (over short distances) or contaminated cages, litter trays, and food bowls.” [4] Also, flies, attendants, and other small animals can transmit the infection from one farm to another.

Snuffles is prevalent during fall and spring, affects rabbits of all ages with younger ones having higher mortality rates and some breeds may be more vulnerable due to genetic factors.

Snuffle symptoms

This URT infection has generalized symptoms and it is possible to confuse it for a rabbit in a poorly ventilated hutch, having dental problems among others. The most common symptoms to expect include

  • A runny nose or mucopurulent nasal discharge that is “watery to thick whitish-yellow” [5] – you will notice rabbits wiping it with their forelegs
  • Sneezing, snuffling sounds, wheezing and coughing
  • Runny eyes
  • The rabbit may shake its head, tilt it, circle, and be general disorientation if the ears get affected.
  • Sores on its skin around their nose area
  • Wet and matted fur due to the discharges from eyes and nose reaching its fur while grooming or trying to remove the exudates.
  • Inflamed skin around its nose
  • Reduce appetite
  • Conjunctivitis symptoms 

Snuffles may be confused with a cold. However, in the case of a cold, you will notice a clear, thin discharge. Temporary irritation such as dust and viral hemorrhagic disease may have a few similar signs.

Diagnosis

If you notice any of the above symptoms, visit your veterinarian and inform him or her about the various symptoms and a bit of history of your pet. A check on the housing and diet may be necessary to rule out other causes.

Afterward, a physical examination, radiographs (X-ray to determine if it is an upper respiratory infection or a lower one) bloodwork, and discharge samples may be collected for biochemical and microscopic tests as well as sub-culturing [6]to help positively confirm that Pasteurella is responsible for the symptoms that your pet has.

How to get rid of snuffles in rabbits – treatment

Treatment is by the antibiotic. The bacteria can be treated with enrofloxacin (Baytril® most effective), gentamycin, Tetracyclines, azithromycin, Trimethoprim sulphamethoxazole, ciprofloxacin (Cipro®) injectable penicillin, among others. Treatment takes about 4-6 weeks.

Also, NSAIDs such as meloxicam or carprofen may be recommended together with some antihistamines whose role is debatable.

Besides treatment, you can put some Vicks or Olbas, in a bowl having hot water and let the rabbit inhale the fumes to help unclog their nostrils. [7]

Regular nose cleaning may be necessary to help it breathe more comfortably.

Incubation period

Since it is triggered by various stressors, the rabbit snuffles incubation period may also vary. It can take as long as two weeks for symptoms to be noted after infection. However, this period can be shorter or longer due to factors such as immunity and the various stressors

Prevention

Since no vaccine has been developed for snuffles, good preventive measures must be kept in place to avoid outbreaks. Some of the preventive measures include:

  • Avoid the various stress factors we mentioned including bad ventilation
  • Maintaining proper hutch hygiene such as cleaning it regularly to avoid the ammonia smell in urine as well as keeping their litter trays, rabbit toys, water bowls, blankets, and everything very clean. A mild bleach solution can be used to disinfect them.
  • Isolation of a new rabbit as well as quarantine of the infected one for at least three weeks to avoid further spread.
  • Hygienic disposal of dead rabbits 
  • Go for the recommended diets to provide the various nutritional requirement to help ensure your rabbit stays healthy. Do not forget that bunnies need water too.