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My Rabbit is Sneezing - Causes and Treatment

 
By MarĂ­a Besteiros, Expert veterinary assistant and canine/feline hairdresser.. May 2, 2019
My Rabbit is Sneezing - Causes and Treatment

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When we see a bunny sneeze, it can be one of the most adorable sights. They give a crinkle of their nose and do a little hop as reaction. When it is a one-off or rare case, there should be nothing to worry about. When a rabbit sneezing becomes frequent or even chronic, then it is a symptom of a health problem. As part of our duty of care when adopting a rabbit into the family, we need to be observant of any symptoms of disease. If you notice that your rabbit is sneezing, but are unsure why, AnimalWised is here to provide the possible causes of sneezing in rabbits. We also detail some of the treatment options available, but it is important to stress that you should take them to the veterinarian if symptoms worsen. Only they will be able to provide adequate diagnosis and treatment options.

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My rabbit keeps sneezing

Before going on to explain why a rabbit sneezes, we should know that an occasional sneeze should not be cause for concern. A rabbit's hutch needs to have a substrate, usually consisting of hay. This hay doubles as not only a means to keep the rabbit comfortable, but also as a food recourse. Unfortunately, when this is packaged, it can sometimes be a little dusty. If this dust gets in their nose, then it can cause a little sneeze.

Dust or similar material in the atmosphere can cause occasional sneezing. However, if you use pine shavings or sawdust in your rabbit's cage, it can lead to worse problems. Pine and cedar bedding which make up the majority of sawdust bedding for rabbits in Europe, contain “toxic substances such as abietic acid and phenols”[1]. This can lead to liver problems and even neoplasia (emergence of tumors).

According to a 2010 study in the journal World Rabbit Science, rabbits much prefer straw for their bedding[2]. While the type of bedding didn't seem to affect mortality of newborn kits, it was found that newborn rabbits brought up in an environment with wood shavings were smaller at the weaning stage.

If say to yourself ‘my rabbit is sneezing’, but you are unsure why, check their substrate. Even poor quality hay might contain more dust than is helpful. However, a little sneezing every once in a while is different than sneezing all the time. If our rabbit suddenly starts sneezing all the time, but nothing obvious has changed, then we need to look to other causes,

My rabbit is coughing and sneezing

Allergic reactions in rabbits are not particularly frequent, but they do occur. It is one possible reason why your rabbit is sneezing. The substrate of a rabbit's hutch might contain dust which stimulates a sneeze, but this is not the same as an allergic reaction. Some substance in their environment can lead to an allergic reaction, something which is more than a hypersensitivity.

If you see your cat coughing and sneezing, it could be due to an allergen. Mold on hay is one such allergen which can go unnoticed. Hay can be of varying quality depending on the supplier or how it is stored. Mold can occur, causing allergic reactions in certain rabbits. Even for rabbits without mold allergies, it won't be good for them. If you see your rabbit is constantly sneezing, you should examine their environment for any factors which might be providing allergens.

A cough in a rabbit is a little different from a sneeze, but it can be difficult to differentiate. Sneezes tend to be emitted through the nose with more of an ‘air’ sound passing through. Coughs are a little more hacking and not as gentle. Hairballs, for example, may cause coughing, but are unlikely to manifest in a sneeze.

Food allergies are also possible in rabbits. There are different types of food which are poisonous to rabbits, but some might produce an allergic reaction which results in sneezing and maybe even mucus discharge. Nasal discharge is more likely to be clear for an allergic reaction as opposed to colored mucus which would accompany a viral infection. The eyes or other parts of the skin may become red or inflamed as a result of the allergy.

A foreign body which gets up the rabbit's nose may also stimulate a sneezing response, coughing sounds usually are due to something stuck in their throat. The sneezing should stop once the foreign body is dislodged, but if sneezing continues, it is likely stuck.

My Rabbit is Sneezing - Causes and Treatment - My rabbit is coughing and sneezing

My rabbit is sneezing with a runny nose

It is common for a rabbit to be sneezing with no discharge. However, you might also see your rabbit has a runny nose when they sneeze. If more mucus comes while they are sneezing, it is likely that the rabbit ha some sort of respiratory illness. In these cases, it is normal to detect nasal discharge. This mucus discharge can appear around the nose itself, but it may also be present on their paws as they try to remove it.

The cause of this sneezing in these cases are due to some sort of pathological infection. This could be viral, bacterial or even fungal. They will need treatment by a specialist veterinarian. Without it, the condition could develop into something life threatening such as pneumonia.

Types of respiratory disease in rabbits include:

  • Infection by the bacterium Pasturella multocida
  • Staph infection
  • Infection by the bacterium Mycoplasma pulmonis
  • Viral infections such as myxomatosis
  • Rhinitis

While it may not be a direct cause, stress can lead to respiratory problems and sneezing in rabbits. Stress can cause the rabbit's immune system to become depleted and the result is greater susceptibility to viral and bacterial disease.

Viral infections such as myxomatosis will also have other symptoms including inflammation and possible tumors, so we need to be observant of any other concurrent symptoms. Tumors in general can cause respiratory problems. If the tumor is somewhere in the respiratory system, they can put pressure on the airways or affect the lungs. This can result in sneezing, coughing and mucous discharge.

One of the most common causes of sneezing in rabbits is rhinitis which is commonly known as the ‘snuffles’. This is where the mucus membranes of the sinuses become infected with bacteria[3]. The initial infection could be due to inhalation, but is most commonly passed on by other rabbits. Mucus or pus accompanies the sneezing and it can be worrying for their health.

My Rabbit is Sneezing - Causes and Treatment - My rabbit is sneezing with a runny nose

Treatment of sneezing in rabbits

The treatment of sneezing in rabbits will be correlated to the initial cause. Whatever this cause, it will need to be diagnosed by a veterinary medical professional who has experience working with rabbits (not all vets will have the right expertise).

If your rabbit has an allergy, your vet will be able to help work out the allergen. They will likely suggest you limit their food intake to the essentials and keep them away from exposure to anything which might cause the allergy. They can then work out the problem via a process of elimination.

Bacterial and viral infections will need confirmation of their presence before treatment can begin. This may be done via a blood test. After the diagnosis is confirmed, the veterinarian will prescribe a course of antibiotic treatment if there is no chance of the infection clearing up on its own.

For tumors or bacterial infections such as myxomatosis, the vet may need to take a biopsy. This will determine whether the inflammation is malign or benign, as well as whether they need treatment. Chemotherapy for rabbits has been tested[4], but usually for preliminary testing before studies on humans. It is usually prohibitively expensive and not always available. Surgery may be carried out if the tumor is operable. Removal may stop symptoms such as sneezing.

Prevention of sneezing in rabbits will be best carried out by the following:

  • Ensure their environment is clean and only use materials which will reduce the chances of developing pathologies.
  • Keep them warm and away from drafts (rabbits can develop colds as do humans).
  • Provide a balanced and varied diet with plenty of hay.
  • Keep them clean.
  • Vaccinations.

If you do not treat a rabbit's sneezing, the results can be fatal. This is why it is so important to keep an eye out for any changes to their health or well-being.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Rabbit is Sneezing - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Breathing diseases category.

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