Why is my rabbit sneezing?

Rabbit snuffles

We are used to humans with their coughs and colds. However, if a rabbit presents with an upper respiratory tract infection it is invariably a serious bacterial condition in need of antibiotics.

You may notice some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing/ coughing
  • Snoring sound when breathing
  • Watery or sore eyes
  • Discharge around nose
  • Balance problems
  • Wet or dirty/sticky front paws (as your bunny uses these as a handkerchief)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Generally poorly

Snuffles is a bacterial infection in rabbits. It can be caused by more than one sort of bacteria. The most common is Pasturella multocida but other common culprits are Bordatella (a bit like Kennel Cough in dogs) and Pseudomonas.

This is a serious condition which needs to be treated urgently by a vet. It is also highly contagious to other rabbits. Although risk to human health is negligible, you should maintain very high standards of cleaning and disinfection. Please contact us if you are worried.

Here are some things you can do at home to help

  • Keep everything very clean to avoid spread
  • Remove any mucous discharge form the environment
  • Disinfect the rabbit area
  • Disinfect any toys or equipment
  • Keep your rabbit warm
  • Do not separate your rabbit from their friend as the stress will make things worse
  • Unclog their nostrils with a damp cotton bud
  • Use olbas oil in hot water as a vapour for them to breath but be careful they can’t scald themselves
  • Mouth breathing means your rabbit needs to see a vet as an emergency.

Other reasons why your rabbit is sneezing

Allergies and hypersensitivities

Vets often get queries about the possibility of a rabbit having allergic respiratory tract disease (like hay fever or asthma in people). This is not impossible and occasionally allergic disease can affect the lungs in rabbits. However, allergies causing sneezing appear to be extremely unusual, and it is far more likely that any problem is due to infection in the nasal cavities or sinuses. Hay fever is an unfortunate term, as it can lead to rabbits being inappropriately deprived of the very thing they need most, for fear they will react badly to it. Dusty and mouldy hay may cause sneezing, so check the quality if you think this could be an issue – so long as bunny is generally well!

A note about passive smoking and e-cigarettes

Rabbits are sensitive creatures, and especially if they are house rabbits, they can be unduly affected, by inhaling the by-products of smoking or vaping. They potentially absorb dangerous chemicals, not only through breathing the toxins in the air, but also by grooming themselves and ingesting the toxins that land on their fur.

This can have the effect of suppressing the natural immunity of their upper respiratory tract and irritating the lining of the airways. In turn, this can make them susceptible to the life threatening infections we mentioned earlier.

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