Pasteurella aka (snuffles) in rabbits


A Healthy “Snuffles Free” Bunny

First off you must be aware that every rabbit has pasteurella…. as does every mammal (including humans) and many birds. Pasteurella is an “opportunistic” bacteria that lies dormant until the opportunity arises that it can grow.  Of the various manifestations of Pasteurella infection, the most well-known is called “Snuffles”.  Snuffles is considered to be the common cold of rabbits.  

Snuffles is actually a rhinits/sinusitis caused most often by the Pasteurella bacteria, although the organisms can be involved as well. Like a cold in a human, clinical signs include naso-ocular discharges, sneezing, and congestion. Unlike a human with a cold, rabbits will have very exaggerated, loud “snuffling” sounds with the presence of relatively little nasal phlegm. This occurs because of a rabbit’s unique nasal anatomy, which includes constricted passages that become clogged with a small amount of debris. Sometimes a rabbit will overcome this “cold” without veterinary care, as their own immune system overcomes the organism. Often, however, antibiotic therapy is required to halt progression of the disease to a much more serious one: pneumonia.

Pasteurella can’t be technically cured but can be controlled….a type of remission. I call it “putting the genie back into the bottle”. Most strains of Pasteurella are sensitive to penicillin and cephalosporins…but very few vets know how to properly use these drugs. Be aware that these drugs are only safe as injectables. Most vets continue to use the old Sulfa drugs like Bactrim, Septra, Sulfatrim, Trimethoprim, etc. and early Floroquinolones like Cipro and Baytril. These drugs, however are increasingly ineffective in today’s world due to resistance. A new Floroquinolone called Zeniquin/Marbofloxacin has been used with a lot of success. My current drug of choice against Pasteurella is Azithromycin also known as Zithromax. This is just my personal preference and in no way am I giving veterinarian advice. Regardless of the pathogen and/or drug used….in order to reduce the chance of resistant bacteria in the future, it is important for your doctor to clinically identify the pathogen and prescribe an appropriate drug and it’s your responsibility to administer any drugs exactly as prescribed both in amount and duration. The trend in human medicine is to limit antibiotics to only more complex infections (and that should be trickling down to veterianry medicine) in an effort to limit future resistance issues.

Snuffles is a very contagious and difficult disease to treat, so prevention plays a very critical role in trying to control and eliminate this disease. Breeders need to take special precautions including strict sanitation and quarantine procedures. For the pet rabbit owner, the best prevention is to select a healthy rabbit. When choosing an animal for purchase, make sure that it is free of all signs of infection, including a runny nose. When choosing a young rabbit, its siblings and mother should also be free of all signs of disease. If you purchase from a breeder, it is also wise to observe all the rabbits on location and make sure Snuffles is not present.

The disease can be present in the nasal cavities without the rabbit showing any signs of disease, so a healthy-appearing rabbit can still develop signs later if he/she is stressed. Reducing stress is also very important in helping a rabbit avoid infections and reducing the severity of the disease if it does become infected. Common causes of stress in rabbits that may lead to Snuffles include overcrowding, poor nutrition, improper housing, chilling, or aggression from other rabbits. To prevent stress, try to provide the best possible housing, avoid overcrowding and prevent the rabbits from fighting. Make sure the rabbits have ample room in their cages. Offer a variety of fresh vegetables and free choice timothy hay in addition to a properly formulated pelleted diet. Also, avoid letting your rabbit come into contact with other rabbits, particularly if they are sick. Because this disease can be transmitted through secretions on your hands and clothes, be very careful when handling other rabbits, and always wash your hands and clothes after handling a rabbit other than your own.

In closing….“Snuffles” is a disease that can have devastating consequences to rabbits. Because it is so contagious and widespread, rabbit owners need to be aware of its signs and seek veterinary attention at the first sign of illness. By understanding the disease and taking precautions against it, rabbit owners can help reduce both the severity and incidence of this disease.

For more information on Snuffles go to our Health Remedies for Rabbits Page and the Common Rabbit Illnesses Post.

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