Snuffles is a bacterial infection in rabbits. It can be caused by more than one sort of bacteria. The most common is Pasteurella multocida but other common culprits are Bordatella (kennel cough) and Pseudomonas.
With some rabbits, there may also be ear or balance problems and dental problems.
What should I expect to see?
Rabbits with snuffles have symptoms that look like a cold in humans. They will have mucus coming from the nostrils. They may also have runny eyes. There will be breathing problems, possibly some wheezing, coughing and sneezing, and your rabbit will feel poorly. Appetite will be reduced because it’s hard to breath and swallow with a blocked nose.
Many rabbits with snuffles have dirty front paws because they have wiped their noses and eyes.
What should I do?
This is a very serious illness and you must get your pet to a rabbit friendly vet very quickly. It’s also highly infectious and contagious, so keep an eye on any other rabbits you have.
You need to keep everything very clean. Remove any mucus your rabbit may have coughed up or sneezed, then treat all the area your rabbit lives in with a suitable disinfectant. Everything needs to be kept scrupulously clean – living area, litter trays, toys, blankets, dishes and bottles etc.
Any infected rabbit needs to be kept warm, though if you have brought outdoor rabbits indoors, raise the temperature only gradually.
If you have any Vicks or Olbas, put some into a bowl of hot water. Put this where your rabbit can breath in the fumes without hurting itself from the hot water. If the nostrils become clogged, use a damp cotton bud to gently clear them.
If your rabbit begins mouth breathing, it’s in severe respiratory distress and needs to see a vet urgently.
What will the vet do?
Your vet will prescribe antibiotics, and possibly also nebulising (a drug delivery device used to administer medication in the form of a mist inhaled into the lungs) to get an antibacterial agent where it’s needed. The medicines your vet needs to use may not be licensed for rabbits, so be prepared to sign a waiver form for using ‘off label’ drugs.
Any other rabbits that have been in contact with your infected rabbit will be in danger of becoming ill. However, don’t separate bonded pairs or groups, as this will stress them all, and that can seriously weaken their immune system, making any infection that much worse. You must do all you can to stop the infection from spreading by keeping everything as clean as possible and preferably feeding the ill rabbit its pellets and water separately from any bonded friends.
Other pets may be infected, depending on what the cause is, so again, keeping everything scrupulously clean is essential, including washing your own hands immediately after handling your ill rabbit and, if appropriate, changing clothes and shoes as well.
If the cause is Pasteurella or Pseudomonas, there is a very small risk to human health. You need to be careful of your own and your family’s health. However, with proper cleaning and disinfecting, the risk is very low unless somebody has immune system problems.