Rabbits can contract a nasty upper respiratory disease that is often referred to as "snuffles." This disease can manifest with a variety of symptoms but should be treated as soon as you notice your rabbit isn't feeling well.
What is Snuffles?
Pasteurella multocida is the bacteria that is responsible for a snuffles (or Pasteurella infection). Pasteurella may already be inside of your rabbit (it is thought that over half of all rabbits carry it) but is most likely not causing him any harm because he has a healthy immune system.
But if your rabbit is exposed to a high amount of the bacteria or his immune system is compromised he can come down with an infection that causes a variety of respiratory symptoms.
Symptoms of a Pasteurella Infection
Pasteurella multocida can start as a runny nose. You may see some nasal discharge, crusting around the nostrils, or dried debris on the inside of your rabbit's from legs from him wiping his nose. This discharge can then turn into pus and can spread from the upper respiratory tract to the lungs and around the heart and turn into an abscess on the body - often seen as tooth root abscesses. Sneezing, inflamed eyes (conjunctivitis), and buildup around the eyes from blocked tear ducts can also be seen in rabbits with snuffles.
The bacteria may also decide to take a trip into your rabbit's ear canal and cause him to have a head tilt or if bad enough, roll over and over on their side because they think their world is spinning.
How Does a Rabbit Get Pasteurella?
Rabbits that naturally carry the bacteria in their systems can develop infections of Pasteurella multocida if their immune system is compromised.
Ileus, urinary tract infections, heat stroke, and poor nutrition can all inhibit your rabbit's immune system from fighting off an infection.
Pasteurella can also be passed from rabbit to rabbit. Direct contact with other rabbits who are infected, contact with the bacteria on your shoes if you were around rabbits at a shelter, store, show, or fair, and contact with the bacteria on your clothes and hands after handling a rabbit can all infect your rabbit with the bacteria. Even by not cleaning the urine buildup in the litter box or cage and allowing the ammonia smell to develop can harm your rabbit's respiratory tract and damage his immune system's ability to fight off an infection of the bacteria he may already have in his body.
Can You Treat a Rabbit with a Pasteurella Infection?
Thankfully there are treatment options available at your exotics vet. Your vet will most likely treat your rabbit symptomatically or run diagnostic tests to find out what is making your rabbit sick. Sometimes a culture is done on the nasal drainage to test for the Pasteurella bacteria but it my come up positive since most rabbits are natural carriers of it even if it is not what is causing the infection. Other times your vet will choose a safe antibiotic for use in rabbits and treat whatever other parts of the body are infected. Surgical removal of an abscess may be required, eye drops to treat conjunctivitis, ear medications to treat ear infections, and other recommendations may be made depending on what signs and symptoms your rabbit is exhibiting.
Sometimes rabbits develop a low-grade type of Pasteurella infection that has to be managed with life-long antibiotics. But if you suspect your rabbit has an illness of any kind don't hesitate to get him checked out at the vet.