Upper Respiratory Problems in Rabbits
• Watery eyes
• Runny nose
• Whistling sound while trying to chew
• Labored breathing
• Raising the chin up high when breathing
• Allergies from pollen, dust, dander, cleaning agents
• Blocked tear ducts
• Upper respiratory infection such as snuffles
• Overgrown tooth roots
• Cancer of the lungs (rare)
Allergies, though not common, do exist for some rabbits. The symptoms are similar to human symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose. Help reduce allergic reactions with regular grooming, proper hutch cleaning, and using only mild cleaners in the area of your bunny. If these symptoms persist even in a clean environment, check with your rabbit expert veterinarian to see if children’s benadryl may be necessary. For a bunny with allergies, it is important to keep his/her nasal passages clear and open as bunnies breath through their nose.
Blocked tear ducts can cause persistent runny eyes. Tear ducts can become block from small pieces of hay, dust, or other particles in your bunny’s environment. Your veterinarian will need to examine your rabbit to determine if this is the cause of runny eyes. The tear ducts can be flushed to remove the particles.
Dental disorders can cause runny eyes and nose. Molar spurs over grown root problems can cause inflammation in the sinuses. Infections developed from molar problems may spread to the sinuses. There is even a known problem in older rabbits where the development of osteoporosis weakens the lighter bones of the skull. In this case, the constant pressure on the molars of chewing can cause the molars to push up into the weakened bone causing swelling and other problems with the sinuses.
Snuffles is a term generally used to describe the runny nose, runny eyes, and sneezing symptoms in your bunny caused by a bacterial infection in the sinuses. Though rabbits cannot “catch” your cold, snuffles displays many of the same symptoms. Snuffles can be caused by a number of different types of bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and Staphylococcus aureus. If your bunny has a thick whitish discharge from his/her eyes or nose, this would be a good indication that your bunny has an infection. Because different types of bacteria in a bunny react differently to different types of antibiotics, your veterinarian will need to determine the exact type of bacteria using a culture and sensitivity test to determine which antibiotic will be most effective.
Pneumonia and cancer in the lungs can cause respiratory problems with your bunny. When your bunny has problems in the lungs, you may hear a watery or wheezing sound when the breath, and your rabbit may keep his/her head raised with the nose pointing toward the ceiling in an effort to take in more oxygen. Only your veterinarian can tell if this labored breathing is due to pneumonia, cancer, or other infection in the lungs. Pneumonia will require a hospital stay and can be treated if the condition has not been left too long. Unfortunately, cancer cannot be treated in a rabbit like it can in a dog or cat. The cancer treatments for other animals are generally more disastrous to a bunny than the cancer itself.
Do not try to diagnose and treat symptoms of sneezing, runny eyes and nose, and/or labored breathing by yourself. Please seek the expertise of a trained rabbit veterinarian for advice and treatment of these symptoms.