The upper respiratory system of a rabbit, much like the rabbit itself, is a delicate thing. Upper respiratory infections can come on suddenly and turn out to be utterly devastating to the health of a rabbit. Snuffles is not a disease itself but a term used to identify any number of infections that can occur in a rabbit's respiratory system.
One of the first noticeable signs of snuffles is discharge from the nose. At first the discharge may be purulent and have no color. As the infection progresses, the discharge changes from watery to thick, and will often become yellowish in color. A rabbit with snuffles is easily identified by the snoring or "snuffling" sound that it makes when breathing.
The most distressing part of snuffles is that it can quickly go from a slight infection to a more major problem involving the eyes and ears. Left untreated, snuffles can cause a rabbit to develop a serious ear infection, conjunctivitis, or wryneck. Snuffles is a very persistent and highly contagious infection that becomes more difficult to eradicate once it turns into pneumonia. Pneumonia in a rabbit is a very serious emergency and all too often proves fatal.
What Causes It?
Snuffles is caused by a bacteria called Pasturella multocida or Pasturella for short. Some strains of Pasturella are mild, whereas others are more aggressive. Rabbits infected with a milder strain of the bacteria may exhibit few or no symptoms, making the infection difficult to assess and subsequently treat.
Signs That Your Rabbit May Have Snuffles
-apparent discharge from the nose
-persistent scratching of the ears
-head tilt (indicative of ear infection)
-inability to walk straight
-loud breathing with wheeze (indicative of pneumonia)
-falling down when walking
How It is Treated
Since Pasturella is a bacteria, it can be treated using antibiotics. The usual course of treatment involves giving the rabbit an antibiotic for two to three weeks. Ciproa broad spectrum sulfa drugis the medication most commonly prescribed by veterinarians for the treatment of snuffles. Seeking treatment at the first sign of presumed infection is essential for ensuring a full recovery from snuffles. Unfortunately, the condition is sometimes chronic, requiring ongoing treatment.
Treating snuffles with antibiotics is not without risk. Antibiotics are designed to destroy bacteria regardless of whether that bacteria is the beneficial type or the disease-causing variety. To prevent gut stasis it's important that the rabbit be fed plenty of fiber. Syringe feeding of baby food may also be required if the rabbit refuses to eat on its own.