Snuffles is the term given to upper respiratory tract infections, usually related to Pasturella sp bacteria. The condition is highly contagious.
What are the signs?
- runny nose – discharge from the nose, may also be seen on the paws as they try to wipe it away
- runny eyes – tear stained fur on the cheeks and hair loss around the eyes, discharge can be tear like or white (pus)
- head shaking/scratching/head tilt – if the infection spreads to their ears
- can progress to pneumonia
Rabbits with dental disease are more prone to developing snuffles. This is because the tear duct runs very close to the roots of their cheek teeth. When the teeth are overgrown or don’t meet properly, the roots impinge on the tear duct causing blockage of the tear duct. This prevents the normal flow of tears and allows bacteria to grow. If a hutch is poorly ventiliated, the fumes from a build-up of urine could cause irritation to the yes and this could trigger Snuffles
How is it treated?
It is important that you take your rabbit to the vets as soon as you notice any of the above signs, the longer the condition is left the more difficult it is to treat. Your vet will fully examine your rabbit, including its teeth and discuss its diet and environment with you.
A sample of the discharge from the eye may be taken and sent off for ‘culture and sensitivity’ to assess what bacteria are present, and determine which antibiotics will best treat the infection. Your may need to give your rabbit topical antibiotics in the form of eye drops. They will also need a course of oral antibiotics (usually for at least 2 weeks) to treat the infection in the nasal passages, which you can administer orally using a syringe. In some cases supportive therapy including fluids, supplementary feeding and nursing may be required.
It may also help to flush the blocked tear ducts – to remove any pus and bacteria and allow the antibiotics to penetrate further. Once the teeth have been assessed it may be necessary for appropriate dental work to be carried out, and gradual changes to the diet implemented.
Snuffles can become a chronic or lifelong condition that needs to be managed effectively to be kept under control.
How can I prevent it?
Ensure your rabbit’s living area is well ventilated and regularly cleaned out to prevent build up of fumes.
As rabbits with dental disease are prone to snuffles, it is important that your rabbit is fed the correct diet. See the handout on ‘Rabbit Nutrition’ for more information.
Written by Laura Sullivan MRCVS