The most common cause of nasal discharge and sneezing in rabbits is bacterial infection. Infection usually begins in the nasal cavity and may spread via the eustachian tubes to the inner or middle ears into the sinuses and bones of the face, via the nasolacrimal duct to the eye, via the trachea to the lower respiratory tract, and via bloodstream to joints, bones, and other organ systems. The infectious agents most commonly causing nasal discharge are: Pasteurella, Bordetella, and Staphylococcus. Among other causes for sneezing and nasal discharge in rabbits are inhaled irritants:
- Ammonia due to by poor hutch hygiene.
- Dust from poor quality hay, straw, sawdust bedding.
- Various household/DIY products:
- Shed/garage house rabbits may be affected by petroleum products, creosote or paints.
- Indoor housed rabbits may be affected by air fresheners, disinfectants, perfumes or talcum powder.
Foreign bodies may also cause nasal discharge, particularly pieces of hay which enter nostrils when feeding. This happens because rabbits cannot visualize objects directly in front of the nose.
Types of Nasal Discharge
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- Serous (clear) - mild irritation, allergies, acute phase of inflammation, early bacterial infection.
- Mucoid (gray and cloudy) - allergies or contact irritations, acute inflammation or infection, early nasal cancers, fungal infection.
- Purulent/mucopurulent (thick and green) - bacterial infections, nasal foreign bodies, rarely fungal in rabbits.
- Serosanguineous - destructive process (bacterial pathogens, primarily nasal tumors).
The treatment of nasal disease depends upon the cause. Holes into the nasal passage caused by infection of the roots of the teeth are treated by dental cleaning and sometimes tooth removal. Symptomatic treatment and nursing is important in the treatment of rabbits with sneezing and nasal discharge. Hydration, nutrition, warmth, and hygiene (keeping nares clean) are important. Surgery may be necessary to remove foreign bodies, to obtain samples for biopsy, or to remove abscesses, tumors, or granulomas. If excessive tearing (epiphora) or eye discharge is present, always flush the tear duct. Remove environmental allergens/irritants (dusty litters, moldy hay or bedding) and provide clean airspace.
Rabbits with nasal discharge often have decreased appetite. It is absolutely imperative that the rabbit continues to eat during treatment. Loss of appetite will often cause slow bowel movements, derangement of the bowel microflora, and overgrowth of intestinal bacterial pathogens. Offer a large selection of fresh, moistened greens such as cilantro, romaine lettuce, parsley, carrot tops, dandelion greens, spinach, collard greens and good quality grass hay. Many rabbits will begin to eat these foods, even if they previously have had poor appetite.