Snuffles or not?


I got a doe around 3 months ago (5 months old at the time).

I noticed she was sneezing lots, eyes were clear and nose was only slightly damp at times, although after a sneezing fit I've seen a green ball of mucous twice.

Vet checked her out, eyes clear, chest clear, no temperature, nose only slight clear dampness. Was told maybe allergies. I have 9 other rabbits.

Doe has had a litter of 6 who are around 6 weeks old. I notice now that 4 of the babies have matted fur under the eyes. I'm now wondering if the doe has a very mild case and has passed it on to the babies?

I did take her back to the vets recently for another check, she said that if it was snuffles that she would have shown more symptoms by now or would have infected another rabbit?

Is it possible to have a mild case? Would she have shown more symptoms by now? Would other rabbits have been infected by now? Why are the babies eyes like this?

Any help appreciated, thank you.

***** Karen Sez *****
Sorry about the health challenges, Anon.

It is indeed possible for a rabbit to have a "light" case of pasteurellosis. This would occur if the immune system is strong enough to control the infection, but not strong enough to eradicate it. So, every time the rabbit undergoes stress, say, pregnancy, lactation, dogs barking, a thunderstorm, she may tend to come down with stronger symptoms. Did she tend to sneeze worse while she was raising her kits?

I'd also be very interested in knowing the vaccination status of your doe. (See Bunny Vac page.) Vaccination with the Bunny Vac can be used to eliminate symptoms in some sick rabbits. This is called "off-label" use, and this might be a good thing for a sneezing pet rabbit.

But it is horrible in a show rabbitry, because the rabbit manager will have no idea whether or not the rabbit's immune system is worth a plugged nickel. It is so tempting to think one is protecting the rabbits through vaccination, not realizing that vaccinations are not fool-proof, and indeed come with a whole set of other problems. (See the Bunny-vac link above.)

If you simply breed for health in the first place, you'll get to a point where not a single rabbit in your herd will ever need a pasteurella vaccine. I know that for a fact from hard-won (and grateful) experience.

The likelihood of immune system dysfunction in the form of allergies is very low in unvaccinated rabbits. But perhaps you know for a fact the animal was not vaccinated? I still wanted to mention the issue for the benefit of others who will come along later and read this.

Folks, if you breed for show or sell ANY rabbits to the public, ever, do yourself and your customers a favor and do not vaccinate against Pasteurellosis. If you have a sneezing pet rabbit, the Bunny Vac might help your bunny (but it also might not--at least 10% of bunnies will fail to respond with antibodies).

So, what do you do now?

Take the rabbit BACK to the vet and ask for a culture and sensitivity of the respiratory tract secretions. Get a proper diagnosis.

Perhaps the doe has Bordetellosis (symptoms are sometimes hard to tell apart from those of Pasteurellosis). If so, you can much more easily treat, usually, including the babies.

If the doe cultures P. multocida-positive, as I fear might be the case, I would suggest not using her for breeding any longer. Plus, don't use and don't sell the babies with crusty eyes. But keep any babies who stay symptom-free, because these will be the animals with the desirable strong immune systems.

Lastly, your vet could use a copy of Rabbit Raising Problem Solver ... Just sayin'!

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Oct 16, 2017
by: Anonymous

I breed meat and pet rabbits. My doe recently came into contact with a snuffles-infected rabbit unknowingly through breeding (the owner of the buck just contacted me). We actually tried to breed her to the snuffles buck but he was not interested, just sniffed her a bit. We left them for 10 minutes and then decided to breed her to a different buck that was kept in a different shed.

No symptoms in my doe yet. It's been 3 days. I keep my doe in a stacked cage and there are 15 other rabbits in the area. Is it possible that she didn't catch it? Is it possible that she did and is just immune but can still spread it to the other bunnies? What should I do?!

Also can I still eat bunnies that have the disease?

***** Karen Sez *****
Yes, the bunnies can be eaten, just discard the lungs (and be observant for other issues such as abscesses).

Yes, it is possible your doe did not catch snuffles, and that she has a strong immune system. If not, she is most likely to show symptoms when her body is stressed, as in pregnancy and lactating. If she kindles a litter and raises them to weaning age without symptoms, you have a keeper!

In the meantime, I recommend implementing quarantine measures - keep her well apart from the rest of the herd, or surround her cage with solid partitions. Best of luck!

Jul 08, 2016
by: Anonymous

Thank you very much for your time in answering all my questions. I had 10 adults rabbits to start, including a bonded pair of pets and another younger pet inside. I'm devastated to say its looking at the moment like I only have 3 does left. We've already culled 2.

The bonded pair are not looking good they're wet on the line between the mouth and nose and the fur isn't soft it looks like it's dried funny if you understand me? only slightly, but no other symptoms as yet, no sneezing or real snot, can't comment on the eyes due to them being a pair they clean each others eyes don't they...

The pet inside has a similar nose and is sneezing. No snot and clear eyes. My 4 and 6 year old girls are going to be devastated :(

Another doe has a wet looking line and has started to sound snuffly. Think she'll need to go next.

My only breeding buck, his nose may look damp, its hard to say at the moment, his fur is pale (he's a lilac otter) but still looks soft and clean.

I can't believe its this bad! I really think I'm going to lose them all, I feel so sad.

Jul 04, 2016
by: Anonymous

Hi Karen, thank you for all your advice so far. We ended up culling the doe and babies. :(

The babies seemed to get worse around the eyes so thought it was best.

This week I've noticed a doe with 3-4 week old babies has white eye gunk and a crusty nose, she's also sneezed a couple of times that I've heard, one of her babies has a crusty nose (the runt of the litter) so will be culling her very soon.

I have a few questions if you wouldn't mind trying to answer, I know some may be hard. Thank you.

1, All 11 rabbits have been put out to play in the 3 runs I have EVERYDAY, so say I'd put 1 in each of the 3 runs, then bring them in and then put another 3 out, 1 on each run etc, they've been put out in random order even since I got the 'sneezy doe' 3 months ago so can I assume that all rabbits have been in contact with snuffles?

2, I have 2 pregnant does if they get through with no symptoms can I assume they are immune? Also a healthy doe with 9 week old healthy kits, can I assume she's immune?

3, the kits from the above does, will they be healthy and immune?

4, the rabbits nose and mouth is a Y shape, the vertical line, is that the mouth? I've noticed that is sometimes damp on a few rabbits, is that from them having just had a drink?

5, the babies from the infected doe are 3 and half weeks, would I be best culling doe now and 'handrearing' the kits for a week or so by topping them up with some milk?

6, what is best to clean the hutches, diluted disinfectant or bleech?

7, lastly, how many of the remaining 10 should I expect to come down with snuffles and how long can I expect the fully clear process to take?

Thank you so much for your time, I feel totally lost with all this at the moment and pretty sad :(

***** Karen Sez *****
Okay, let's go through those questions:

1) Yes, you can assume all rabbits have been in contact with the pasteurella germ, but contact does not a disease make. A strong immune system protects the animal. :-)

2) Permanent immunity is conferred once one has had a viral disease (if the virus doesn't kill first), but the same is not true for bacterial infections. So, an assumption of permanent immunity is not the right mental picture. Rather, you can *probably* assume, for now, that their immune system is up to the task of keeping the rabbit healthy, and defeating the germs' attempt to create sickness. In other terms, "strong immune systems," which is what you want.

3) Kits from healthy asymptomatic does are much more likely to remain healthy. And, if their own immune systems are strong, they will.

4) Yes, probably. Even the moisture from the mouth can travel to the vertical part of that Y. All normal.

5) Yes. Research has shown an increased survival rate when kits are weaned as early as possible from sick does. 3.5 weeks is okay, especially with supplementation. See for commercial formula recommendations and other tips. For example, do you have access to raw goat milk?

6) I use bleach. (I also don't use wooden cages.) I've heard from others in the UK who use a strong disinfectant - I forget the name of it, but it is similar to vanodine, I think. Probably the most important thing is to ensure you've removed all organic matter (such as straw or droppings) before disinfecting.

7) I can't give a definitive answer on this, but I can say that in my barn, when a doe kindled a litter and then her health turned south, my typical loss rate was around 75%. This counts kits that died, that were euthanized for frank disease, and kits that grew to 5-6 months and THEN got sick. Does with frank disease were also culled.

It may or may not be similar for you, depending on the virulence of the P. multocida germ in your rabbitry.

But even so, it's a rough but limited season that still leaves you with 25% of the offspring being healthy. They in turn will give you even healthier generations of animals, as long as you remain vigilant and keep culling the occasional individual that eventually reveals itself to be weak immune-wise.

In my experience, the first year is the hardest. After 3 years go by, the sneezing and snot is a distant memory, and you'll look back and call it a blessing in disguise, because you'll now have a barn full of very healthy animals.

Don't be sad; be encouraged, and do the next things that will result (eventually) in the remaining rabbits being completely healthy.

Jun 25, 2016
by: Anonymous

Thank you again for your reply, I wish there was a way to add photos to show you the baby's eye this morning, there is definitely fur in the eye, not an eye lash, I do wonder if that's causing the matted fur as it would cause discharge with the fur irritating the eye.

I suppose I'll just keep mum and babies separate from the rest of the bunnies for a couple of more weeks until they're 8 weeks and would be ready to leave and assess the situation from there. I didn't ask for a culture test as I thought that if most rabbits had Pasteurella then there would be no point as it would just show up positive even it she wasn't showing symptoms.

One lesson learned though is that now I will only keep my own babies for breeding and will not allow another rabbit in so as not to risk this again. Thank you

Jun 24, 2016
by: Anonymous

Hi, thanks very much for your reply. I'm in the UK if that makes any difference, I've not heard of the vaccine you've mentioned? Is that a US thing? The vet did mention that she may have something up her nose making her sneeze.

To look at her she has absolutely no symptoms at all (apart from a damp nose every now and again - which I suppose happens from sneezing.

The babies are very fluffy around the eyes, as is mum, I wonder if there is just fur irritating their eyes, not one of the babies has sneezed as of yet. 2 definitely have crust, one looks like it has eye lashes in the eye? I'm just wondering whether to just cull to be on the safe side but then I don't want to if she's healthy and sneezing for another reason. It's such a hard decision!

***** Karen Sez *****
Hi Anon, yes, the pasteurella vaccine is distributed in the USA only. The UK has other vaccines, which might also disrupt correct immune function, though I can't speak to those vaccines atm.

Eyelashes turning inward is a separate genetic problem, unfortunately, called Entropion. The constant irritation of the eye by the eyelashes typically results in blindness due to scar tissue. It would be smart not to use any kits with this condition, if indeed that is what is the problem.

As to the sneezing, it IS a hard decision. And if the problem is nothing more than a foreign body, you would hate to just cull the doe. Until you know for sure what condition is causing her sneezing/damp nose, you could simply quarantine her and her kits for a while, and watch to see how everything progresses. You could also try a round of treatment and see how she responds to it.

Good luck with everything!

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