Respiratory problems are very common in rabbits and can be very serious. The main reason for concern is that rabbits are exclusively nasal breathers, meaning they can only breathe through their nostrils. This means that a stuffy nose can be quite uncomfortable and lead to a drastic reduction in your pet's health. Therefore, it is very important that breeders know how to recognize signs of respiratory problems in rabbits and that they seek help from a veterinarian if they suspect any harm to the animals' health.
Part 1 of 2: Identifying Symptoms of Breathing Problems
Step 1. Look for signs of a runny nose
The most common respiratory problem in rabbits is pasteurellosis, a disease that causes upper respiratory tract infections and runny nose. Caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida, the discharge is usually thick and whitish, but it can also be transparent, very white or even yellow.
Pasteurella multocida infection is common because the bacteria usually live in the respiratory tract of rabbits. The problem only happens when the pet's immunity drops, which can happen in cases of stress, abuse or use of drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids
Step 2. Watch for signs of a stuffy nose
Clogging occurs due to the presence of mucus in the nasal passages and is usually accompanied by a discharge, sneezing and, in some cases, coughing.
Step 3. See if the rabbit has a dirty face and feet
When a rabbit tries to clean its nose to breathe better, it spreads mucus through its fur, leaving its face and paws dirty.
Sick rabbits also tend to neglect their hygiene habits. Keep an eye on your pet if it starts to show a matte and tousled fur
Step 4. Examine the rabbit's eyes
It is possible that the infection also affects the animal's eyes, causing it to runny eyes. In the case of pasteurellosis, the liquid is usually thick and white.
Step 5. Keep an eye out for unusual head movements
In some cases, the bacteria can travel from the throat to the ear and cause an ear infection. This causes the rabbit to lose its balance and start jerking its head sideways.
Step 6. Watch for posture changes
If your rabbit is having difficulty breathing, it may start to stretch its neck and head too much as a way of straightening the airway to allow air to pass.
Step 7. Watch for changes in appetite
Sick rabbits don't eat, and that in itself is a problem. If your pet stops eating, take him to the vet immediately. The rabbits' digestive system can completely stop functioning, putting the animals' lives at risk.
Step 8. Make sure the cage is clean
The way you care for the rabbit may be behind possible respiratory problems. A dirty cage exposes the pet to high levels of ammonia. When inhaled, the substance weakens the immunity of the respiratory tract, making it more vulnerable to infections. Likewise, cigarette smoke damages the delicate wall of the lungs, opening the way for irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages.
Part 2 of 2: Getting a diagnosis from a veterinarian
Step 1. Take the rabbit to the vet
The doctor will examine the pet and listen to its chest with a stethoscope. He may also look for signs of a heart murmur (heart problems can lead to fluid accumulation in the lungs) and for signs of crackling and lung murmur, which can be symptoms of infection or pneumonia.
- The veterinarian may also listen to the rabbit's trachea to see if the noise gets louder near the chest or head. This will help you find out if the problem is in the upper or lower respiratory tract.
- The lower respiratory tract corresponds to the lungs. Among the problems affecting the lungs are pneumonia, heart disease, cancer and smoke inhalation. Everything above the lungs is considered part of the upper tract. This includes the trachea, larynx and nasal cavities. Problems in this region can be caused by inhaled foreign bodies (such as straw), sinusitis, dental abscesses, and viral and bacterial infections.
Step 2. Talk to your veterinarian about the need for additional tests
This will cost more, but it will also allow the doctor to make a more accurate diagnosis. Depending on the type of treatment prescribed, tests may not even be necessary.
- The vet may order an X-ray of the pet's lungs if the problem is pulmonary. Then he can pinpoint the root of the problem, which could be inflammation, fluid buildup, a tumor, or an infection.
- In the case of problems in the upper respiratory tract, the doctor can take a sample of nasal mucus to send to the laboratory. There, the technicians will cultivate and examine the microbes present, which will allow the veterinarian to prescribe a specific antibiotic for the infection.
- In more complex cases, the veterinarian may order an X-ray of the rabbit's head to look for factors that may be causing complications, such as teeth whose roots are growing into the nasal cavity or infections in the inner ear.
Step 3. Follow the veterinarian's treatment suggestions
Treatment usually involves antibiotics, which have the disadvantage of also causing damage to the bacteria in the animal's digestive system. Remember this and give the bunny plenty of water and fresh hay while he recovers. Take him back to the vet at the first sign of digestive problems.