Rabbit flu is a common infectious disease in long-eared rabbits. It is contagious and fatal if left untreated. Find out more about the causes, symptoms and treatment of the disease in rabbits here.
Rabbit flu is particularly common in the cold season – shutterstock / Sofiya Stoyakina
Rabbit sniffles are known to every rabbit owner and often cause great anxiety. In fact, the contagious disease is not to be trifled with. On the other hand, if treated correctly, the affected animals often live a long and symptom-free life.
What are the symptoms of rabbit cold?
A rabbit cold manifests itself in rabbits with symptoms typical of the disease. These include:
● The nose of the sick animal releases more secretions. This can vary externally from transparent and liquid to purulent. It often sticks the fur to the nostrils.
● The rabbit’s paws are sticky with secretion because the rabbit is cleaning itself more intensively.
● The eyes are often red or inflamed with pus.
● Frequent sneezing is one of the well-known symptoms, along with a reddened nose.
● In many cases, unusual breathing noises occur, which indicate that breathing through the nose is difficult. Alternatively, the animal breathes entirely through the mouth.
● If the rabbit cold has spread to the lungs and pneumonia or an abscess has developed in the lungs, the animal will have severe shortness of breath.
● If it spreads to the ears, there is inflammation of the middle ear and/or inner ear. Symptoms such as apathetic behavior, reluctance to eat and a crooked head are typical here.
A distinction must be made between contagious rabbit cold and a common cold. The former, also known as “pasteurellosis”, is a disease caused by bacterial pathogens. The main pathogens include Bordetella bronchiseptica and Pasteurella multocida. In many cases, secondary germs such as Pseudomonas can also be detected. The disease is always chronic, contagious and difficult to cure completely. The good news: Your long-eared cats can often lead a long and happy life even with the disease.
With a “normal cold” the pathogens can be completely killed off and the rabbit is then cured. Laypeople cannot tell whether it is a comparatively harmless cold or the contagious disease. A visit to the veterinarian is essential for diagnosis and treatment. This can, for example, be done by taking a nasal test to determine whether it is a rabbit sniffle pathogen or a cold virus.
What are the causes of rabbit cold?
Various types of bacteria or so-called mycoplasma typically trigger rabbit colds. The germs primarily attack the respiratory tract and lead to purulent inflammation. The disease is transmitted through direct contact or through the spray emitted when sneezing. The animals can also become infected indirectly, for example through the transmission of the bacteria by people after visiting a sick animal.
Common environmental germs and germs that occur in humans, dogs and cats can also be causes of a cold in rabbits. For example, if you suffer from a cold or other infections yourself, you should avoid contact with rabbits. Disinfect your hands when cutting food and possibly wear a face mask. Even if it’s difficult: Take a break from stroking and cuddling.
These risk factors favor infection:
● Stress caused by transport or by an unfamiliar environment: This reduces the immune system and makes you susceptible to infections.
● Holding your cuddly friends too close together: This increases the risk that the rabbit will become infected from one of the other rabbits.
● The wrong food: Certain nutrients, vitamins and minerals are also extremely important for rabbits. If they are missing, their immune system suffers. You can find tips on how to prevent this in our guide “Rabbits: nutrition and food for the crumpy nose”.
● Poor hygiene: If you don’t clean out the cage often enough, the ammonia in the air you breathe will irritate the rabbit’s respiratory system. This promotes rabbit cold and other respiratory diseases.
● Winter: rabbit sniffles are particularly common in the cold season.
How is rabbit sniffles treated?
The primary goal of a rabbit cold is to prevent the spread of the pathogen. The vet will prescribe antibiotics for this, which must be administered for a few days to weeks. The drug is intended to kill the bacteria or inhibit their growth. If the disease progresses for a long time, additional medication is given to support the immune system. Mucolytics can also be administered in low doses. In many cases it is not possible to completely eliminate the pathogens. Then, when the disease breaks out, the animals have to be treated again with immune-enhancing drugs and antibiotics.
The administration of antibiotics is not always the first choice due to a lack of effectiveness and the development of resistance. Depending on the development of the disease, you should always carefully consider together with the veterinarian whether an alternative form of therapy is an option. Inhalation in particular is an alternative or supportive measure. Cold inhalers are particularly suitable for children and a mixture of saline solution and Emser salt as an inhalation solution. Heat from a red light lamp stabilizes the circulation and calms the organism – but make sure you have enough space for your pet to avoid the heat. You can also brew thyme tea and vaporize it in the rabbits’ room. It has an antibacterial effect.
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