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Why does my rabbit keep sneezing?


Rabbits can sneeze for a number of reasons; either because of environmental sources of irritation, dust, perfumes, household sprays etc or due to internal illnesses such as infections and even eye issues or dental problems!

How do I determine the cause of my rabbits’ sneezing?

Environmental factors: 

What has changed in your rabbits’ home that may lead to the new symptoms you’re worried about? 

Irritants

Have you recently gotten a new plug in or room spray air freshener or changed to a spray deodorant or strong-smelling perfume? Is your rabbits’ hutch or play area too close to the bathroom or an area frequently bleached and so his/her respiratory system is irritated? Have you moved your rabbits’ hutch to an area prone to being smokey i.e. near the kitchen or an area of the garden for summer BBQ’s? 

Remember when your rabbit is shedding more in the summer, you’ll have to clean out their hutch more as floating fur can tickle their little noses just like it does ours!

Dust

Have you changed your rabbits’ bedding to a dusty sawdust or straw? Are you at the bottom of a bale of hay where all the dust has collected? Note that pine and cedar beddings are best avoided as they can release phenols irritating a rabbit’s respiratory system. 

Allergies

Have you changed your rabbits’ diet recently? Or introduced a new blanket?  Although less common, rabbits can develop allergies to foodstuffs or things they are in contact with; such as blankets washed in detergent or grasses/ weeds / hay. 

Foreign material

Sometimes rabbits’ can be too curious when exploring their environment and sniff up or chew a piece of their environment such as hay or straw. This subsequently gets stuck up their little noses. This is not only irritating leading to sneezing as the rabbit’s body tries to expel the foreign object; but also can lead to secondary infections as the lining of the nose is scratched and irritated. 

Internal illnesses: 

Does your rabbit have a nasal discharge? 

Nasal discharge is often a sign of infection. Infection can be caused by bacteria, most commonly Pasteurella (otherwise called “snuffles”) but also Staphylococcus and Pseudomonas to name a few or they can be complicated by other bacteria such as Bordetella bronchiseptica that take hold as a secondary infection to complicate recovery when there is already an infection on board. 

Don’t worry, rabbits can’t catch the human cold. So you won’t make him/her sick by getting a cuddle when you’re feeling under the weather! 

Infections can take hold if your rabbits’ environment isn’t up to scratch leading to his/her immune system being challenged. It is important that your rabbits’ home is warm, dry, cleaned thoroughly and free from dust; in a well-ventilated area with plenty of room to move around with enough space for the number of rabbits in the group. 

Eye disease and Dental disease are other causes of sneezing. This is because both the tear ducts of the eye and the tooth roots are closely related to the nasal passages of rabbits. This can be a particular problem in short nosed or brachycephalic breeds of rabbits or dwarfs as there is less space in the nasal passages/ sinuses. If your rabbit has an eye infection, the tear ducts are blocked or infected or if your rabbits’ diet is inappropriate leading to overlong teeth or your rabbit has dental disease, that can be seen by developing eye discharge, nasal discharge, sneezing and possibly dribbling. 

Don’t forget to check not only little ones’ cute little nostrils but also their paws; is there any mucous or coloured discharge? Bunnies are very clean creatures so lack of obvious discharge at the nostrils doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem just that Bunny may have tried to clean him/herself up making the problem less obvious. 

When do I seek veterinary help?

Firstly, is your rabbit poorly? If your rabbit is sneezing very infrequently and otherwise well, you probably don’t need to seek help. 

Signs that bunny is poorly include having their ears laying flat, a grimace expression, eye or nasal discharge, dribbling, stretching out their body to elongate their chest to help breathe- with or without having their mouth open, or indeed crunching up in the corner of their hutch without interacting with the surroundings, not nibbling hay and not grooming. Signs of advanced illness include not eating and lack of faecal pellet production alongside heaving (rapid exaggerated in and out chest movements in an attempt to gasp air in a compromised breathing system). 

Rabbits don’t like to show signs of illness so if they are visibly unwell, they are often very poorly indeed and you should contact your vet urgently.

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