Runny Nose In Rabbits

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 22, 2010
Runny Nose In Rabbits

Nasal Discharge and Sneezing in Rabbits

Nasal discharges in rabbits may be characterized by its mucosity (thick and slimy), serosity (thin, watery), or blood-tinged color. Sneezing in rabbits, meanwhile, is much like sneezing in humans. The rabbit has a reflexive “expulsion” of air via the nose or nostrils; it is also typically accompanied by nasal discharge.

Symptoms and Types

There are many different types of nasal discharge and accompanying signs and symptoms. Serious nasal discharge often involves only mild irritation, and generally follows allergies and acute periods of inflammation. It is also a common symptom of early bacterial infections.

Mucus nasal discharge may even be associated with inflammation and allergies. Bacterial infections may lead to more voluminous nasal discharge that contains some blood or yellowish discharge. Tumors and other more serious diseases is another cause of blood-filled and pathogen-filled (viral or bacterial organisms) discharge from the nose.

Many systems are involved in nasal discharge and sneezing. These may include:

  • The respiratory system, including the respiratory tract
  • The ophthalmic system, including the eyes
  • The musculoskeletal system, including the skull bones and muscles
  • The lymphatic system, including the lymph nodes and immune system
  • The neurological system


One of the most common causes for sneezing and nasal discharge is bacteria and infection. However, simple irritation of the nasal glands can also cause sneezing, as can allergies and inflammation of the nasal tissue.


Diagnosis can sometimes be difficult as there are so many potential underlying causes of the nasal discharge and sneezing. Causes can include bacterial infection, including Staphylococcus aureus, Bordetella bronchispetica and other anaerobes (bacteria that is capable of growing in an oxygen free environment). Dental diseases that cause abscesses are also a common finding in sneezing and nasal discharge in rabbits.

Sometimes foreign objects can penetrate the nasal cavity and dental orifices, causing problems such as infections, sneezing, and discharge. Your veterinarian will look at all of these issues when making the preliminary diagnosis. Other risk factors, including whether the rabbit has a compromised immune system, will be evaluated at the time of diagnosis.

Standard laboratory tests, including a blood profile, complete blood count, and a urinalysis will be done, and lab cultures of the discharge will be done to look for the presence of bacteria and other infectious pathogens. If a tumor is suspected, your veterinarian will need to take a sample of the mass for biopsy. This is the only way to conclude whether the mass is cancerous (malignant) or benign.


Treatment will depend on the cause of the nasal discharge and sneezing. Usually, treatments are given to relieve the symptoms, but in cases where bacterial infection is present, antibiotics are necessary for treating the underlying infection.

Surgery is sometimes necessary for the removal of foreign objects or masses that contribute to the symptoms. If dental disease is found to be causing the symptoms, in many cases the solution will be to extract the diseased tissue and/or tooth.

Living and Management

A healthy diet is often the recommended, which will not only support the rabbit’s immune system but promote good dental hygiene. Topical treatments like eye drops can help keep the eyes moist and relieve symptoms, such as those brought on by viral or bacterial infections. Your veterinarian may reccomnend routine follow-up exams to ensure that your rabbit's overall health and wellness is progressing.

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