Rabbit Runny Nose: What To Do

Angelina Childree, LVT

Angelina Childree, LVT

. Reviewed by Maria Zayas, DVM
Updated Feb. 20, 2024
rabbit nose close up

KoKimk/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

In This Article


What Is a Runny Nose in Rabbits?

Just like humans, our rabbit companions can suffer from a runny nose. Respiratory problems are the second most common issue in rabbits, after gastrointestinal problems like GI stasis.

Runny noses should be promptly seen by a veterinarian familiar with rabbits. Rabbits naturally breathe only through their noses. Open-mouth breathing in rabbits can be due to respiratory distress and is always considered a medical emergency. If your rabbit is breathing through their mouth, seek medical care immediately.

Symptoms of a Rabbit Runny Nose

Nasal discharge may be green or white in color. Accompanying symptoms may include:

  • Discharge stuck or matted on paws (can also cause sores)

  • Sneezing

  • Head tilt

Causes of a Rabbit Runny Nose

There are many potential causes for a runny nose in rabbits, including:

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections are among the most common causes of a runny nose, also known as snuffles. The infections are caused by bacteria including:

  • Pasteurella

  • Pseudomonas

  • Bordetella

  • Staphylococcus

Snuffles is contagious to other pets and humans in the house. Always be sure to practice proper hygiene during and after handling your rabbit. If your rabbit is showing signs of illness, take appropriate safety measures, wear gloves, and remove any infected pieces of clothing to avoid contamination.

If your pet rabbit has snuffles, check your other pets for signs of the illness and contact your human healthcare provider if you show any symptoms.

Dental Problems

Dental problems are relatively common in rabbits. Rabbits have teeth that continuously grow, and tooth overgrowth can lead to inflammation and infections that can spread to the sinuses. In addition to causing a runny nose, dental issues may also make your bunny's eyes water.

Foreign Object

Rabbits have small nasal openings, but objects that don't belong there can still enter the nasal passageway. Strands of hay or grass can sometimes become stuck within a rabbit's nose. This can lead to nasal irritation and chronic nasal infections in rabbits.  

Nasal Polyps

Polyps and other growths that develop in the nasal passages can cause chronic upper respiratory problems. This can interfere with normal drainage of the sinuses and lead to a runny nose and sneezing.

How Veterinarians Diagnose a Runny Nose in Rabbits

To properly diagnose and treat your rabbit's runny nose, your vet may recommend running some tests based on what they find during your rabbit's physical exam. These tests may include:

  • Blood work

    • Complete Blood Count (CBC)—Your vet can look at the types of cells in the blood, such as red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This can help identify if the body is fighting off an infection.

    • Chemistry Panel—Looks at enzymes produced by various organs. This can give your vet a look at how the organs function and if any are compromised.

    • ELISA Testing—Can detect antibodies within your pet's blood, indicating an active infection.

  • Culture and Sensitivity—A sample of nasal discharge is taken with a sterile cotton swab, which is then transferred to an agar, or gel, that will allow the bacteria to grow. This will allow your vet to identify the specific bacteria present and help them determine what antibiotics the bacteria may either respond to or be resistant to.

  • Radiographs (X-rays)—Allow your vet to look for potentially overgrown teeth and a possible foreign object within the nasal passage. Your vet may also want to take some X-rays of your rabbit's chest to look at their lungs for potential problems, such as pneumonia. In some cases, a CT scan may be recommended for more detailed imaging.

  • Rhinoscopy—A flexible scope with a camera is used to evaluate your pet's nasal passages to look for polyps, growths, and foreign objects. In some instances, your vet may also obtain a sample of nasal discharge using this method.

Treatment of a Runny Nose in Rabbits

Treatment will depend on factors such as the cause and severity.

Your vet may treat bacterial infections with antibiotic therapy and may include probiotics. Antibiotic treatment may last for about two weeks. Some of the most commonly used antibiotics in rabbits for respiratory issues are:

With rabbits, we have to be a bit extra cautious about antibiotic usage since they have such sensitive digestive tracts. More severe cases may require hospitalization, where your rabbit may receive oxygen supplementation or nebulizer treatments.

Rhinoscopy procedures may be used to flush the nasal passages and remove foreign material if it is present.

If dental problems are present, your rabbit may need the affected tooth removed under general anesthesia.

With the guidance of your veterinarian, a nebulizer can be used at home to help relieve symptoms.

Recovery and Management of Runny Nose in Rabbits

With medical management and care, most rabbits experiencing a runny nose will have a good prognosis. Some rabbits may take longer than others to recover from a runny nose; in these cases, patience is critical because they may require treatment for a few months.

To avoid reinfection, it is essential to disinfect your rabbit's environment and replace anything that cannot be disinfected, such as bedding. Replace hay and water more often to help prevent mold from growing and being ingested by your pet. Keep your rabbit in a stress-free environment with a balanced diet and room to exercise.

Rabbit Runny Nose FAQs

Is it normal for my bunny to have a wet nose?

It can be normal for your rabbit's nose to be moist, since they only breathe with their nose. Moisture from the air can make the fur around the nostrils damp. However, your rabbit's nose should not be overly wet, as it may be due to nasal discharge.

What does rabbit nose discharge look like?

Nasal discharge from rabbits will typically be white or green.

Can hay dust give rabbits a runny nose?

Yes! Hay dust can irritate the nasal passages and cause discharge. If your rabbit's hay seems dusty, you can put it in a sealed container and shake it. This will help separate the dusty hay.

Angelina Childree, LVT


Angelina Childree, LVT

Veterinarian Technician

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health