Snuffles in Rabbits

Published Jan. 5, 2024
Rabbit nose

In This Article


What Is Snuffles in Rabbits?

Upper respiratory infections are overwhelmingly common in rabbits, meaning almost all rabbits will have a case of the sniffles in their lifetime. The most common cause of upper respiratory infections in rabbits is a bacteria called Pasteurella, also known as snuffles.

Most rabbits are exposed to Pasteurella at birth, but they usually only become sick with snuffles when they’re very young or if they have an underlying condition.

It's important to know that rabbits cannot breathe through their mouth; they must be able to breathe through their nose. Rabbits with stuffy noses that cannot move enough air will be in extreme distress and may start to “open mouth breathe,” which looks like panting. Distressed breathing is a medical emergency in rabbits, and they must be seen by a veterinarian right away.

Symptoms of Snuffles in Rabbits

A rabbit sick with snuffles may seem like they have a common cold. Symptoms may include:

  • Nasal discharge

  • Dried nasal discharge on the nostrils, neck, and/or paws

  • Sneezing

  • Decreased appetite or anorexia (not eating)

  • Weight loss

  • Lethargy

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

  • Head tilt

  • Ear infection

  • Abscesses

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Lameness

  • Eye infection

  • Reproductive difficulties

  • Sudden death

Causes of Snuffles in Rabbits

Most rabbits will get snuffles while they’re babies. The most common way a rabbit is exposed to Pasteurella is when an infected (not necessarily symptomatic) mother rabbit passes the bacteria to her babies during birth or nursing.

Pasteurella is a particularly dangerous bacterial infection in animals. It can infect almost all mammals, birds, and reptiles, including humans, and it can spread between species. But not all species exposed to Pasteurella will become ill, and not all ill species develop respiratory infections. Rabbits and birds are the animals that struggle with the consequences of Pasteurella infections the most.

Many exposed rabbits may never become ill with snuffles unless they are also exposed to another infection or are experiencing an underlying problem.

Underlying Problems

Proper rabbit care is necessary to help keep your bunny safe from medical issues. Common problems that predispose a rabbit to developing a respiratory infection include:

  • Dirty bedding

  • Poor ventilation

  • Bad air quality

  • Inappropriate diet

  • Stress


Co-infection with other respiratory bacteria is also a common way a rabbit will present with snuffles. While Pasteurella is the most common cause of upper respiratory infections in rabbits, some other common bacteria are:

  • Bordetella

  • Staphylococcus

  • Pseudomonas

Most Pasteurella infections in rabbits will also involve Bordetella infections. You may recognize Bordetella as the most common cause of kennel cough in dogs and a common vaccine given throughout their lives (though not commonly given to pet rabbits). If you’re already familiar with kennel cough symptoms in dogs, you should watch for many of the same symptoms in rabbits as signs of snuffles.  

Risk Factors for Snuffles in Rabbits

Young rabbits under 8 weeks old are at the highest risk of becoming sick with snuffles. Some breeds are also predisposed, including:

Rabbits under undo stress, such as from travel, are also at high risk of becoming ill.

While most rabbits have Pasteurella, exposure to another rabbit actively shedding the virus can trigger an active illness in another rabbit, even if they’ve already had Pasteurella.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Snuffles in Rabbits

Diagnosing snuffles in rabbits can be tricky because rabbits that test positive for Pasteurella don’t necessarily have snuffles. There are different tests a veterinarian may perform based on the predominant symptoms a rabbit has and if the bacteria are sequestered in the respiratory tract where it can be hard to find. These tests may include:

  • PCR: This test uses a swab from the rabbit’s nasal passage to identify Pasteurella (or other bacteria), if present.

  • Radiographs: Also known as X-rays, these tests can help a veterinarian visualize a rabbit’s nasal passage, head, and chest.

  • CT and MRI: These are both more accurate imaging tests that can better show exactly what tissues are damaged or affected by a snuffles infection.

  • Endoscopy and rhinoscopy: Using a small scope, veterinarians can directly visualize the respiratory passages of a rabbit to find blockages, confirm affected tissues, and collect biopsies and other samples.

  • Culture and sensitivity testing: Nasal swabs can transfer bacteria onto culture plates to grow, isolate, and identify all bacteria growing in a sick rabbit’s respiratory passage.

  • Blood work: While this test won’t diagnose snuffles, it can help assess how sick a rabbit is becoming.

Treatment of Snuffles in Rabbits

The most common way to treat snuffles is with antibiotics, including:

Unfortunately, the infection doesn’t always respond well and not all rabbits will fully overcome the symptoms, even with prolonged treatment. Rabbits struggling with nasal congestion can also receive nebulizer treatments that include gentamycin.

Lowering stress by keeping an ill rabbit in a dark, quiet, and isolated space can speed recovery. Always remove a rabbit showing signs of respiratory illness from all other animals immediately.

Rabbits with eye infections or conjunctivitis will benefit from antibiotic and lubricant eye drops. If a rabbit isn’t eating well, they will need to be given herbivore critical care diet to prevent GI stasis.

In severe cases, surgical treatment to open up and clear out the nasal sinuses is an option, though this isn’t commonly performed and requires access to a specialty hospital.

Recovery and Management of Snuffles in Rabbits

Most rabbits will need treatment for at least two weeks. In cases that struggle to improve, six to eight weeks of medication is common.

Emphasis on maintaining a clean environment during treatment is critical, as is controlling for stressors as much as possible. Regular diet supplementation can help maintain weight and energy levels, which can improve response to antibiotics.

Left untreated, snuffles can lead to pneumonia and has a high fatality rate. Even treated rabbits may not survive their initial illness. And if they do, they are infected and shedding the bacteria for the rest of their life, which can trigger relapsing signs of illness.

Prevention of Snuffles in Rabbits

Preventing snuffles includes maintaining an optimal environment for pet rabbits and limiting their exposure to other species, especially birds and other rodents.

There is a vaccine available for Pasteurella in rabbits, but it’s only used in rabbit farm settings. Keeping a clean and stress-free habitat for a pet rabbit is far more effective at preventing snuffles than the vaccine.

This vaccine does not fully prevent infection of Pasteurella in a vaccinated rabbit; it only curbs severity of the disease instead and is therefore most useful in settings where rabbits are most likely to be exposed to stressors and other rabbits.

Snuffles in Rabbits FAQs

How do you treat snuffles in rabbits at home?

Rabbits that are not treated for snuffles with antibiotics have a nearly 50% fatality rate in some studies, so the best thing to do upon noticing your rabbit has developed the sniffles is to bring them into the vet.

Can rabbit snuffles be passed to dogs?

Yes, a rabbit can give a dog snuffles (called kennel cough in dogs), and vice versa.

Can rabbits recover from snuffles?

While rabbits can recover from snuffles, they do not fully clear the bacteria from their body and can have flare-ups in the future.

Can snuffles kill rabbits?

Yes, especially if left untreated. Treatment may not always go smoothly and may require longer treatment periods than normal. Trial and error of multiple medications is common until an effective treatment regimen is found.

Can rabbit snuffles go away on its own?

This can happen, but it’s most likely in mild cases. Most cases of snuffles cannot go away on their own, and it’s best to get your bunny relief through treatment as soon as you notice symptoms.

Featured Image: Gabriele Golisano/iStock via Getty Images Plus


Powers LV. Upper Respiratory Disease in Rabbits and Rodents. In: Pacific Veterinary Conference. 2016.

Brooks EE. Pasteurellosis in Rabbits. VINcyclopedia of Diseases. 2022.

Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases of Rabbits - Exotic and Laboratory Animals. Merck Veterinary Manual.


Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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