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Animal Health, The Snuffles - Part 1
2/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
SNUFFLES IN RABBITS by Richard Maser, D.V.M.

 

Part 1 - Separating Fact from Fiction

Part 2 - Prevention

Part 3 - Treatment

      

Part 1 - Separating Fact from Fiction

 

     Any rabbit breeder who has been involved with raising rabbits for any length of time will be painfully familiar with the disease condition commonly called “snuffles”. Snuffles is an inflammation of the nasal passages and sinuses, resulting in sneezing and a mucus discharge from the nostrils. It is caused by a highly contagious bacteria called Pasteurella multocida. Often the first sign detected is sneezing in the rabbitry. Closer examination may reveal rabbits with a thick whitish yellow nasal discharge. The nasal discharge stimulates the rabbit to rub its nostrils with the inside of its front legs, which will result in the matting of the hair on the inside of the front legs. Any rabbit demonstrating these signs can be diagnosed with 100% certainty as having snuffles. There is no such thing as just a “cold” in rabbits. There are virtually no other respiratory diseases in rabbits. Nor has there ever been a recorded case in the veterinary literature of a rabbit having allergies of any type. Rabbits do not become “allergic” to wood shavings. Most allergies in animals are not manifested by a runny nose as they are in humans. Allergies in animals most commonly cause itchy skin and reddened mucous membranes.

    Often where a problem arises is at rabbit shows. The breeder has no sick rabbits in his or her rabbitry. They are all in excellent condition. On the day of the show, the rabbits are placed in a carrier, driven often for several hours in a car or truck, and then cooped at the show. Shortly after cooping, the rabbit or rabbits begin sneezing and have a watery discharge from the nostrils. This is the point where some breeders claim, “it’s allergic to the wood shavings. He is never on wood shavings at home.” This of course, is incorrect. Many rabbits carry Pasteurella multocida in their nasal cavity without showing any clinical signs of disease. Between 20% and 70% of the rabbits in any given rabbitry may be such asymptomatic carriers. An asymptomatic carrier rabbits immune system can keep the number of Pasteurella organisms in check, and hence prevent disease signs from appearing, but it cannot completely eliminate them from its body. If the rabbit becomes stressed in any way, its immune becomes weakened, allowing the Pasteurella organisms to multiply unchecked. Once the population of Pasteurella in the nasal cavity passes a given number, sneezing and a mucus discharge begin. Stresses which weaken the immune system include hot weather, kindling, lactation, change of diet, other disease problems, drafts or car rides. The trip to a show very commonly poses a great enough stress to rabbits to push an apparently healthy rabbit over the edge from being a subclinical carrier to an active clinical case. And it can occur in a period as short as one hour.

    It is extremely important that rabbits with snuffles at rabbit shows be isolated from the rest of the rabbits at the show. Sneezing spreads huge numbers of Pasteurella bacteria through the surrounding air in aerosol form, which is inhaled by all the surrounding rabbits, who have also had stressful car rides, and who are now much more susceptible to infection by Pasteurella than normal. But the story becomes more complicated. There are five different strains or “serotypes” of Pasteurella multocida. Serotypes A, B, C, D, and E. (Just as there are many strains of “common cold” in humans.) If in your rabbitry, the rabbits are carrying Pasteurella multocida type A, your rabbit will develope antibodies to type A organisms as part of their immune system response. If one of your rabbits is at a show, and the rabbit in the coop next to him is sneezing and dispersing type B, C, D, or E Pasteurella through the environment, your rabbit will not have effective antibodies against them. Hence, he becomes infected with a new strain. You then take him back to your rabbitry at the days end, and he starts spreading this new “hot” strain to all the rest of your rabbits, none of whom have antibodies against that strain. Within a day or two, rabbits that never left the rabbitry may start sneezing and having runny noses. The rabbit that went to the show may or may not be exhibiting any signs. If you took several rabbits to the show, you can’t be sure which one of them or if all of them are spreading the new bacteria. If sick (sneezing) rabbits are removed from the showroom, the risk of their transmitting their variety of Pasteurella to the other rabbits is greatly redused.

    There is nothing so frustrating as taking your best stock to a show, to pick up snuffles there, and having to ultimately cull those rabbits. It is especially serious for the small hobbiest, who may only have a dozen rabbits, and who cannot afford to cull his show rabbits without wiping out his or her breeding program as well. Breeders must be vocal in their disapproval of rabbits with signs of snuffles at shows being left in the showroom or worse, being placed in their classes by judges. Breeders also must leave at home animals exhibiting clinical signs of snuffles instead of trying for that last Grand Champion leg. In virtually every show catalogue under the list of show rules, it states, “sick rabbits will be removed form the showroom.” The rule is there and there is good reason to enforce it. Unfortunately, there are times it is not enforced, perhaps for fear of the stink that will follow when someone’s animal is prevented from showing. Snuffles should not be a fact of life for rabbit breeders. It can be a controllable disease if all breeders agree to abide by common sense rules, and remove sick animals from the showroom.

Part 2 - Prevention and Part 3 - Treatment will be on this website March 2007

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