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Animal Health, The Snuffles - Part 2
3/1/2007 5:00:00 AM

  SNUFFLES IN RABBITS by Richard Maser, D.V.M.


Part 1 - Separating Fact from Fiction

Part 2 - Prevention

Part 3 - Treatment


Snuffles In Rabbits    Part 2 - Prevention


    In part 1, we discussed how the bacteria Pasteurella Multocida can spread from rabbit to rabbit to cause “Snuffles”, and why it is so important to isolate rabbits showing signs of snuffles from other rabbits, especially at rabbit shows.

    In this article, I would like to stress how important prevention is. At this time there is no cure for snuffles that is 100% effective. Once a rabbit is infected with Pasteurella M. in large enough numbers to show disease signs, there is no treatment that will eradicate every Pasteurella bacteria from that rabbit to effect a complete cure. In other words, try to do everything you possibly can to prevent the disease from arising, because once it shows up, it will continue to sporadically appear in that individual rabbit and others regardless of how you treat it. Specific measures you can take to help prevent snuffles from occurring in your rabbits include the following:

1) Not taking rabbits to rabbit shows. At first, this sounds like a ludicrous statement. For many of us, myself included, the main reason we keep rabbits is to show them. But from a strictly medical sense, the worst thing you could possibly do to a rabbit you want to keep healthy is to stress it, thus weakening its immune system, then expose it to huge numbers of infectious bacteria. As discussed in the last chapter, that is exactly what a car ride and a day at the show amounts to. I most certainly am not in favour of discontinuing the show circuit and keeping rabbits just so you can feed and clean them. My point is, if you have certain particularly valuable animals, such as a herd sire, does in a line-breeding program, or a new rabbit or trio of rabbits you have just paid a lot of money for, do not show them. Do not expose them to the risk. Keep your rabbitry strong by leaving your very best animals at home, and showing only their offspring. That way, any show rabbits you have which do contract snuffles can be isolated and/or culled (to be discussed in the next chapter) without setting back your breeding program. It is a difficult concept to accept at first. Everyone likes to win. But by holding your very best stock back, you are greatly increasing the likelihood they will be around long enough to make an impact on your herd. By leaving the very best at home, you sacrifice short-term success, but you greatly increase your chances of becoming a consistent producer of quality stock.

2) Understandably, we want to show rabbits. The following step is the most important one, and the one we all know about, but few of us do. Isolate all new stock AS WELL AS stock returning from shows. Did you hear me? Let me repeat: Isolate all new stock as well as stock returning from shows. This is crucial! I know most of us don’t have the space. But if you want to make a conscientious effort to try to control snuffles in your rabbitry, this step is essential. Newly bought rabbits and rabbits returning from shows must not come in contact with your breeding group of animals. Remember, your show stock is expendible. Your breeding stock is not.

    The ideal situation would be to have two rabbit rooms in your rabbitry, one to contain the breeding stock and one to contain the show rabbits. Once a rabbit leaves the breeding room to go to shows, it should never return to that room. No new stock is allowed. No movement of animals in and out of the room allowed. In other words, the breeding stock room should be a “closed herd”. The only time new animals should be introduced into the breeding group is when is when a new bloodline is desired. But before they are introduced, they MUST be quarantined for at least two, preferrably four weeks first, in a third area, away from both breeding and show stock. Even quarantining the new stock cannot guarantee they are not carrying Pasteurella M. of a different strain than what resides in your rabbitry. If so, upon introduction to your breeding stock, the new rabbits could contaminate your old stock with this new strain of bacteria, with a possible outbreak of snuffles following. This does NOT mean that it is not worthwhile setting up a quarantine. The quarantine is a screen. It is not 100% effective, but it is far better than no screen at all.

3) Try to get the very best ventilation you possibly can in your rabbitry. Good ventilation is the most important environmental factor in controlling the spread of snuffles. The bacteria are spread from rabbit to rabbit through the air in aerosol form. With poor ventilation in a building, the bacteria just hang in the air in limbo, waiting to be inhaled by the rabbits. With a good ventilation system that provides at least ten air changes per hour (or even fifteen in the summer), the bacteria are sucked out of the room shortly after being expelled from the infected rabbit, greatly reducing the chance of contacting a new host rabbit.

    The very best ventilation system of all is to house your rabbits outside. This may not be practical for most of us, especially with our winters and the risk of dogs causing problems. But if you could, you would reduce your snuffles problems to next to nothing.

4) Two days before taking rabbits to a show, medicate their water with tetracycline or oxytetracycline powder. Continue to give this antibiotic treatment the day(s) of the show, and for two to three days afterwards at home. The theory behind this approach is to get high levels of antibiotics into the animals bloodstream BEFORE it is exposed to the bacteria, not afterwards, as is the case with treating an already sick animal. This will help the rabbit fight off the infection by new strains of Pasteurella M. while at the show.

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