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Rabbits/Opportunistic bug


QUESTION: My 5 year old rabbit has had chronic "snuffles" for a couple of years.  Not just sneezing, runny nose, but some really gut wrenching, head shaking sneezes.  They identified the bacteria as an opportunistic bug (antibiotics do not help) that moves in when he is compromised and believe there is an underlying issue as the cause.  They recommend that he goes to Cornell for an mri(cat scan) on his head.  
I was wondering what yours thoughts were.

Thank you.

ANSWER: Dear Susanne

The signs you describe are typical of a bunny who is suffering from a partially blocked or blocked maxillary sinus.  This is often due to intrusion of the molar "roots" farther into the skull than is normal, pinching off the tear ducts and sinuses.  The reduced air flow sets up a very nice environment for opportunists such as Pseudomonas and others.  Antibiotics knock them back, but never really solve the problem.

We've found that gentle, careful nose flushes with warm, sterile saline can really help.  But don't do this without instruction from a rabbit-savvy vet, since you don't want to cause more damage or have him accidentally aspirate bacteria-laden saline.

There is a radical surgery being done in some quarters (rhinotomy) in which the bones of the skull are actually removed to clear out the sinus, and then the skin put back so the rabbit looks normal.  Very gruesome, and it requires very specialized equipment that few vets have.  And few vets have the required skills to do this.  But it has been done with success.

Short of that, it's pretty much a supportive care thing.

I wish I had better news.  :(


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

I would not do the rhinotomy, with that being said, should I still go through with the scan?
Would pulling the molars help?
Lastly, if we do nothing, is this condition fatal, or just something we all learn to live with?


Hi, Susanne

A scan won't tell you much except that the sinuses are blocked.  It might help if it's not the molars, and is something that could be surgically removed.  But if it's the molars, there's not much you can do except supportive care (face washes, nose flushes as directed by the vet, etc.).  Removing the molars will not necessarily solve the problem, as scarring and calcification around the base of the tooth might still block the sinuses.  You'd put the bunny through a painful surgery for little or no gain.

The condition isn't fatal.  It's as you say:  something you just live with and occasionally have to knock back with a course of antibiotics when it gets really troublesome to the bunny.

Wish I had better news.  :(



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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:

Find a rabbit vet at for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.

RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.


I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology

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