Rabbits/chronic URI


QUESTION: Hello Dr. Krempels, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question - we have a rabbit in our rescue that has had a chronic URI since adoption (about a year ago). He is now being returned due to this illness.

he has been on baytril pills and drops (helped short-term), gentocin, and tobramycin (both of those were drops and neither did anything). we did take a culture/sensitivity, the bacteria they found was delftia acidiborans and is supposed to be sensitive to anything except gentocin (found that out AFTER dosing him, unfortunately). What would you try next?

many thanks

ANSWER: Dear Erin

This is an incredibly common problem.  Unfortunately, there is usually no permanent cure.  The bacteria found in the culture are opportunists, not true pathogens.  Their claim to fame is that they can make gold nuggets out of gold dust.  :)  So the culture might even have given false results or have been contaminated.

The most common problem in bunnies like this is a blocked maxillary sinus that creates a happy environment for opportunistic bacteria to set up shop. You can knock them back with antibiotics, but once the meds are stopped, they (or another species) will take over again. The best you can hope for is palliative care that makes bun comfortable enough to live with the problem.

Unless you want to opt for the drastic:  a rhinotomy.  There is a surgery that can be done to permanently repair the blocked sinus.  But it's not for the faint of heart (nor should it be done by a vet who lacks the proper equipment, training, and expertise!) nor the thin of wallet.

So for now, I'd suggest you ask the vet about warm saline nasal flush/spray that can help loosen the gunk and let bunny blow it out.  This must be done with care, of course, so don't try it without training from your rabbit-savvy vet.

If the condition gets really back, you can--as always--knock it back with a course of antibiotics. But that runs the risk of breeding resistance in your bacterial population.  So you're kind of between a rock and a hard place.  :(

Wish I had better news.


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

QUESTION: Thank you for the advice.I will have to ask the vet about the nasal flush. We have just started a round of Cipro and I guess I will start looking for a home that isn't afraid of a runny nose. This rabbit has been off and on sick for the past year but didn't get much treatment in his last home, so I know it will be a challenge. I switched him to the new Oxbow natural science line and also added the new oxbow immune system treats to his regimen. Hope they are as magical as the package would have us believe! We have a couple of vets down here that see rabbits (literally a couple), but no one that is a rabbit surgery expert, so that's probably not an option for him...he IS frisky and seems to be happy, so I guess it could be worse...I would rather be pleasantly surprised than disappointed, though, so I appreciate your candidness.

Dear Erin,

I love the folks at Oxbow, and they make wonderful rabbit products.  But they are business people who know marketing.  So don't expect miracles from the immune system boosters.  They won't hurt, but they might not make all that much difference in a case like this.

We have lots of bunnies (including our wild sanctuary jackrabbits) who have chronic runny noses and they do fine.  When the snot becomes viscous and white, we treat with antibiotics to make them feel better, and do a course of about two weeks.  After that, we let their immune systems try to handle it until it gets too much again.

It's a forever cycle, so most of our chronic URI buns are in sanctuary unless we find a really experienced caregiver who's willing to put in the work.

Good luck!



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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:

...it is an EMERGENCY.

Find a rabbit vet at www.rabbit.org/vet 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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