Rabbit ‘Snuffles’ Can Be Fatal

Ericson, a practicing Orange County veterinarian, is immediate past president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Assn

Q: Two of my pet lop rabbits recently became sick, emitting thick mucus from their noses. They stopped eating and then died within 1 day of each other. I have put my last rabbit on ampicillin liquid, and it seems to be OK.

I have read that rabbits will die from a disease called “snuffles” because they develop pneumonia. Is this what my rabbits had? Should I continue to give my remaining rabbit the ampicillin? When can I acquire some new rabbits without risking them getting sick?

Diane Waltier, Anaheim

A: Snuffles is a common upper respiratory disease in domestic rabbits that is caused by bacteria. It often starts as a nasal discharge that soon becomes thick with mucus, which often can be found on the front legs of the rabbit because it has wiped its face.


There may also be sneezing and coughing. The disease may soon develop into pneumonia, which often causes the death of the rabbit. In some cases, a rabbit shows very few signs of disease and yet is found dead after an outbreak of snuffles.

The bacteria is common among domestic rabbits and may be started by a condition that can cause stress, such as overcrowding, poor housing or inadequate diet. Giving medications such as antibiotics may have no effect because resistance to them is very common.

I recommend that you re-evaluate the housing of your rabbits and make sure that they have an adequate diet. You should thoroughly clean the hutch before introducing any new rabbits. You may want to isolate the new rabbits from any current rabbits.

You should have your veterinarian examine your other rabbit and possibly do cultures on any nasal discharges. You should also consider other possible causes of death, such as toxins, excessive heat or other diseases.


Q: Can you tell me why it is more expensive to have a dog spayed while she is in heat? I had my Lhasa spayed recently and was charged more than for my previous dog because she was in heat. I called around and almost all veterinarians do charge more. Would it have been better if I had waited until she finished her heat cycle?

Mrs. R.A., Stanton

A: When dogs come into heat, they have a bloody vaginal discharge that occurs with the increase of the hormone estrogen. This will also cause excess bleeding during the spay surgery and the tissues are often more easily damaged. This will result in a longer surgical time and require extra precautions. Many people will wait until their pets have completed the heat cycle before having the surgery done but it is not absolutely necessary.