Welcome to our complete guide to rabbit colds. Can bunnies get colds? How do they catch them? What can you do to help? And what on earth are snuffles in rabbits? Let’s find out!
Nothing is worse than the feeling that you furry friend may be ill. If you have a bunny, then you probably know that regular health checks are vital to the well-being of your rabbit.
Since rabbits are prey animals, they are extremely good at hiding injuries and illnesses. This is a natural protective mechanism that keeps them safe from predators in the wild.
Unfortunately, this can create some difficulty for you, the pet owner, when identifying serious illnesses.
A Finland study conducted in 2015 showed that over 70% of rabbits that were considered healthy actually showed signs of disease when clinical and radiological exams were conducted.
But don’t worry, because if you are diligent about your health checks, you can spot diseases early.
Symptoms may be confusing to you though, especially if it appears as though your rabbit has a cold.
Can bunnies get colds, and if so, what are the rabbit cold symptoms and treatment options? Keep reading, because we are going to explore these questions and more.
Can Rabbits Get Colds?
So, you want to know, can rabbits get colds? Well, let’s look at the basics.
Viruses cause colds. There are about 200 different types of viruses that can cause human colds (yikes!).
The vast majority of the illnesses are called rhinoviruses, but they are specific to humans. This means that you cannot pass a cold to your bunny. So, can rabbits get a cold? Not exactly.
However, your bunny can carry a virus that makes your ill. You also can carry microorganisms on your hands that cause an illness in your bunny.
This is one reason why it is so important to wash your hands after your visit a pet store or an animal shelter, or after you play with your own pet.
Most Viruses are Species Specific
Rhinoviruses are human specific. In fact, almost all viruses are species specific and infect only one type of animal.
There are several viruses that are specific to rabbits. The majority are passed from rabbit to rabbit. Or, they are acquired through the bite of a virus carrying parasite, like a flea.
A few of the viruses include: myxomatosis, calicivirus or rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, parvovirus, papillomavirus, vaccinia virus, and rotavirus.
Of these viruses, myxomatosis does cause some classic cold symptoms like a rabbit runny nose and watery eyes. However, some more serious issues soon arise like a swollen head, milky eye discharge, and lethargy.
Your rabbit may have some cold-like symptoms if they develop a rotavirus infection, but diarrhea is the main symptom of the illness.
Can Rabbits Catch Human Colds?
Can bunnies get colds from humans? As previously mentioned, rabbits cannot catch human colds. However, you should understand that there are some diseases that can be passed from humans to rabbits.
This is called reverse zoonosis and the issue develops when you become infected with a virus that is a “multiple species” variety.
While there is some risk, especially when it comes to influenza, there are very few studies on reverse zoonosis and how it can affect pets. There is an even smaller amount of research on rabbits contracting human illnesses.
This implies that the issue is not a serious one, but researchers have looked at the lack of data and understand that this is an area of veterinary science that has not been explored thoroughly enough.
We do know that bacterial infections can be spread easily from animal to animal, so this should be a much greater concern. For example, there are many cases of staph and MRSA infections being passed from humans to their pets.
So, while you may be hesitant to play with your bunny if you have a cold, you really should be more concerned about the spread of bacteria.
So, Can Rabbits Get a Cold at all?
You might be a little bit confused, since we have not really answered the question ‘can rabbits get colds?’
Well, even though you might notice your rabbit sneezing, they really do not get colds like humans do. Basically, there is no viral equivalent to the human rhinovirus in the rabbit world.
You may understand that dogs and cats develop colds, much like humans, but bunnies do not.
However, if you have heard of something called snuffles, then you may be very familiar with the type of infection that can cause cold-like symptoms in bunnies.
Snuffles is something that your rabbit may develop. The first clue you might get is hearing your bunny sneezing.
Snuffles In Rabbits
Snuffles is a very common disease that affects rabbits and it is sometimes referred to as a “bunny cold.” Unlike a cold that is caused by a virus, snuffles is caused by bacteria and results in an upper respiratory infection.
The term snuffles does not really describe a single disease, but it is used to describe the rabbit cold symptoms that present when any type of bacteria cause an upper respiratory infection.
Snuffles can develop due to a variety of different gram negative bacteria. Gram negative bacteria are the group of microorganisms that have cell walls constructed out of peptidoglycan.
This substance causes them to lose the purple gram staining that is used to examine bacteria. This is where the term gram negative comes from.
In many cases, Snuffles is caused by a bacteria strain called Pasteurella multocida and it results in an illness called pasteurellosis.
The bacteria has long been studied due to its prevalence and its ability to spread rapidly through domestic populations of rabbits.
While snuffles infections can be serious, this depends mainly on the health of your rabbit and the strain of bacteria that has caused the ailment. So, the bunny sneezing you hear might be fairly innocuous or it could be more serious.
Sometimes, the infection can be quite mild and pass on its own. However, it is always wise to seek out assistance from a veterinarian so that proper treatment can be supplied as soon as possible.
My Rabbit Has A Cold – What Should I Do?
The answer to ‘can bunnies get colds?’ is technically no, but there is something very similar they can catch: Snuffles.
If you think that your bunny may be ill will a snuffles infection, do not panic. Take some time to identify the symptoms first. The infection will present will some pretty classic cold and flu-like symptoms.
Since snuffles is an upper respiratory tract illness, you can expect to notice some respiratory distress. You may hear a snuffling or rasping sound coming from your rabbit as he breathes.
This noise is caused by the inflammation of the nasal passages and the buildup of mucus in the nose. Of course, this sort of buildup can make it difficult to breathe. You might notice your rabbit sneezing too.
You will typically see watery mucus coming from the nose at first. It will then turn thick, opaque, and green. Since your bunny uses his paws to clean himself, bacteria from the nasal passages can easily spread to the eyes and ears. A bunny runny nose might be cause for concern.
If this happens, you will see pink and inflamed eyes that may water. Ear infections can cause some balance issues and your rabbit may shake his head and itch the ears.
Snuffles Can Be Serious
You should understand that snuffles can progress into pneumonia. Serious blood infections and abscesses can form as well. So, make sure to make arrangements to see your vet as soon as possible when you see the first signs of the disease.
Since the infection starts in the lungs, you will notice the rasping noise and mucus buildup first. Your veterinarian will then likely complete an examination and swab the nose so it can be tested for gram negative bacteria.
Antibiotics For Snuffles in Rabbits
Since snuffles can spread and the infection is a bacterial one, antibiotics are typically used to treat the disease. Once again, this is up to your veterinarian based on the examination and test results.
While humans can usually take relatively short courses of antibiotics to treat infections, rabbits need much longer ones to treat conditions like snuffles. A typical oral antibiotic treatment will last about two to four weeks.
You may know that your rabbit’s digestive health relies heavily on the colonies of beneficial bacteria that live in the intestinal tract. Unfortunately, antibiotics kill these bacteria along with the harmful ones.
Speak to your vet about offering bacteria supplements to supply the needed microorganisms. Also, excess fluids may need to be supplied. You might also consider a specialty diet that is easy for your bunny to digest. It may be worth investing in for a short period of time.
In some cases, infections will not go away without more long term treatment. If you notice that your rabbit is still ill after several weeks of medication, it is time to make another appointment for your bunny.
As odd as it may seem, some bunny cold symptoms may have nothing to do with a cold, flu, or bacterial infection. In fact, the difficulties may be caused by the teeth.
Dental problems in rabbits are extremely common, especially since your fuzzy bunny is a lagomorph with teeth that grow continuously. You probably know this and look closely at the teeth during your weekly or monthly health inspections.
However, you may be looking for a malocclusion or “buck tooth” problem where the teeth start to curl and grow towards the back of the mouth. If the teeth appear short and healthy, then you certainly may not notice an issue.
Well, you definitely would not see a problem, since the one that can cause a rabbit runny nose and watery eyes occurs along the dental roots. The tooth roots sit just underneath the gums and within the jaw, much like your own teeth.
The dental roots can grow calcium deposits called molar spurs. Also, bacteria can travel beneath the gums and cause infections. If your bunny is older, then the jaw may be thinning out too. The tooth roots may push up into the sinus cavities when your rabbit eats. This can create some serious inflammation, and so can the spurs.
Dental problems are not only painful and irritating to your bunny, but they can lead to sinus infections.
So, the mucus, watery eye discharge, and sneezing may not be rabbit cold symptoms but sinus infection symptoms.
The infection and the dental issue will need to be treated by your veterinarian to maintain the health of your bunny.
You might be interested to know that scientists have been studying snuffles in rabbits at least as far back as 1924.
In a paper called ‘The Epidemiology of a Rabbit Respiratory Infection’, by Leslie T. Webster, Snuffles is examined rigorously.
Dr. Webster was an academic medical scientist who was an expert on finding drug treatments to parasitic diseases. Snuffles was a particularly interesting case study for him due to how quickly and spontaneously it could spread from rabbit to rabbit.
Although humans can’t contract snuffles, it made sense to study such a rapidly spreading infection. Unlocking its secrets could, for Dr. Webster, have been instrumental in advancing our knowledge of dangerous pathogens and infections.
You can read his study in the References section at the bottom of this page.
Although it might not be a silver bullet, vets suggest that proper ventilation may be the key to snuffles prevention.
This may be in the form of natural fresh air, or a man made ventilation system.
It’s important, in cases where several rabbits live together, to separate any rabbits with snuffles from the rest.
It may also be beneficial to provide fresh vegetables and hay to the affected bunny.
Can Bunnies Get Colds – A Conclusion
You know how miserable it is to be sick, and your bunny will feel the same way when he does not feel well.
Unfortunately, while you can wait out the cold or flu and allow the symptoms to pass on their own, a case of snuffles is not something that you should ignore. Neither is any other illness that is likely to cause cold-like symptoms.
If your rabbit seems as though he is in distress, then make sure to seek out veterinary care. The sooner the better, because you want your bunny to feel better and hop with happiness as soon as possible.
Has your rabbit ever contracted a virus or experienced a snuffles infection? Let us know in the comments below.
References and Further Reading
- Mäkitaipale J, Harcourt-Brown FM, Laitinen-Vapaavuori O. Health survey of 167 pet rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Finland. Vet Rec. 2015 Oct 24;177(16):418. doi: 10.1136/vr.103213. Epub 2015 Oct 16.
- Ali M. Messenger, Amber N. Barnes, and Gregory C. Gray. Reverse Zoonotic Disease Transmission (Zooanthroponosis): A Systematic Review of Seldom-Documented Human Biological Threats to Animals. Published online 2014 Feb 28. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089055
- Zoran Jaglic, Edita Jeklova, Henrik Christensen, Lenka Leva, Karen Register, Vladimir Kummer, Zdenka Kucerova, Martin Faldyna, Jarmila Maskova, and Katerina Nedbalcova. Host response in rabbits to infection with Pasteurella multocida serogroup F strains originating from fowl cholera. Can J Vet Res. 2011 Jul; 75(3): 200–208.
- Saunders NA and Lee MA. Gram-negative Bacteria. Real-Time PCR Aus J Med Sci
- Leslie T. Webster “The Epidemiology of a Rabbit Respiratory Infection I. Introduction” The Journal of Experimental Medicine, 1924
- Utah State University, ‘Understanding the Basics of Rabbit Care’. Agriculture, 2019