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Q: My bunny seems to have an unusually wet nose and has been sneezing quite often lately. Her paws are matted with discharge and mucus from wiping her nose. Does she have snuffles? What can I do?

A: Nasal discharge is often found in rabbits presented for sneezing. Nasal discharge is usually associated with an upper respiratory tract problem (rhinitis), but depending on the appearance of the discharge and any other associated clinical signs, other body systems may also be involved.

Nasal discharge can be clear and runny, mucoid (thick, sticky), yellowish or greenish pus (mucopurulent) or bloody. It can be one or both nostrils. Other associated signs may include sneezing, coughing, nose excoriation, lethargy, inappetance (not eating), facial swelling, tearing and/or other kinds of discharge, conjunctivitis, head tilt, unkempt coat, stained forearms and difficulty in breathing/ labored breathing.

In rabbits, nasal discharge is often commonly referred to as "Snuffles." It is often associated with a bacterial rhinitis called pasteurellosis caused by the Pasteurella multocida bacteria. There are also other bacteria agents that can result in a bacterial rhinitis such as Bordetella bronchiseptica, Staphylococcal spp and Pseudomonas spp with nasal discharge of varying consistency and colour.

Myxomatosis and Caliciviral rhinitis, both viral infections, usually result in more serious clinical signs apart from nasal discharge. The nasal discharge from such viral infections is often bloody in nature. Foreign material such as hair or food particles (grass, hay, seeds, etc.) can sometimes get stuck in the nasal cavities of rabbits, resulting in irritation and nose rubbing, repeated sneezing and nasal discharge ranging from clear to mucopurulent.

In such cases, nasal discharge is often seen from one rather than both nostrils. Severe dental disease with tooth root infections can lead to abscessation with subsequent bacterial invasion into the nasal cavity resulting in rhinitis.

You will need to bring your rabbit in to the vet for a thorough physical examination with or without X-ray depending on what the vet finds upon physical examination. Treatment for snuffles will depend on the underlying cause and the clinical status of your rabbit. The vet is most likely to prescribe some antibiotics to treat your rabbit's snuffles.

If your rabbit is inappetant, you will need to force feed her with a pre-formulated mixture called Critical Care or blended rabbit pellets. In serious cases, hospitalization with oxygen therapy may be required if the rabbit has breathing difficulties. Treatment duration can take a minimum of two weeks to resolve and in some cases, may be chronic.