Is your rabbit sneezing? Does s/he have watery eyes? Does he seem fatigued? The causes of symptoms such as these are varied; it is critically important that a veterinarian specializing in rabbits assess the situation to determine if your rabbit has allergies or a respiratory infection. Knowing the difference can literally mean life or death for your rabbit. Pasteurellosis (‘snuffles’) is a very serious disease which has the same symptoms as allergies: sneezing, watery red eyes, and a runny nose. Never assume that your rabbit has allergies, take him to your rabbit-savvy veterinarian. If the nasal discharge is thick and anything other than clear (white, green, yellow) then your rabbit has an infection, which is serious and requires immediate medical attention and appropriate antibiotics.
If your veterinarian determines that your rabbit does in fact have allergies, this is not unusual: rabbits with allergies are fairly common. The symptoms of allergies may include:
- Recurrent sneezing
- Runny nose (clear discharge)
- Red, watery eyes
- Skin irritation
- Excessively rubbing his face with his paws
- Rubbing his face on the ground repeatedly
- Fur loss
- General fatigue
The causes of allergies in rabbits are as varied as the symptoms. Some rabbits are more sensitive to dust particles in the air than others, but your rabbit could be having an allergic reaction to something in its cage or in your house, and food allergies can cause some of the above symptoms as well.
Airborne allergens are ones that your rabbit inhales or else comes in contact with after the airborne allergens settle in his fur or in his cage. Common airborne allergens include:
- Dust, including hay and pellet dust
- Cigarette smoke
- Cleaning products
- Fabric softener
- Carpet cleaning products
- Carpet and room fresheners
- Scented candles, perfume, potpourri and other strong scents
- Carbon dioxide fumes from the fireplace; make sure your house is well-ventilated
- Fumes from overheated Teflon pans
- Certain bedding products including pine and cedar shavings
- Certain litter, particularly clay litters
- Mites and fleas
Contact toxins such as lawn chemicals get into your pet via their paws and skin; toxic lawn chemicals are easily tracked into the house by pets and humans
After consulting with your veterinarian, if allergies are suspected, you will need to modify the bunny’s environment, rid your home of toxins, and build up your pet’s immune system (the same measures suggested for people suffering from allergies).
Ridding your home of the cause of the allergies is the only way to provide your rabbit with some relief and ensure that your bunny’s allergies don’t turn into something more serious, such as bronchitis.
Things to take into consideration include:
Cleaning products: what kind of cleaning supplies are you using in your home? Why not switch to chemical-free products? A mixture of half vinegar and half water will clean most anything.
The environment: did you recently paint or bring new furniture into your home? Did you have new flooring installed? Do you have carpeting? Carpeting collects airborne contaminants; then too, if the carpet pad is old enough, it will start to break down and form a great deal of dust. It might be a good idea to get rid of the carpet if that option is available. An ozone air cleaner might be an extremely helpful item for your house.
Where is bunny’s cage located? Is there an air vent blowing air (and dust) right into bunny’s living quarters? Try moving your bunny’s cage to a different room; if she improves, then there is obviously an allergen in the previous room that she is reacting to.
Did you bring any new food or toy items into your rabbit’s cage? Remove any new items and see if the sneezing is alleviated.
Did you bring in a new batch of hay? Hay dust can certainly make bunnies sneeze. Higher quality hays (Oxbow, BingALing Bunny, Pet Diner, etc) tend to be fresher and therefore less dusty. Try shaking the dust off of the hay (not around the bunny!) before putting it into your bunny’s enclosure.
How dusty are your bunny’s food pellets? Bunny food pellets can be extremely dusty, particularly in the fifty pound bags. Oxbow manufactures high-quality food pellets for bunnies but their equipment is only designed to sieve out the dust from the smaller bags, not the fifty pound bags. You might be surprised at the amount of pellet dust that can be sieved out of the large bags of pellets! It is far more economical to buy the larger bags, however, so pour the pellets into a mesh strainer or piece of window screen and shake out the dust before offering the pellets to your bunny.
Speaking of dust, what are you using in the litter box? Clay cat litter is full of dust and the clumping kind must never be used as it is dangerous and possibly fatal if ingested. Avoid cedar and pine shavings or chips as they can cause severe allergic reactions in your rabbit.
Wood pellets are economical and not terribly dusty; make sure you are not getting the kind with a chemical propellant added. Yesterday’s News cat litter is a good option, as it is absorbent and non-allergenic. It is not inexpensive but you can always try it, and if your rabbit still sneezes you could go back to the wood pellets.
It is spring, and if your rabbit’s cage enclosure is right under a window, s/he could be reacting to allergens just as people do. Moving your rabbit away from the window or door may help.
You may also wish to consider homeopathic remedies. Newton’s has a line of homeopathic preparations that have proven quite helpful to this author’s sneezing rabbits. Newton’s products are combination remedies, so that it is easy to select a product created to alleviate the symptoms of whatever ails your pet (or you, for that matter). Newton’s allergy remedy is save to use on your bunny: three drops can be placed upon your bunny’s salad or rubbed into the skin on the inside of your rabbit’s ear.
If the allergy remedy doesn’t quite do the trick, you may wish to consider adding Newton’s inflammation remedy. This author’s bunnies sneezed 50% less after one week on the allergy remedy; adding the inflammation remedy decreased the sneezing another 30% or so.
If you have tried all of these things and your rabbit seems to have gained no significant relief, talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of administering a low-dose antihistamine.
Allergies are annoying for your rabbit and can be quite worrying to observe, but they are not causing permanent damage. Once your rabbit-savvy veterinarian has confirmed that allergies are the problem, adjust your bunny’s environment as best you can, monitor the situation and consult your veterinarian as needed.
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