What is Pneumonia?
This disease can cause severe respiratory compromise and distress. Rabbits often mask any symptoms of illness and may only start showing obvious symptoms once the disease has progressed to advanced stages; therefore, it is vital that if you are concerned your pet may be suffering from respiratory illness you contact your veterinarian.
Pneumonia in rabbits is caused by the inflammation of the lung parenchyma. The symptoms often include reduced appetite, sneezing or coughing, and lethargy. In severe cases cyanotic mucous membranes, coughing of blood or open mouthed breathing can be seen. This can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or allergens in the home environment.
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Symptoms of Pneumonia in Rabbits
The symptoms vary between cases, often depending on the severity, nature and length of affliction, the age and immune-competence of the rabbit.
- Anorexia or reduced appetite
- Dyspnea and tachypnea
- Discharge from the nose and eyes
- Sneezing and coughing
In advanced or acute cases, the following symptoms may be seen:
- Shock hypothermia
- Cyanotic (blue tinged) mucous membranes
- Coughing of blood
- Open mouth breathing with neck extension and dyspnea
Causes of Pneumonia in Rabbits
The cause of pneumonia in rabbits can be bacterial, viral or from non-infectious factors in the environment.
Non Infectious Pneumonia
- Smoke, aerosols and dust
- High ammonia levels from an unclean environment
- Pasteurella multocida
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Pleural effusion disease
- Myxoma virus
- Herpes virus
Diagnosis of Pneumonia in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will perform a full clinical examination on your pet and discuss his diet and history with you. Clinical history or symptoms that may indicate pneumonia to your veterinarian are change or reduction in appetite, recent stressors such as change in housing or social environments, anorexia, fever or dyspnea. Your veterinarian will auscultate your pet’s lungs which may indicate the disease. Your veterinarian may choose to do following diagnostic tests:
- Blood chemistry to provide a baseline on your pet’s health, particularly beneficial if anesthesia is indicated; in bacterial infections, these may also show sepsis or leukocytosis
- Urine tests to check for urinary tract health
- Thoracoscopy may be used to collect tissue biopsies or examine the thoracic cavity
- Radiographs of the thorax to visualise lung density
- Cytology and microbiology investigations may be performed using a nasal, tracheal or bronchial wash which are able to confirm bacterial pneumonia and identify causative bacteria for specific treatment
Treatment of Pneumonia in Rabbits
Treatment for your rabbit will vary depending on the cause of the disease.
Your pet will be admitted into the hospital and closely monitored in a quiet, warm environment. As anorexia can quickly lead to hepatic lipidosis or gastric stasis in rabbits, close nutritional support will be given and syringe feeding may be indicated.
Anti-inflammatories may be given as a form of pain relief, the hematology and chemistry will allow your veterinarian to assess the safety of these drugs as they are contraindicated in pet’s with liver or renal diseases. As dehydration often occurs in this disease fluid therapy can be used to support hydration in your pet.
The cytology and microbiology results will allow your veterinarian to choose the most effective antibiotic therapy for your pet. He may require systemic antibiotic treatment for 6 weeks or more. Ophthalmologic antibiotic products have been shown to be beneficial when instilled into the pet’s nostril.
In severe cases, oxygen therapy may be considered for your pet. If septicemia and toxemia have occurred intravenous fluid and antibiotic therapy may be indicated.
Abscessation may occur, in these case surgical removal may be necessary via a thoracotomy. Your pet will require a general anesthetic for this surgery, which has risks involved, your veterinarian will be able to discuss these risks with you.
Recovery of Pneumonia in Rabbits
The prognosis for your pet is dependent on the cause of the disease. Unfortunately, in most cases the prognosis is fair to guarded. Your pet will need careful veterinary monitoring and regular revisits following improvement. Recurrent pneumonia is common in pets who do recover. To reduce the chance of reoccurrence the following steps can be taken:
- Avoiding stressors
- Providing excellent nutrition
- Good husbandry and use of disinfectants
- Isolation of affected pets during treatment and the infectious period
- Careful control of environment temperature, ventilation and humidity