What is Respiratory Bacterial Infection?
Respiratory bacterial infections in rabbits can affect both the upper and lower respiratory tracts. In acute cases, this disease can lead to dyspnea, cyanosis, and hypothermia. Due to the potential of severe respiratory compromise, it is vital that if you are concerned your pet may be suffering from respiratory illness you contact your veterinarian for treatment.
Respiratory bacterial infections in rabbits are a common condition caused by a variety of bacteria. The symptoms often include nasal and ocular discharge, sneezing, coughing and lethargy. Transmission of infection causing bacteria is commonly through direct contact with the nasal secretions of an infected rabbit or by sharing water and food bowls with an infected rabbit.
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Symptoms of Respiratory Bacterial Infection in Rabbits
The symptoms may vary depending on the causative antigen but may include:
- Anorexia or reduced appetite
- Dyspnea and tachypnea
- Discharge from the nose and eyes
- Sneezing and coughing
- Inner or middle ear infections
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 Respiratory Bacterial Infection in Rabbits
There are numerous bacteria that may cause respiratory infection in rabbits.The most commonly found are:
This is the most common cause of respiratory disease in rabbits. Although some rabbits are able to resist infection or recover spontaneously this can lead to respiratory infection, pneumonia or chronic disease. Other signs of the infection of pasteurella include sinusitis, pericarditis, inner and middle ear infections, mastitis and abscesses.
This is commonly found as a co-pathogen of pasteurella and can cause nasal discharge, sneezing and dyspnea in infected rabbits.
Risk factors for developing the respiratory disease are:
- Underlying diseases and immune-deficiency
- Age (bordetella is more likely to be symptomatic in young rabbits)
- Stress such as predators or social changes
- Overcrowding or unsanitary living conditions
- Inadequate diet
- Exposure to infected rabbits
Diagnosis of Respiratory Bacterial Infection in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will perform a full clinical examination of your pet and discuss their diet and history with you. Clinical history or symptoms that may indicate respiratory infection are ocular or nasal discharge, 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 of 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 infections secondary to the bacterial infection
- Radiographs of the thorax to visualise lung density if pneumonia is suspected
- Cytology and microbiology investigations can be performed using a nasal, tracheal or bronchial sample; these are beneficial due to their ability to confirm bacterial pneumonia and identify causative bacteria, allowing targeted systemic antibiotic treatment for your pet
Treatment of Respiratory Bacterial Infection in Rabbits
Treatment for your rabbit will vary depending on the cause of the disease. Your pet may require hospitalisation in severe cases.
Your pet will be admitted into the hospital and closely monitored in a quiet, warm environment. In severe cases, particularly in lower respiratory tract disease, oxygen therapy may be required for your pet on hospital admission. 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 rabbits with liver or renal diseases. As dehydration often occurs in this disease, fluid therapy can be used to support hydration in your pet and temperature regulation.
The cytology and microbiology results will allow your veterinarian to choose the most effective antibiotic therapy for your pet. In order to be successful, the required systemic antibiotic treatment needs to be aggressive and for 6 weeks or more. Ophthalmologic antibiotic products have been shown to be beneficial when instilled into the pet’s nostril. Nasolacrimal flushes and nebulization with saline solution have also shown to be beneficial in rabbits.
Recovery of Respiratory Bacterial Infection in Rabbits
The prognosis for your pet is dependent on the cause of the disease. Your rabbit will need veterinary monitoring and regular revisits following improvement. For some pets, chronic re-infection may occur. To reduce the chance of reoccurrence the following steps can be taken:
- Avoiding stressors
- Thoroughly disinfect the pet’s environment and continue with good husbandry
- Provide excellent nutrition to support your pet’s immune system
- Isolate affected rabbits during treatment and during the infectious period