Last Updated: 11/10/08
Testing for Pasteurella
Prevention and Early Treatment
Feeing Baytril to Unwilling Rabbits
Note: I used to believe pasteurella to be spelled pasturella as it is in most literature I have read. I only changed the spelling when I read an article by a vet that spelled it pasteurella. I am not sure which is correct. You will see both spellings.
Pasteurella = snuffles = pasteurellosis
Pasteurella is the scourge of rabbit diseases. It has affected many of my rabbits horribly. Symptoms can range from sneezing, wet nose, yellow paws (from wiping nose), goopy eyes, diarrhea, abscesses (cheeks, lungs, breasts, uterus), mastitis, wry neck, and internal growths. Sometimes it seemingly pops out of nowhere as it can lie dormant for years. Some rabbits just carry it, some get a mild cold, some get years of problems (see Loppy) , and some just die (see Ellie). In about 80% of cases of pasteurella caught early, the infection can be halted. While it was long believed that most rabbits carry pasteurella, a recent study of house rabbits only showed 11% of them to have been exposed to pasteurella. My vet told me that most other studies show the opposite; most rabbits carry pasteurella.
The bacteria, Pasteurella multocida, can be found in almost all rabbits. My vet believes that most rabbits contract pasteurella from their mother while going through the birth canal. Contrary to what I had thought, my vet says that otherwise, pasteurella is not contagious. If the bacteria gets the upper hand when rabbits are stressed by injury, poor care, or giving birth, they can develop symptoms listed above. They may also pick up a more dangerous strain of the bacteria.
1. Snuffles and Pneumonia:
If the bacteria takes over the respiratory tract, sneezing, nasal discharge, yellow paws (from wiping the nose), and perhaps abscesses on the lungs result. In very rare cases, rabbits get pneumonia and die quickly.
If in the eyes, lots of eye discharge caking on their face results (conjunctivitis). Jimmy had conjunctivitis but the vet believes that it was caused by a bacterium other than pasteurella.
If in the ears, balance problems result. Torticollis or wry neck is where the rabbit keeps its head crooked since its balance is off. The rabbit may also walk in circles. This may be due to the torticollis (ear pasteurella) or partial paralysis.
If pasteurella enters a wound (from an injury or insect bite), then abscesses result. These are most common on the cheek or inside the mouth. Abscesses most often occur in the mouth if the rabbit has malocclusion (crooked teeth), and its teeth have grown long enough to injure the mouth, providing an area for infection to take hold. Loppy developed a pasteurella abscess that was surgically removed. In his case, it is believed he received an insect or spider bite on the cheek that became infected.
5. Mastitis, Metritus, and Orchitis:
If a doe with pasteurella gives birth, she may develop mastitis (abscesses on the breasts) or metritus (uterine infection) (intact does not breeding may develop it as well). Intact bucks may get orchitis (testicle infection).
Finally, some rabbits develop partial leg paralysis in the advanced stages even if earlier symptoms were not evident or noticed. I am not sure why paralysis occurs. It may be related to torticollis. My rabbit Izzy became fully disabled. We are not sure if pasteurella was at fault or perhaps a brain parasite or something else.
There are a few tests for pasteurella. One is using a swab from the rabbit's nose. Another is called ELISA which is a blood test. Both will show if the rabbit has ever been exposed to pasteurella. It will not show if the bacteria is currently alive and actively causing symptoms (it may in the nose swab test, I am not sure). Thus, these tests are somewhat inconclusive. Only a rabbit that has never been exposed to pasteurella will test negative. A sensitivity test can also be done using the nose swab to see which antibiotic(s) best annihilate the bacteria (see under treatment below).
If there are abscesses that can be removed, they should be removed. In all cases, antibiotics are needed to bring the infection under control. In my experience, Baytril is the best antibiotic against this bacteria. There are older and newer drugs but Baytril is proven safe. The other major group of drugs of choice for treatment are the sulfa drugs. Other drugs used include trimethoprim, dicural, Septra, Bactrim, chloromycetin, cephalothin (Kefin), gentamicin (Garasol), Kanamycin, Polymyxin B, aureomycin, terramycin, etc. Antibiotics can cause the pasteurella to go into dormancy (not spread) but rarely is the rabbit actually "cured." If treated early, it is not much of a threat. Repeat treatments may be necessary. Some rabbits must spend the remainder of their lives on antibiotics. Once it has spread into the blood or vital organs (as with my rabbits), then the rabbits will rarely survive more than a year. Half the rabbit people will say that pasteurella is nothing to worry about and half will say that all rabbits with it will die from it. The truth is somewhere in between. Each case is unique. Put your rabbit on antibiotics if symptoms occur (usually sneezing and/or nasal discharge in the early stages). Expect the unexpected (good and bad).
On 2/26/05, Laurie informed me about some information on treating head abscesses in rabbits. It
involves an injection of a mix of Penicillin G benzathine and Penicillin G procaine (otherwise
known as bicillin) instead of just Baytril or another bun-safe antibiotic. Her bun was treated with
this and two years later, the abscess has not returned. Here are some links going into details:
Bicillin Study, Non-surgical treatment of head abscesses in rabbits, and Culture and sensitivity testing.
To reduce the chances of your rabbit developing pasteurella, provide a nice, large, and clean home with good food, water, and hay. Treat any cuts, bug bites, or other injuries early to prevent infection. If you rabbit has malocclusion, be sure to have its teeth trimmed regularly with proper equipment. Should any of the symptoms above manifest themselves, be sure to take the rabbit to the vet. Express your concern that it may be pasteurella (but keep in mind that it may not be). If the vet concurs, be sure to put the rabbit on appropriate antibiotics (Baytril or sulfa drugs) right away. In the case of abscesses, if surgery is possible, have it done.
My vet believes that while most rabbits carry pasteurella, rabbits are often over treated for it when in fact the problem is something else. He worries that rabbits are taking too many antibiotics, and pasteurella and other bacteria can become resistant. Whenever I think my rabbits are having a pasteurella outbreak, he tells me that it is not the case most of the time.
A link to a few pages of information on pasteurella can be found here.
Pasteurella: What is it and should you fear it?
Pasteurella - includes some nasty photos
Your Rabbit Probably Has It: Pasteurella
Home Care of Rabbits with Pasteurellosis - Lisa's story about her rabbit Noodles and pasteurella care
Baytril (enrofloxacin) is a safe antibiotic for rabbits. I have used it to treat pasteurella as well as post-surgically to prevent infection with no problems. Unfortunately, around October, 1998, people began posting to the rabbit newsgroup that the manufacturer changed the flavor to liver. Rabbits will not touch the new Baytril on their own. The old Baytril, my rabbits all took as a treat. I would just set one on the floor, and they would pick it up and eat it. No force feeding, crumbling into food, etc. was necessary. Now, it is suggested that pills be pulverized and mixed with some mashed fruit in an attempt to force feed the medication. As an alternative, my vet now gives rabbits liquid forms of sulfa drugs.
The vet gave me some of the new Baytril pills for Jimmy on 4/10/00. I could not get Jimmy to eat any except for the first one (he did not know it would taste bad yet). After 10 minutes of jamming the pill into the back of his throat and watching him hum while he worked the pill back out, I gave up on that. I guess rabbits do not have the gag reflex to swallow a pill put back deep in their throat. I tried mixing the pill with all sorts of food with no luck. Jimmy would not eat mashed foods of any sort so I could not try that. I even pulled out Loppy's 3 year old Baytril that tasted yummy. Jimmy did not agree. Just to test, I put one of the old Baytril in front of Izzy, and she scarfed it right up. The best luck I had was embedding the new pill in honeydew melon or apple but Jimmy certainly did not get his full dose of Baytril. Sometimes, he would eat around the pill. Other times, he would just refuse to eat. If anyone has any ideas, please e-mail me. Jimmy finally did get some liquid enrofloxacin (Baytril) and got over his conjuntivitis but a few weeks later, he had bacterial enteritis. He finally recovered (see the section on Jimmy) since I started making him "magic food" which is a mash of Oxbow timothy-based pellets, crushed pills with papain (from papaya), bromelain (from pineapple), and acidophilous, magic anise seeds, and hot water. This made him get his hay without actually eating hay. Despite this adding about two years to his life, he eventually died from his digestive ailments on 11/24/02. For more on his magic food, see Jimmy's page.
One rabbit owner who must give her bun Baytril does this by folding it into a piece of wheat bread with banana yogurt. Most rabbits are said to like yogurt but my rabbits will not eat it. They do like bread so I will try this next time I have to give a pill.
An owner who feeds liquid Baytril puts the dosage in a syringe and fills the rest with 100% apple juice. Her bun "comes back looking for more!" Other owners have had success mixing liquid Baytril or Sulfa drugs with yogurt, pineapple juice, or other bun favorites. None of these worked with Jimmy but he was not normal!
Another bun owner used this trick to get her bun to eat pills: "What I then did was make a large ball of dough (butter and flour), store that in the fridge and take a bit out (about the size of a small marble) every time I had to give a pill. I mixed that together with the crushed pill, rolled it a bit in bread crumbs (or any other taste rabbits love such as chocolate paste) and put it back in the fridge to get hard. My rabbit loved them most of the time and when it did not, I gave it again some time later and it always worked some time or other. It is important that the 'marble' is hard." I do not know how good it is to feed a rabbit butter, flour, or chocolate (not very good) but if it is the only way to get a bun to take a pill, then it is worth a shot!
By 2005, my vet has the Baytril compounded into bubble gum flavored liquid. When I use that, at least half gets into the bun, the rest often drizzles down the mouth.
On 10/30/08, Cathy sent me the following:
"I've enjoyed your web site. I thought I would offer my solution for getting Baytril into my rabbits. My rabbits love banana so, just for the occasion, I mix the Baytril with a bit of banana. One must be careful not to give too much banana as the sugar content may cause digestive problems over time. The purple pills crush and mix well with banana, and the liquid is easy too. Thanks for your informative website. Cathy."
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