by Marie Mead
with Susan Brown, DVM,
Hillary Cook, DVM, CVA, and
Jörg Mayer, DVM, MS, DABVP (ECM), DECZM (Small Mammal), DACZM
Readers who are unfamiliar with diseases caused by the bacteria Pasteurella may initially worry about their rabbit as they read this article. I want to assure readers immediately that I have rescued rabbits infected with Pasteurella, and they were lively little beings. They hopped around the house, ate and drank as normal, and were just as inquisitive as the others! Rabbits infected with Pasteurella can – and do – live safely and happily to old age.
This article is to inform you about what can happen to a rabbit, not what necessarily will happen. Understanding Pasteurella can help caregivers take positive action.
PASTEURELLA MULTOCIDA (P. MULTOCIDA)
Pasteurella refers to a genus of various species of bacteria, some of which may be part of your rabbit’s normal upper respiratory flora. Concerns arise with Pasteurella multocida (P. multocida) because it can cause a variety of diseases (referred to generally as pasteurellosis). However, not all strains of P. multocida have serious consequences, and many of the rabbits exhibiting signs of it live to old age. This bacteria is not specific to rabbits but affects other animals as well, including dogs, cats, poultry, and domestic livestock.
While infection with Pasteurella can have far-reaching health effects, many rabbits have strong immune systems that fight and destroy the bacteria or at least keep it under control so it does not cause disease. Therefore, a rabbit may not exhibit any signs of the bacteria’s presence. “In rabbits, P. multocida can reside in the nasal cavity without causing disease,” according to Dr. Frances Harcourt-Brown in the first edition of Textbook of Rabbit Medicine (Butterworth Heinemann, 2002).
Dr. Jörg Mayer is board certified in Europe and North America as an Exotic Companion Mammal specialist and is Associate Professor of Zoological and Exotic Animal Medicine at the University of Georgia. He confirms the continued relevance of Dr. Harcourt-Brown’s statement and adds:
Pasteurella, as a common pathogen in rabbits, is not cause for concern unless a rabbit begins to exhibit signs of disease. Several studies have shown that if a group of rabbits is tested, approximately 20 to 60 percent will test positive for Pasteurella but will not show any sign of disease. This fact emphasizes the importance of maintaining a good environment for rabbits.
It is in the best interest of the caretaker to assure optimum health and, consequently, the best immune defense for their companion rabbit. Basically, this means maintaining a happy, healthy, low-stress environment. The caretaker should familiarize him/herself with the natural history of rabbits. Knowing species-specific behavior and physiology is key in providing an environment in which your pet rabbit can thrive. For example, guinea pigs and rabbits are often housed together, but species-specific information shows why this might be problematic. While guinea pigs prefer to be active during the daytime hours, rabbits prefer to be most active at dawn and dusk (i.e., crepuscular activity pattern). Though they may graze hay periodically during daylight hours, rabbits’ wellbeing depends on their freedom to rest comfortably, alone if they want. The presence of a guinea pig can be a disturbance to the rabbit, even more so if they are not used to each other.
When rabbits are content and unstressed, they maintain a stronger immune system and can more easily resist disease.
A healthy environment also includes appropriate diet and clean living conditions. In an article titled “Application of Laboratory Animal Immunoassays in Exotic Pet Practice” (Exotic DVM, Vol. 8, Issue 4), Dr. Thomas Donnelly writes, “Housing, particularly air quality, is important; chemical injury to the respiratory mucosa through exposure to ammonia increases susceptibility of rabbits to P. multocida infection.” Other respiratory irritants include cigarette smoke, dust, mold (including in bedding, hay), perfumes, bleach, and cleaning solutions.
The direct relationship of stress to disease emphasizes the importance of determining what stresses a particular rabbit. Like humans, each is unique, and what may stress one may not as seriously affect another. However, stress comes in many forms – environmental, physical, emotional – and it can have a deleterious impact on the immune system. Additionally, Dr. Mayer advises:
There is evidence that certain breeds may be more susceptible to immune suppression caused by P. multocida. One strain of the bacteria seems to affect Flemish giants more than some other breeds. The impact on the immune system underscores the significant role that caretakers have in maintaining their rabbits’ health.
Although infection with Pasteurella can affect a rabbit in various ways and cause abscesses in nearly every organ, it is best known in association with upper respiratory disease. However, it is important to note that the signs of pasteurellosis can look similar to other diseases caused by other organisms or conditions. For example, a nasal discharge could result from an infection with other bacteria (such as Bordetella bronchiseptica) or it could be the result of an abnormal tooth root. This emphasizes the importance of obtaining a diagnosis from a rabbit-knowledgeable veterinarian.
Pasteurellosis as a contagious disease is more often associated with breeding and industry-related colonies of rabbits than it is with our companion rabbits. However, an outbreak of disease can occur in a few rabbits or many, at home or in a shelter or other location. Dr. Mayer advises:
In case of a sudden Pasteurella outbreak, immediate medical attention is required for containment of the disease. The investigation of the case should include factors that could have contributed to the problem and any aspects that could be causing stress and immune suppression in the affected rabbits. This might include exposure to other pets, a change in diet, recent changes in the household (such as a new child or pet), remodeling, or travel. The timing of such factors is relevant to the investigation.
The more information about your rabbit – diet, home life, changes in care or routine – that you provide to your veterinarian, the better it is for case management. Also keep in mind that nursing a sick rabbit back to health can be a lengthy process. Please make sure you follow your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding the proper use of antibiotics or other drugs, even if your rabbit appears to be doing well. Ending a treatment too soon can create additional problems later on.
It is recommended that your veterinarian be allowed to prescribe the treatment for nursing your rabbit back to health. Additionally, there are ways to assist your rabbit in maintaining health, many of which are mentioned in this article (reference the section titled “Prevention and Home Care”).
HEALTH CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH PASTEURELLA
Although it is important to remember that infection with Pasteurella is common to many healthy rabbits and not necessarily cause for concern, the following list provides an overview of diseases potentially caused by the bacteria.
Upper respiratory infections (URI). Dr. Susan Brown, who has been an exotic animal veterinarian for 40 years, with a special interest in rabbits, offers this:
The upper respiratory tract is comprised of the nasal cavity, sinuses, mouth, pharynx, and larynx. The most common diseases associated with Pasteurella infections are inflammation of the nasal cavity (rhinitis) and inflammation of the sinus cavities (sinusitis). This is also known by the slang term of “snuffles.” Sneezing, milky-colored discharge from the nostrils that can range from a thin to thick consistency with small “chunks” of white material present, and noisy breathing with the mouth closed are some of the signs of this disease. Ancillary infections may affect the eyes (conjunctivitis) and tear ducts (dacryocystitis).
Often in milder disease the only signs are occasional sneezing and hair stuck together on the inside of the front paws due to grooming of the sticky discharge from the nose. This is a good place to look when checking a rabbit’s general health or if you suspect an upper respiratory disease. The normal clear discharge from a rabbit’s nose, which is due to such things as environmental irritation or when the environment is too hot or humid, will not cause the hairs to stick together when a rabbit cleans the nose.
Dr. Mayer discusses various ways the bacteria can spread in a compromised rabbit:
If there is an episode of immunosuppression or an infestation with a pathogenic strain of Pasteurella in the upper respiratory tract, the bacteria can spread to other organs by various routes. The blood can transport the bacteria to any organ, causing a wide variety of problems. More specifically, the Eustachian tube can serve as a connection to the middle and inner ear, and from there entry into the brain is a possibility. The trachea can allow access to the lower respiratory tract, where bacteria could cause abscesses in the lungs. Through the nasolacrimal duct, the bacteria can affect the eye and the conjunctiva.
It is appropriate to again note that there are other causes of respiratory illness. For example, Staphylococcus, identified by a culture and sensitivity test, can also result in URI. Dr. Mayer adds this pertinent information:
Sometimes these conditions are caused by a co-infection of other bacteria besides Pasteurella. For example, Bordetella bronchiseptica is also a common inhabitant of the upper respiratory tract in rabbits and, while the role played by B. bronchiseptica in respiratory infection in the rabbit has not been resolved, it has been implicated in certain lesions formed in the lower respiratory tract. The two bacteria can live normally in the upper respiratory tract, but they can also cause serious conditions where an overgrowth of one can facilitate the establishment of the other in the lower respiratory tract.
The presence of B. bronchiseptica in the normal upper respiratory tract of rabbits is another reason why it is recommended that rabbits and guinea pigs not be housed together. Guinea pigs are very susceptible to this bacteria, and fatal infections in the guinea pig can occur.
Lower respiratory infection, including pneumonia. Dr. Brown discusses this serious condition:
The lower respiratory tract is comprised of the trachea, bronchi, and lungs. Disease in this area is very serious and is cause for immediate veterinary care. Signs of the disease may include fatigue, lethargy, or reluctance to move around due to insufficient oxygen intake. Other signs are coughing, increased effort in breathing, depression, anorexia, and weight loss.
With lower respiratory disease, especially when the lungs are involved, the rabbit will have difficulty breathing, particularly on inhalation. In severe cases, the rabbit will sit with the head elevated and the neck stretched and breathe through an open mouth. A healthy rabbit only breathes through the nose, so if the mouth is open when breathing, it is a dire emergency.
Inflammation of the ear. Pasteurella can spread from the nasal passages to the middle ear via the Eustachian tubes, causing otitis media – often signaled by the rabbit scratching the base of the ear. Even if the infection is eliminated from the nostrils, the ears may remain infected. Pus may form in the deep recesses of the ear and can result in vestibular disease, evidenced by neurological signs such as rolling, nystagmus (rapid, involuntary movements of the eyeball), or tilting of the head. Another serious result of middle ear infection can be the loss of muscular coordination (ataxia).
Dr. Brown also notes that there are other bacteria and some parasites that can invade the vestibular area of the brain or the ear, also causing a head tilt, so diagnostics may be necessary in some cases to differentiate those causes.
Abscesses. An abscess, which is a collection of cellular debris (pus) surrounded by an inflamed area, can form anywhere on or in the body. It can be difficult to treat, as Dr. Mayer explains:
In rabbits, the pus in an abscess is usually very thick. This is due to a lack of enzymes that serve to break down the pus, allowing the body to reabsorb the debris. This is a normal process for other mammals (including humans) but not for the rabbit. As a defense mechanism, the rabbit’s body will produce a thick fibrinous capsule around the abscess, which needs to be surgically removed, not simply drained.
Dr. Brown adds this:
Though a small abscess may respond well to draining and cleaning, coupled with the use of local antibiotics or other products that kill the bacteria, for best results surgical removal of an abscess is preferred whenever possible.
Aerobic bacteria, such as Pasteurella and Staphylococcus, causes abscesses, but so do anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that do not require oxygen to survive). Facial abscesses, frequently associated with dental disease, are often associated with anaerobic bacteria or mixed bacterial infections.
An experienced veterinarian will make a recommendation for course of treatment based on the rabbit’s age, weight, and health, the location of the abscess, and the underlying cause of the infection. In addition to other diagnostic procedures, a culture and sensitivity test may be recommended. (Reference the section titled “Diagnostic Tests: Culture and Sensitivity and PCR [Polymerase Chain Reaction]” for additional information.)
Regardless of the treatment, careful follow-through on the veterinarian’s instructions will be important. In some cases, home care can be lengthy and intensive, and a low-stress environment will be a vital aspect of the daily regimen.
Bacteria in the blood (bacteremia). Once Pasteurella is established in the area, the infection can spread to surrounding tissues and through the blood to other parts of the body, resulting in a generalized disease condition as well as abscesses in other organs of the body. The rabbit may develop fever and die suddenly. Bacteremia is most often associated with the more virulent strains of Pasteurella.
Bones. Infection with Pasteurella can result in infection of the bone (osteomyelitis). For example, rabbits with severe rhinitis can have destruction of the small bones (turbinates) within the nasal cavity. Dr. Mayer advises that once these fine boney structures are damaged or destroyed, air flow within the upper respiratory tract will be affected, making the rabbit more susceptible to future infections.
Genital infections. Both male and female rabbits can develop infection, of the testes (orchitis) and uterus (pyometra).
Unilateral facial paralysis. If the infection affects the facial nerve on one side, the resulting muscle weakness may give the rabbit a rather distorted, slipped-on-one-side look. Dr. Mayer explains, “In the initial state, the paralyzed side of the face is droopy. In chronic conditions, as the muscles of the paralyzed side contract, the appearance will change to the contracted state.” The condition seems more cosmetic than serious.
Wounds. Because Pasteurella is often present in the nasal cavity, licking and grooming can spread the bacteria to a wound, resulting in an abscess or sometimes in cellulitis (inflammation of subcutaneous or connective tissue). Dr. Mayer adds this:
Cellulitis is a very painful condition, and manipulation of the affected area should be done only under general anesthesia or with deep sedation and local anesthesia. Very often the strains of Pasteurella are already resistant to a wide variety of antibiotics, which is why it is extremely important to know the sensitivity of the culture.
A rabbit-knowledgeable veterinarian will perform diagnostics to determine the cause of illness. A faulty assumption that Pasteurella is the cause of a disease could result in inappropriate treatment since something other than Pasteurella could be causing the illness. Bacterial resistance to particular antibiotics is also a consideration to be addressed.
As previously noted, the caregiver can assist the veterinarian by providing information pertaining to all aspects of the rabbit’s life. In the event a new veterinarian treats the rabbit, providing a copy of previous records is also recommended.
In addition to information reported by the caregiver, the veterinarian will take the rabbit’s temperature, determine any weight loss, and note the texture and color of the mucous membranes and of any discharge, including from the ears. Listening to the heart and lungs will determine whether abnormal respiratory sounds are heard during inhalation or exhalation.
A definitive determination for pasteurellosis cannot be made solely on the presenting signs of disease. The veterinarian may recommend bacterial culture and bloodwork (CBC, chemistry, bacterial/viral disease screening), which can indicate problems such as liver or kidney disease, metabolic problems, infection or inflammation, anemia, or electrolyte imbalance. Radiography (X-rays), ultrasound, CT scans, or MRIs may also be recommended.
DIAGNOSTIC TESTS: CULTURE AND SENSITIVITY AND PCR (POLYMERASE CHAIN REACTION)
Culture and Sensitivity Test
A culture and sensitivity test can help a veterinarian determine if the infectious agent is Pasteurella. The test requires a sample of discharge or tissue from the infected area, in which living organisms must be present. If Pasteurella or another organism exists in the sample, it will grow in the culture and, in some cases, more than one kind of organism may grow and be identified. The sensitivity test is then conducted to determine which antibiotic will work best against the infectious agent.
Dr. Brown advises:
Culture and sensitivity is done anywhere the veterinarian can access an infected area. A sample may be obtained from the ear or by flushing material from the nasolacrimal duct. Sinuses and nasal cavities are not sterile but instead are a “garbage can” of bacteria; therefore, the validity of those particular samples is controversial.
For an abscess, the sample for the culture and sensitivity test should be taken from the wall of the abscess after the majority of the pus is removed. The pus itself should not be used for the sample because it is made up primarily of dead material.
In addition to potential problems with samples taken from the sinus and nasal cavities, there can be other difficulties with the culture and sensitivity test. It is often difficult to obtain a good sample, or the result may be a false negative. In addition, Pasteurella does not survive well outside the host and may die in transport or not grow in the lab. If the culture is positive for Pasteurella, it may not be possible to determine the strain.
However, a successful culture and sensitivity test guides the veterinarian in the choice of antibiotic that will best treat the infection. Dr. Mayer explains:
A culture is the gold standard to demonstrate the presence of a specific bacteria. When it’s possible to obtain a good bacteria sample, it can take up to a week for the lab to grow it for testing. After the colonies are successfully cultured, the sensitivity can be conducted. Usually eight to twelve common antibiotics are tested on the cultured strain to see which ones are effective. If an antibiotic is effective, the corresponding colony will visibly die and the response is reported by the lab. By this method, we know which antibiotics kill, inhibit the growth, or do nothing.
Five serotypes (strains) of Pasteurella have been described to date, with two of them most commonly involved in pathological conditions in rabbits. The serotype, identified during a culture and sensitivity test, is tested to determine the most effective antibiotic.
PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Test
In the event that the culture and sensitivity test is not a viable option, PCR might be successful in providing the name of the bacteria or other organism. Basically, PCR is a technique that takes a few strands of nucleic acid, generally DNA (sometimes RNA), and multiplies them until there are enough for the analysis.
Dr. Mayer advises:
The key element for PCR is the genetic material. Remember that every organism – including humans, rabbits, bacteria, parasites, fungi – contains genetic material (e.g., DNA) that is specific to the whole of a species as well as to each particular member of a species. Thus, Pasteurella can be identified and so also can each of its serotypes.
Only small amounts of DNA are needed for PCR, and the DNA can be collected from samples that either contain only a few live (including slow-growing) bacteria or that do not harbor any living organisms. Through the PCR procedure, the DNA strands quickly replicate. The PCR test can then detect whether Pasteurella, some other organism, or a combination thereof is causing the infection and the level of that infection. The drawback to the PCR test, however, is that it does not indicate sensitivity to antibiotic.
The PCR can also be used as a screening tool to see if a rabbit harbors the bacteria but is not clinically affected. Because many rabbits who harbor Pasteurella in their upper respiratory tracts are actually healthy, a positive PCR result should not be reason for panic if there are no signs of disease.
Despite the apparent drawbacks to the tests, a veterinarian experienced in treating rabbits will provide the best advice for your particular rabbit.
Antibiotics are necessary for the treatment of infection with Pasteurella. This is the main reason to have a sensitivity test performed – the results will determine which antibiotic is appropriate to prescribe. Antibiotics that are effective against the bacteria include enrofloxacin, trimethoprim sulfa, chloramphenicol, penicillin G, and azithromycin. In the future, additional antibiotics may prove useful.
Dr. Mayer advises on the preferred protocol:
The bacteria sample is obtained prior to the administration of any antibiotic. If the rabbit is very ill, the antibiotic is then started. The sensitivity test will tell us if the choice of antibiotic was appropriate or whether a different antibiotic will be fully effective against the bacteria.
If a rabbit is put on an antibiotic prior to obtaining a bacterial sample, the effect would hinder the testing protocol and very likely invalidate the results.
In some cases, the antibiotic will rapidly clear the infection. In other cases, especially if the infection is chronic or in tissue that is hard for the antibiotic to reach, such as a walled-off abscess, antibiotics may be required for long-term use. A probiotic may also be prescribed; however, the efficacy of presently available probiotics is unknown. Dr. Mayer adds:
The normal gut flora of rabbits does not contain lactobacillus, which is usually the active ingredient of probiotics. Yogurt is not appropriate for rabbits because the carbohydrate level is too high, which can disrupt normal gut function and cause serious problems.
Additional treatments may include anti-inflammatory drugs, careful flushing of the nasolacrimal duct, nebulization therapy, ear and eye drops, administration of fluids, or surgery. Some complementary treatments may also be helpful. Dr. Hillary Cook, who has a special interest in exotic animal medicine, is certified in veterinary acupuncture and is a candidate for certification in Chinese Herbal Therapy. She shares the following:
I sometimes give iron shots because rabbits can become anemic from chronic disease. Because Pasteurella is an immune-based disease, I frequently prescribe immune-boosting medications and/or supplements to enhance recovery or remission along with conventional antibiotics or pain medication.
The most common herbal tinctures I prescribe for immune boosting are plantain and echinacea. Supplements include the fatty-acid supplement red palm fruit oil, vitamins made for rabbits, and DMG (N, N dimethylglycine). If the disease has affected organs, I frequently prescribe the Chinese herb rehmannia for kidney involvement or milk thistle for liver involvement.
Acupuncture is useful in aiding the recovery from disease, along with a Chinese herbal formula that is keyed to the Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine diagnosis. Excellent diet and a clean environment are always part of the formula for treatment.
Corticosteroids are contraindicated for pasteurellosis. As of this writing, there is no vaccine available for prevention of the disease in rabbits.
Your veterinarian will prescribe a home-care treatment plan. If your rabbit has chronic runny eye, regular use of warm damp compresses will help keep the skin from becoming inflamed. If the rabbit is not eating or drinking as usual, interventions such as syringe-feeding and subcutaneous fluids may be necessary.
As adjuncts to the healthcare regimen, your veterinarian may discuss the importance of appropriate diet, stress-free environment, and physical and mental stimulation. Also note and discuss with your veterinarian any new signs, changes in behavior, or lumps on the rabbit’s body.
TRANSMISSION TO OTHER RABBITS
Transmission of Pasteurella from an infected rabbit is often through direct contact with nasal secretions, including transmission through the air when the infected rabbit sneezes. The spread can also occur by rabbits licking open wounds or sharing water and food bowls, litter boxes, and toys, or by caregivers carrying the bacteria on their skin or clothing. The disease can be shared during mating (genital infections), and a mother rabbit can pass infection to her kits.
Additionally, Dr. Mayer points out:
It appears that some breeds are more susceptible than others to the same Pasteurella serotype. Therefore, when a disease is attributed to the bacteria, it is wise to avoid any mingling of new rabbits – those just adopted or rescued, for example. This is prudent in all cases and especially when the rabbits are from different sources.
Each rabbit is unique, and it is impossible to predict how a rabbit’s health will be affected by the presence of Pasteurella. When there is more than one group of bonded rabbits in a home, keeping the groups separate from one another may be recommended, especially if one group is predisposed to pasteurellosis. It has been shown that a separation of as little as four feet can slow transmission. If possible, separate the groups of bonded rabbits into different areas of the house. However, separating bonded rabbits from one another – whether bonded as a pair or in a group – is not advised.
Remember that caregivers can spread the bacteria from one group to another. Reference the section below titled “Prevention and Home Care” for information about practical ways to protect against this.
CONCERN FOR FAMILY MEMBERS
Caregivers naturally want to know if a disease – especially one as infectious as pasteurellosis – can be transmitted to other members of the family. Dr. Cook offers these thoughts:
The general practice of cleanliness and sanitation should prevent transmission to members of the family. Whenever any animal is carrying disease, use common sense and caution in interaction with humans with lowered immune systems, such as very young, geriatric, or immunocompromised individuals.
PREVENTION AND HOME CARE
Considering the serious health conditions that can result from Pasteurella, it is a relief that most rabbits that carry the bacteria in their bodies do not become ill. It is important to put Pasteurella and all serious diseases into perspective. Yes, your rabbit can become very ill from the bacteria. However, it’s more likely that a rabbit will suffer ill health because of poor diet and other stressors. Optimizing a rabbit’s health will enable his or her body to fight pathogens such as Pasteurella as well as recover more rapidly from illness or injury.
Prevention begins with providing appropriate basic care, including proper diet, clean living spaces, and plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and companionship. Keeping your rabbit happy and healthy translates into reduced stress and a stronger immune system. Here are some methods to support your rabbit’s health:
- Treat rabbits as integral members of the family – give them attention, love, and freedom while ensuring their safety and wellbeing.
- Keep bonded rabbits together; they comfort and support one another in myriad ways.
- Provide mental stimulation and companionship on a daily basis. When possible, capitalize on their natural instinct to be most active at dawn and dusk.
- Ensure that a rabbit’s space is roomy and also that it is protected and respected by all members of the family, including other companion animals. Also ensure peaceful resting times.
- Locate your rabbit’s living space in an area free of drafts, loud noises, and chemicals and perfumes.
- Feed an appropriate diet, including unlimited amounts of quality grass hay and a measured amount of grass-hay-based pellets and leafy green vegetables.
Dr. Mayer explains the importance of diet:
Fiber, primarily from grass hay, is required for proper functioning of a rabbit’s gastrointestinal system, including proper wear of teeth. Inappropriate foods interfere with the normal working of a rabbit’s system. This stress to a rabbit’s body can lead to immune suppression, which sets the stage for disease. Foods rich in carbohydrates, such as yogurt, fruits, starchy vegetables, and grains (e.g., crackers, cereals) are inappropriate for rabbits. So are nuts and seeds.
- Provide fresh water daily.
- Maintain a regular routine for your rabbits (e.g., feeding and play times).
- Wash litter boxes on a regular basis to reduce ammonia fumes, which can increase a rabbit’s susceptibility to Pasteurella infection. (Having at least one extra box allows for a quick and easy swap.)
- Wash water and food containers on a daily basis.
- Use cleaning products safe for rabbits (e.g., vinegar and water solution or an accelerated hydrogen peroxide cleaner).
- Clean the rabbit play spaces and discard used cardboard boxes and tubes and other such items.
- Wash your hands frequently during the day with soap and water to help prevent the spread of bacteria. Do not rely on antibacterial soaps. Over time, they may become ineffective or may cause resistant strains of bacteria to develop. It may also be necessary to change clothing.
- Open windows when possible to allow air exchange and to help rid the atmosphere of indoor pollutants and dust from hay. Consider using an air purifier.
- Maintain a cool room temperature to prevent heat stress or exhaustion.
- Have enough syringes on hand so that they do not have to be shared between rabbits.
- Perform regular rabbit check-ups, noting weight change, lumps or bumps, signs of infection, and behavior changes. Take your rabbit to the veterinarian when you suspect a health problem.
- Have your veterinarian demonstrate some simple procedures to help you monitor and care for your rabbit, as appropriate.
- When bringing a new rabbit home, keep him or her isolated from the other rabbits until an experienced rabbit veterinarian can perform an exam.
Caregivers should not lose heart if a rabbit is diagnosed with pasteurellosis. A rabbit with the condition can live happily to old age. The best way to support your rabbit’s health is to provide quality care in all aspects of his or her life. That, in turn, will help support your rabbit’s immune system, the first line of defense against disease.
As previously stated in this article, Pasteurella is common in rabbits, and rabbits with the bacteria can live normal, active lives, exhibiting the joie de vivre so characteristic of them. Here’s a story of a compromised rabbit whose zest for life was inspirational to those who knew him.
Because I have generally taken in only unadoptable rabbits, some have been quite old and most arrived with health issues. Prince Edouard was such a rabbit. When he arrived, his old body was emaciated, and he was extremely ill with Pasteurella infection and abscesses. He had been caged for so many years that he didn’t even react when the door to his condo was left open. I finally had to remove him from the abode – and after that, he reveled in freedom! Frail though he was, Prince Edouard would head down the hall; when he tired, he’d sleep wherever he landed. When he had to use the litter box, he would make his way back to the condo and use the box, sometimes settling into the soft hay. Other times he would hop back out and do his ungainly shuffle down the hall again. I was privileged to know and care for this very special French lop. This article is written as a tribute to him.
© Copyright 2016 by Marie Mead. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to Drs. Susan Brown, Hillary Cook, and Jörg Mayer for sharing their expertise and additionally to Drs. Brown and Mayer for their overall review of the article. Warm thanks also to Sandi Ackerman, Heidi Anderson, Linda Cook, Margo DeMello, Gary McConville, and Karen Witzke for their suggestions. – Marie Mead
Marie Mead has been involved in various capacities with animal rescue, advocacy, and education for over twenty years. She has made a home with special-needs rabbits and other animals, all of them rescues. Author (with collaborator Nancy LaRoche) of Rabbits: Gentle Hearts, Valiant Spirits – Inspirational Stories of Rescue, Triumph, and Joy, Marie has also written rabbit-related stories and articles for other publications and for the House Rabbit Society. Additional writings have covered topics such as aging and the environment.
Susan Brown, DVM, is the founder and former owner of Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital (originally in Westchester, Illinois) and the current owner of Rosehaven Exotic Animal Veterinary Services and The Behavior Connection (Batavia, Illinois). She is coauthor of Self-Assessment Color Review of Small Mammals and author of numerous lay and professional writings on rabbit medicine and care; she has also lectured extensively in the United States and Europe. She is involved in exotic animal care at rescue organizations and shelters. Utilizing the principles of behavior and training, she is teaching ways for people to live in harmony with their companion animals.
Hillary Cook, DVM, CVA, owner of Crozet Animal Wellness Center in Virginia, graduated from Virginia-Maryland Regional Veterinary College in 1999 and has been practicing integrative medicine since that time. She is certified in Veterinary Acupuncture and is currently a candidate for certification in Chinese Herbal Therapy. Dr. Cook has a special interest in holistic therapies as well as avian and exotic medicine and surgery. She is compassionate when treating both geriatric and terminal patients and focuses on improvement of their quality of life. She and her family share their lives with three dogs (Alice, Louie, and Josie), two cats (Blossom and Monster), and ten pet chickens.
Jörg Mayer, DVM, MS, DABVP (ECM), DECZM (Small Mammal), DACZM, is Associate Professor of Zoological and Exotic Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, at the University of Georgia. He qualified with the first group of specialists in Exotic Companion Mammals as a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners; he is also a Diplomate of the American and the European College of Zoological Medicine. Dr. Mayer served as president of the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians from 2010-2012. Since 2012 he is also an International Fulbright Specialist in Zoological Medicine. He is author of Clinical Veterinary Advisor: Birds and Exotic Pets as well as numerous professional articles and book chapters; he is coauthor of Exotic Pet Behavior: Birds, Reptiles, and Small Mammals. Dr. Mayer regularly lectures nationally and internationally about all aspects of exotic animal medicine. In 2013, he received the Exotic Speaker of the Year award from the North American Veterinary Community.
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