Rabbit Flu

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Pasteurella – Snuffles in rabbits (Rabbit Flu)

By : Victoria Carey

Pasteurella Moltoceda is carried by a large percentage of rabbits, both wild and domestic rabbits. There are a number of different strains, and some are more harmful to a rabbit than others. Rabbits do not normally develop much of an immunity after being infected, and as many carriers of this disease do not show symptoms. It is very difficult to detect in a healthy rabbit. Pasteurella can survive for a couple of days in moist bodily secretions or water.

Very often “rabbit snuffles” is caused by pasteurella. The rabbit sneezes and there is a discharge from the nose and the eyes. Tell-tale signs of problems in a respiratory tract of a rabbit are the insides of the front paws being sticky or encrusted with the discharge from trying to clean its nose and eyes. Pasteurella is the most common cause of snuffles, but other bacteria, such as streptococcus can be responsible. If a rabbit is suffering a prolonged attack of the snuffles and is not responding well, or the symptoms frequently re-occur when treated with antibiotics, then the vet should do a culture swab test to check what type of bacteria is causing the problem and to find out what antibiotic the bacteria is sensitive to. A proliferaton of pasteurella bacteria is more likely to occur in a rabbit that is run down or its immune system is compromised.

Because pasteurella is one of the most stubborn types of bacteria, antibiotic treatment should be given immediately upon the onset of symptoms. It may be necessary to continue treatment for many weeks depending on the severity of the symptoms. If left untreated or treatment is delayed, then septicaemia (blood poisoning) can set in as a result of an overwhelming pasteurella infection. At that stage, unfortunately, the prognosis is very poor despite of aggressive antibiotic treatment and circulatory support.

Although pasteurella is the most common cause of snuffles in rabbit, it can also cause ear infections, eye infections and pneumonia. The route of transmission is via nasal discharge from an infected rabbit as it sneezes.

Pasteurella is one of the most nasty and potentially fatal types of bacteria that affects rabbits. It also affects many other animals as well and it is very often fatal to guinea pigs. If rabbits live in close proximity to infected guinea pigs, then they should ideally be removed and housed well away from the infection until it has passed.

Pasteurella is also one of the bacteria which causes abscesses on a rabbit.

Rabbit Flu in humans

Although human fatalities from pasteurella are extremely rare, I feel that I should make you aware of the possibility.

A recent ‘Rabbit Flu’ fatality in Suffolk was reported. It was a particularly unusual case in that the victim was reportedly fit and well and only 29 years old. Prior to the 1940’s, fit and young adults occasionally died from septicaemia, but with today’s modern antibiotics, the chances of this are minimal.

So how did this young farmer contract pasteurella? This was reported by the media, but apparently, the victim had a wound on his hand and then he went out and culled wild rabbits on his farm. The infection entered his blood stream via the broken skin of the wound on his hand

Am I at risk of catching pasteurella from my rabbit? If you are fit and healthy, the risk is catching pasteurella from your pet rabbit and going on to develop the fatal septicaemia that claimed the life of this young farmer is extremely small. You are more likely to die from tripping over your rabbit! It is always a sensible precaution to always wash your hands with soap and water after handling your rabbit. If you have any broken skin, then it is wise to cover it up with a plaster before handling your rabbit.

Victoria Carey GBAR RVECP Rodentologist

Author Resource: You can read the report of the ‘Rabbit Flu’ fatality by opening the link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/suffolk/5269766.stm

This article is presented through the courtesy of Animal Pets and Friends