Wild rabbits conceal their illnesses to protect themselves from predators. Domesticated rabbits do the same, often until the illness is beyond help even with veterinary intervention. You must pay close attention to your rabbit's normal behaviors. If you notice him acting differently, such as wheezing or sneezing, you know he may be suffering from a respiratory infection and should be seen by a rabbit-savvy vet immediately.
Find a rabbit-savvy vet before your rabbit gets sick.
Upper Respiratory Infection
More than half of all domesticated rabbits carry the bacteria pasteurella which, when aggravated, develops into an upper respiratory infection. However, most rabbits, particularly those with a strong immune system, can fight off the bacteria and never become sick.
A rabbit suffering from an upper respiratory infection, sometimes called snuffles, will display such symptoms as nasal discharge, runny eyes, sneezing and snoring. Rabbits typically do not develop a fever with an upper respiratory infection.
Diagnosis of an upper respiratory infection generally requires laboratory testing of the discharge. The veterinarian will then prescribe appropriate antibiotics.
Rabbits cannot get a cold from you if you are sick.
Lower Respiratory Infection
Rabbits can develop pneumonia, a lower respiratory infection. Symptoms of pneumonia include difficulty or loud breathing, fever, a lack of an appetite and lethargy. A rabbit with symptoms of pneumonia must be seen by a rabbit-savvy veterinarian immediately. The vet may provide oxygen treatments using a nebulizer to stabilize your rabbit's breathing and he likely will prescribe a course of antibiotics.
Your rabbit may have the symptoms of a respiratory infection but, in reality, may be suffering from dental problems. While your rabbit's teeth may look normal, he may have root overgrowth, which means his teeth are pushing into his skull. If your rabbit's molars, which are located below the eyes, have overgrown roots, he may have runny eyes, a runny nose, sneezing and wheezing. Severe root overgrowth may require the removal of the problem teeth.
Obstruction of Nasal Passage
While your rabbit's wheezing may appear to be a symptom of a respiratory infection, he could have something -- such as a piece of hay -- lodged in his nose. If your veterinarian finds something in your rabbit's nasal passage, he likely will have to put your rabbit under anesthesia to safely remove the item.
Your rabbit should complete the prescribed course of medication, even if his symptoms disappear, to ensure the infection is completely gone.