House rabbits often suffer from respiratory problems. These ailments can be as minor as a brief cold or can escalate into a life-threatening problem. If your rabbit shows signs of breathing trouble on a weekend or holiday, or if you are in an area where veterinary care isn't readily accessible, you may need to provide temporary relief until you can see a professional. Always seek out a professional when your rabbit is having trouble breathing.
Environmental irritants, such as dusty bedding, old hay, or anything moldy, can aggravate a rabbit's breathing problems. Remove all dusty or damp materials and replace them with fresh commercially made bedding, such as hay. Change this bedding regularly, since ammonia from the rabbit's urine could also cause irritation. Increase ventilation, but do not expose your rabbit to drafts. In rabbits with chronic bronchitis or rhinitis, use a HEPA air filter to reduce allergen levels.
As prey animals, rabbits are easily stressed. Loud noises, an unfamiliar environment, other animals or sudden movement all increase their susceptibility to disease. Move rabbits with breathing problems to a quiet place that will reduce their stress levels. Avoid extreme changes in temperature, which can aggravate breathing trouble. Provide plenty of affection, and if possible, keep any bonded cage mates with the rabbit. These social animals feel better when they have a companion. Rabbits suffering from long-term respiratory illness, such as pasteurellosis, must be kept in stress-free housing continuously, to reduce the chance of a flare-up.
According to Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue & Education (HARE), rabbits with a very clogged nose may need suctioning to breathe properly. Rabbits cannot breathe well through their mouths, and won't get enough oxygen through a clogged nose. Use a pediatric ear syringe to gently remove mucus and temporarily clear the rabbit's nose.
Rabbits suffering from allergic reactions or swollen nasal membranes can benefit from antihistamines. HARE recommends using mild antihistamines meant for human children to reduce irritation to give your rabbit relief. According to the book "Rabbits: Health, Husbandry, and Disease" by V.C.G. Richardson, the correct dose of diphenhydramine, a common human antihistamine, is a 1:45 dilution of 12.5 mg/5 ml elixir in drinking water.
Avoid treating rabbits at home when proper veterinary care is available. Some rabbit respiratory problems, such as pasteurellosis, can eventually cause serious problems including head tilt, loss of balance and death. Pet owners cannot successfully treat these illnesses at home. Transport rabbits to a qualified vet as soon as possible to ensure your pet's health.
G.D. Palmer is a freelance writer and illustrator living in Milwaukee, Wis. She has been producing print and Web content for various organizations since 1998 and has been freelancing full-time since 2007. Palmer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing and studio art from Beloit College in Beloit, Wis.