Respiratory Illness

What is it, what causes it, what to watch for and what to do!

Authored by:

Edited by:

Jacqueline Arndt

Sarah Erickson and Carrie Oswald

Before we do a deep dive into Respiratory Illnesses it is important to note that these illnesses often require emergency care. Any suggestions made below or by volunteers is not a replacement for medical care and should never be treated as such.


So, what is it?


Respiratory illnesses can be quite varied in severity and thus the speed with which they are treated can vary. If you are ever unsure or concerned, contact your veterinarian immediately. Please do not ever feel silly or as though you are wasting their time – this is their job and why they are there! If you are concerned, so are they. Respiratory illnesses stretch from pneumonia to allergies and everything in between. It is important to remember just how small rabbit lungs are in comparison to the rest of their organs and because of this, respiratory illnesses can become severe quite quickly. Another important factor to remember is that a rabbit is a prey animal, this means they often want to hide their illness for as long as possible. Because of this, it is possible to not notice respiratory issues until they have become quite severe.


What causes it?


This is no different than humans, meaning it can be bacteria, viral, or environmental allergens.


What to watch for!


It is important to note that symptoms can happen gradually or suddenly.


  • Discharge from the nose (Is it from one or both nostrils? What color is the discharge, is it changing colors? Viscosity - is it thin/watery or thick/gooey?)

  • How are they breathing? (Is their breathing noisy, rapid, shallow, requiring a lot of effort, are they breathing with an open mouth/raised head, etc.)

  • Are we sneezing or coughing? (How often, do certain things instigate it)

  • Eye discharge?

  • Are we shaking/scratching our ears?

  • Do we have a fever? (Any temperature above 103.5F, if the temperature is 104.5F or above it is important to cool the bunny immediately to prevent possible organ damage)


What to do!


1. Contact your designated rabbit-savvy daily/emergency facility. Any facility worth their salt should understand the severity of Respiratory Illness in rabbits and be able to schedule you correctly. But in the off chance you get a newer/training team member, or you simply do not feel confident in their decision, do not be afraid to ask


them to speak with a veterinarian to ensure you are scheduling appropriately. You are your rabbit’s greatest advocate, do not be afraid to be pushy! If for whatever reason you are unable to get into your designated facilities right away, you may contact the RMHRR 24-Hour Healthline (https://www.rmhrr.org/rabbit-emergency-information) and we will offer advice until you can get your bunny to an emergency vet appointment.


*We are not licensed veterinarians, and cannot offer medical treatment*


2. Place your rabbit in a carrier, if they are bonded make sure their mate is along for the ride.


3. When transporting your bunnies from your home to your vehicle it is important to prewarm/precool your vehicle and ensure they are placed securely, with the carrier crossways, in the back seat. A slow, calm, and steady trip to the veterinarian is much less stressful than a speedy, chaotic trip. The last thing a sick bunny needs is to sit in the car while you deal with a speeding ticket or fender bender.


4. Treatment of Respiratory Illness in rabbits can vary widely based on the underlying cause, if you are ever unsure or concerned about the course of treatment do not hesitate to reach out to RMHRR.