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How my rabbit overcame her chronic upper-respiratory infection


New Kit
Hello there,

My name is Ben Boult and I own a dutch rabbit, 1 ½ years old, named Maple. I’ve been meaning to share my experiences on here (read: ‘lessons learned’) for some time – and as it’s the Christmas holidays, I couldn’t think of a much better opportunity to do so. When we first welcomed Maple into our home in September 2014, she began to sneeze almost immediately, at various points throughout the day - though at the time, we thought little more of it. By February 2015, however, her sneezing had become so acute that she was expelling large globules of yellowish / white snot - which, as I subsequently discovered by reading online fora, was symptomatic of ‘pasturella’. The vet I took Maple to see agreed with this diagnosis and prescribed her with a course of Baytril. At first, I struggled to get her to take her medicine - she wouldn’t allow me to hold onto her for long enough to insert the plastic syringe into her mouth. Eventually, however, I did manage to find a couple of workarounds for this, which I would like to share with you before proceeding any further:

Workaround One:

When administering medicine to a rabbit, always do so in an unfamiliar environment so that they don’t feel “safe” enough to jump off you and run away. The mistake I made originally was giving Maple her meds in the comfort of her own bedroom (yes, she has her own bedroom!) which she did everything she could to flee to the opposite end of.

Better still, choose a room with a slippery floor (i.e. wooden or tiled) and position your rabbit between your legs. Without the grip of a carpet, your rabbit will find it even harder to put up a fight - thus reducing the stress for both you and her / him.

Workaround Two:

Buy a small hamster bowl, a sachet of (100% pure) fruit baby food and mix your rabbit’s medicine into this. My rabbit was particular keen on banana, apple and/or pear baby food. If you decide to go with this approach, you should make sure that the medicine is fully mixed in with the baby food (if you can still see streaks of medicine in the mixture, then your rabbit will probably be able to smell this). You may also find that your rabbit will only take to the mixture if you have added a small (i.e. single) layer of rabbit nuggets on the top. Out of the two workarounds, this was my preferred approach given that Maple experienced zero stress and given that she got almost 100% of her meds (the bowl was always wiped clean). If you find that your rabbit is still not taking to his / her baby food mixture, try rotating the bowl in such a way that the baby food itself “wipes” away any hard-to-see traces of the meds from the edge of the bowl. Crucially, don’t make the mistake of mixing your rabbit’s meds in a larger bowl, because a larger portion is less likely to be eaten in its entirety.

At first, my aforementioned efforts proved in vein because after so many weeks on Baytril, we had seen next to no improvement in Maple’s health. Following two separate swabs in which she tested positive for pseudomonas sp and aeronomas sp (i.e. not pasturella), she was then moved onto Septrin and Ronaxan, respectively. Once again, her health failed to improve. Indeed, by April 2014, the much-feared head tilt had begun to set in and I was growing increasingly concerned - so much so that I travelled 50 miles to see a specialist rabbit vet. As a result of this visit, I was prescribed with a course of Zithromax (azithromycin). Within 3-4 weeks of being on this particular anti-biotic, Maple’s discharge had reduced to an almost imperceptible trickle (just a few intermittent greenish bogeys) and I was convinced that she was finally on the road to recovery. Because of this, I decided to take her off her meds - only to discover that two weeks later, her discharge had begun to reappear. At this point, I sat down with a pen and paper and had long hard think about the environment Maple was living in – asking myself whether there were other non-medicinal solutions to her health problems which I could pursue. After 30 or so minutes of reflection, I decided to cover all possible bases:

The Nuclear Option:

a) Buy new carpets for the upstairs (the originals were old and dirty) so as to remove all traces of dust / bacteria from her environment
b) Hoover each of these carpets daily (for the same reasons)
c) Scower the bars of her cage (plus fully rinse) so as to remove all traces of rust that had built up at her ‘favourite’ gnawing spots (she has the run of the house for 10 hours a day, incidentally, so don’t feel too sorry for her!)
d) Buy a water filter for her drinking water (i.e. not just a standard ‘Brita’ filter, but an anti-bacterial ‘Aqua-optima’ filter) given that the bacteria she tested positive for are present in all water sources. Also, make sure that her fruit & veg are washed with the filtered water and not tap water
e) Don’t stroke her after washing my hands in soapy water (I realised that I was doing this more often than not). Instead, wash my hands in just warm water - or wait a few hours until the traces of soap have gone away before stroking her again
f) No longer allow her to lick my face, just in case she was picking up bacteria from my sweat
g) Buy her ‘dust extracted’ timothy hay (truly dust extracted, not the 'Pets at Home' offering which they dust extract, then super compress, thus creating new dust! For the record, Wilkos do dust free timothy hay, without super compressing and for half the price)
h) No longer put sawdust (even dust free sawdust) in her cage
i) Remove all traces of ‘green build up’ inside her water bottle
j) Buy nuggets which are less dusty (I’ve opted for Harringtons)
k) Remove soiled hay from her cage daily
l) No longer use aerosols / paint in her vicinity
m) Don’t stroke her if I have just blown my nose or sneezed into my hands (thus preventing any trace elements of mucus being passed onto her)
n) Ensure that any damp hay, under her water bottle, is removed daily
o) Ensure that no mud gets onto her carpet

Having done all of the above, I am very pleased to announce that Maple has been totally discharge free for 16 weeks – and crucially, medication free throughout that time. Her fur has also grown back over the lining of her nostrils.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that every single one of the above was essential to Maple’s recovery – some of it, possible most, will be overkill. What I can say with a certain amount of confidence, however, is that one or more of the above was / were crucial to her getting better. If your rabbit has a history like mine, you may wish to try out my 15 suggestions and see how you get along. If you find that he / she has gotten better, you may then wish to reintroduce certain elements one by one (for instance, stroking with soapy hands) to discover what is truly the cause of your rabbit’s problems. After all, the above-mentioned processes / workarounds are a bit of a faff! Speaking personally, however, I am happy to keep all these safeguards in place and avoid the need to spend another £severalhundred on vets' bills! (my insurance doesn’t cover her 'problems' owing to a technicality)

Just to be clear by the way, I suspect that the aforementioned course of Zithromax may have played a significant role in Maple's recovery - killing off the worst of the bacteria in her system, which, when combined with the above-mentioned environmental changes, gave her immune system the fighting chance it needed. Owing to my lack of medical training, however, you would need to speak to your vet about the latter.

Anyway, I hope you find my post useful :)
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Ben, thanks so much for taking the time and trouble to post here.
It's greatly appreciated!

Welcome to the Forum :wave: