Being prey animals, rabbits are experts at hiding illnesses, often until it’s too late. A rabbit’s nose however, can tell you a lot about their health and be an excellent indication of whether scheduling a vet visit is needed!
Scabs: Does your rabbit’s nose have scabs on or around it? Do these look like scratches that have bled and healed or like sore lesions? Rabbits are fastidious groomers so keeping nails short and trimmed can prevent your rabbit from scratching itself. Some people also find that filing their rabbit’s nails down with a small nail file helps prevent this – if your rabbit will sit still long enough! If you notice that along with the scratches the area surrounding the nose has dry flakey skin or a dandruff type appearance to it, then it is possible your rabbit is suffering from fur mites. Killing mites requires ivermectin or selemectin treatments – both of which can be administered by your vet after doing a skin analysis. If the scabs you are seeing have a cold sore like appearance to them and are surrounding the nose and mouth, your rabbit may have something called treponematosis or ‘rabbit syphilis’. This would also require treatment from your veterinarian. In this case, you may also notice these types of sores around your rabbit’s genital area. If the scab appears to be more of a small growth you could be looking at an abscess – which your vet would need to drain and treat with antibiotics.
Runny Nose: Does your rabbit’s nose often appear runny? Is the discharge clear or coloured? Rabbits have extremely sensitive respiratory systems. If your rabbit’s nose is leaking regularly but is clear and watery in colour and doesn’t have other accompanying characteristics such as heavy breathing, loss of appetite or lethargy, then it could be a result of your rabbit’s living environment. A runny nose can often be a primary indication that a scent is irritating your rabbit. Softwood beddings such as cedar and pine should be avoided for this reason. The strong aromatic oils these shavings give off can be extremely dangerous to your rabbit’s health. Similarly, strong scented bedding, air fresheners, essential oils, perfume/cologne and even washing your rabbit’s beds or bedding in a strongly scented laundry detergent can irritate your rabbit. Urine buildup can also bother your rabbit’s nasal passage so make sure you are doing regular cage and litterbox cleaning. If the discharge is coloured, has blood in it or is thick and slimy then a trip to the vet is required. Your rabbit may be suffering from a upper respiratory infection (URI) which needs to be treated as quickly as possible. Blood in the nose could also indicate a tumour, an advanced URI or a more serious illness so act quickly.
Crusty Nose: Is your rabbit’s nose free of crust or buildup? If your rabbit’s nose appears crusty this could be dried mucus which is an indication of a URI or other bacterial infection. It can also be a symptom of rabbit syphilis if accompanied by the scabbed areas mentioned above. Having your vet run a culture to determine the type of bacteria will narrow down the illness and from there they can recommend the proper course of treatment.
Dry: If your rabbit’s nose and the fur around it is looking dry and flakey then the most likely cause is fur mites. Mites can be pesky, living in hay and bedding, so not only is a vet visit required to treat the symptoms but thoroughly cleaning your rabbit’s cage and surrounding area will help eliminate any left behind.
Clean: Is your rabbit’s nose clean and fresh looking? Is there any debris stuck in or around it? Sometimes hay can get lodged in your rabbit’s nasal cavity. If this happens and the piece of hay is sticking out of your rabbit’s nose you can gently remove the hay with a small pair of tweezers. Having someone hold your rabbit still while you remove the particle of hay is essential to ensure you don’t hurt your rabbit. If you can tell something is lodged in your rabbit’s nose but you can not easily remove it please see your vet! You could very easily do some permanent damage by attempting to remove it yourself. If your rabbit’s nose has small amounts of poop on it then this could indicate that your rabbit has an upset stomach. Rabbits create two types of feces. One of these is called cecotropes which they will ingest for ultimate nutrient absorption. When your rabbit’s digestive tract is irritated it can cause soft or unformed stools. You may want to start tracking when this is happening and what types of foods you are feeding to determine what is causing the gut issues your rabbit is experiencing.
Remember that illnesses in rabbits can be serious and life threatening when left untreated. Many are also contagious so it is often recommended to treat all rabbits living in the same area or to separate one from the other. Rabbit illnesses that affect the nose are not limited to the possibilities mentioned above. you are concerned by any behaviours your rabbit is displaying please seek the advice of your rabbit savvy vet.