Posted: January 16, 2014, 4 p.m. EST
Rabbit Chloe/© Lisa Nichols
Healthy rabbits such as this one do not sneeze excessively or have strong smelling urine.
Q: I have a bunny that recently started sneezing. I changed his regular litter to deodorized cat litter because the urine smell was so strong. I did this about three months ago. Now for the past month he has been sneezing. Could the litter be the reason? What else can I use to control the odor? I’m getting desperate.
A: You may have two issues with your rabbit, likely not related. First, I’ll discuss the sneezing. Sneezing may be due to irritants in the air, and material in the litter box certainly can cause that. If there is a lot of dust from the litter brand, you may want to change to litter types that emit very little particulate matter in the air.
But it may not be the litter that is causing the sneezing. I always remind clients to consider when they last changed the filters in their home ventilation systems. Are there air freshener systems in the home? If so, do these put out particulate matter? Is your rabbit on the floor all of the time? Are carpet cleaners used regularly? You almost need to become a detective to determine what could be causing particles to enter your rabbit’s area.
Maybe this has nothing to do with particles in the air but rather there is something in your rabbit’s nasal cavity that is irritating. Pieces of hay or grass can get lodged in the nasal cavity leading to sneezing that will not stop until the hay or grass is removed.
Another possibility is that your rabbit has an infection that is just in the nasal cavity, which is causing the sneezing you are observing.
If you believe you have done everything to remove respiratory irritants in the rabbit’s environment and he is still sneezing, then the answer is to visit your veterinarian.
The second thing to investigate is why your rabbit’s urine changed in character so that the odor is now very strong. There may be a number of answers to this question. If this is an intact male, it may be that you are detecting secretions from active glandular activity. Neutering your rabbit could reduce or even eliminate the odor. In some rabbits, those same glands that produce secretions leading to odors can become infected and that also produces some very strong aromas. Other causes include urinary tract infections. Sometimes the only sign of an infection is a change in urine odor.
Finally, one more thing to consider: If the urine is very concentrated, the odor may be much stronger than usual. In all of the cases I just mentioned, a change in litter product will likely not mask the new, stronger urine odor, and you need to determine why the character of the urine has changed over time. By visiting your veterinarian, you can usually very quickly rule some of these things in or out by a physical examination and a simple test of a voided urine sample.
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