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Reactive Airway Disease
by Lisa Bruce*
RAD - Reactive Airway Disease/Disorder.  This is quite common in bunnies and is quite often written off as "snuffles." Our homes contain many irritants - those of you with environmental allergies/sensitivities will know what I am talking about.  Carpets and furniture are full of chemicals. Laundry detergents, fabric softeners, perfumes, air fresheners, scented candles, lotions/ potions/shampoos/soaps, floor cleaners, window cleaners......and the list goes on and on. In our efforts to make our homes bacteria-free and smelling like anything but a home, we are releasing a ton of irritants into the air we breathe. So here are a few things to try - see if they make any difference. (IMO - we can all try these whether our buns are sneezing or not - better for buns, for us, and for the environment.)
Reduce dust by:
  • Shaking out hay, by the handful, and rinsing under cool water. Or even misting it if bunny doesn't like it wet. Serve on a plate so bunny's bedding doesnt get wet. Give only small amounts at a time and remove uneaten portions as they will mold.
  • Sift pelleted food when getting to the bottom of the bag to make sure you are not feeding dust - some bags seem to have a ton of crushed pellets at the bottom and these are easily inhaled by a rabbit during feeding. Not only can they be irritating but larger crumbs present a choking hazard and/or can become lodged in nasal passages.
  • Use a vacuum with a good filter (hepa-filter if you can) and clean the filter regularly.
Reduce irritants by:
  • Use only unscented laundry detergents and fabric softeners. Try to go as natural as possible. A cup of white vinegar added to rinse water acts as a natural fabric softener - works really well if you hang your clothes to dry - no more stiff jeans.
  • Use a mixture of vinegar and water - 1:2 for general cleaning and 1:1 for the tough stuff - as your all purpose cleaner for everything bunny related, as well as in the kitchen and bathroom for windows, mirrors, chrome, etc. It works as a floor cleaner...try it - you'll be amazed. Better for your wallet as well.
  • Remove air fresheners and scented candles. For bathrooms where you may want a spray air freshener for those smellier times, try a spray deoderizer that is 100% citrus oil (In Canada I get mine at the local hardware store (Canadian Tire) and it costs the same as the other air fresheners.  It is the only one I have ever used that doesn't send me sneezing and looking for fresh air).
  • reduce or discontinue the use of perfumes, heavily scented body lotions, hand lotions, shower gels, perfumes, hair products, hand sanitizers and soaps, etc.
  • Reduce or discontinue the use of strong household cleaners and soaps. If their use is necessary ensure the rabbit's area is well ventilated and rinse floors etc. after washing.
  • If possible avoid rabbit's exposure to carpets as they are full of chemicals and buns spend most of their time with their noses to the ground
If you can afford it, purchase an air purifier. 
If you smoke, avoid doing so in the same area in which your rabbit is housed.
Use a cool mist humidifier during the heating season in the bunny area, especially if you do not have a humidifier as part of your heating system.
Change filters on heating systems regularly, as recommended by manufacturer - more often if you have several household pets.
Vacuum heating ducts and cold air intake vents. You can put a piece of filter over your cold air intake vents to prevent pet hair and dust from entering your heating system.
Finally, speak to a rabbit savy vet about RAD. If cultures rule out an infection but if one or more symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, coughing, runny eyes are still present then there is a bunny safe anti-histamine called Hydroxyzine.  It can be used seasonally, for buns that have allergies/sensitivities to pollens, or year round for buns that have sensitivities to househould irritants (especially once you have removed as much as you are able). Hydroxyzine is very inexpensive and comes in a peppermint flavoured suspension that rabbits enjoy so it is very easy to give.
I have had a couple of buns with RAD.  And, my little BunnyBunBunBunns had lung cancer.  His prognosis was 1 month - he lived comfortably (with a puffer) for five months because of the changes we made that made it easier for him to breath. He passed away 3 weeks short of his 9th birthday.
Note that the incidence of lung cancer is on the rise in domestic house rabbits. As rabbits live longer, they are spending more time exposed to environmental carcinogens, and this may account for the increase in many types of cancer being seen in rabbits (as well as other pets).
* Lisa Bruce is not a veterinarian or veterinarian technician. You should consult with your rabbit-savvy veterinarian before using any medications.

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