Can Pet Rabbits Have Allergies? (Food, Seasonal, Hayfever, Dust)

Sneezing, sniffling, runny eyes, and itchy skin – our pet rabbits suffer from allergies too! Rabbit allergies are on the rise, but with the right care, we can all breathe a little easier. Join us on a hopping journey into the sources and solutions for allergies in our floppy-eared friends. We’ll explore the causes, from flowers to feeds. You’ll learn to distinguish allergies from infections and irritations. With science-based insights from veterinary experts, we’ll uncover answers to questions like: Can rabbits be allergic to hay? Do rabbits get seasonal allergies? Can food cause reactions? Grab a carrot and get ready to help your bunny feel better by understanding rabbit allergies from nose to tail!

Types of Rabbit Allergies

Like humans and other mammals, rabbits can suffer from allergies that cause sneezing, runny noses, itchy skin, and watery eyes. The most common allergies in rabbits are caused by inhaling or ingesting allergens like pollen, mold, dust mites, and certain foods. Seasonal allergies are also possible if the rabbit is sensitive to tree, grass, or weed pollen.

Some of the signs that a rabbit may have allergies include:

  • Frequent sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Red or runny eyes
  • Itchy skin, excessive scratching
  • Hair loss
  • Recurrent skin infections
  • Diarrhea after eating certain foods

Allergies develop when the immune system overreacts to a typically harmless substance and produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). When the rabbit is exposed to the allergen again, these IgE antibodies trigger the release of chemicals like histamine that cause inflammation and symptoms.

The most common allergens that affect rabbits include:

  • Pollen – Grasses, trees, weeds
  • Mold spores
  • House dust mites
  • Hay dust
  • Bedding materials like wood shavings
  • Dander from other rabbits or pets
  • Certain foods – Common culprits are pellet brands with soy, corn, wheat, or added sugars and treats with dairy, nuts, seeds or preservatives.

Determining exactly what a rabbit is allergic to usually requires testing by a veterinarian. Blood tests can check for IgE antibodies to specific allergens. Intradermal skin testing involves injecting small amounts of suspected allergens into the skin and looking for a reaction. Elimination diet trials may help identify food allergies.

Once the source of allergy is identified, treatment focuses on avoiding the allergen and managing symptoms with medication if needed. Keeping the rabbit's environment clean and free of dust is also important. For mild cases, over-the-counter antihistamines may help control symptoms. More severe allergies may require prescription steroids or immunosuppressants. Desensitization injections are also an option for some rabbit allergies.

Do Rabbits Have Food Allergies?

Yes, rabbits can develop food allergies just like humans and other pets. Food allergies occur when the rabbit's body has an abnormal reaction to a protein or other component in a particular food ingredient. While food allergies are less common than inhaled allergens, they can still cause significant skin, gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms in sensitive rabbits.

The most likely food allergens for rabbits include:

  • Soy – A common protein source in many commercial rabbit pellets.

  • Corn – Another prevalent ingredient in cheap pellet brands. The proteins or carbohydrates in corn could trigger an allergy.

  • Wheat – Wheat is sometimes used as a filler in low-quality rabbit foods.

  • Sugars – Added sugars like molasses or honey are unnecessary and may cause issues in sensitive rabbits.

  • Dairy – Yogurt treats and other dairy-based foods are inappropriate for rabbits and could lead to an allergic reaction.

  • Nuts – Walnuts, peanuts, almonds – these tree nuts are high in fat for rabbits and potential allergens.

  • Seeds – Sunflower, flax and other seeds are too high in fat for regular feeding.

  • Fruits – Apples, berries, bananas – the natural sugars and /or pollen could cause allergies in some rabbits.

  • Vegetables – Carrots and greens contain pollen and natural pesticides that may trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

  • Preservatives – BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin – added preservatives in low-quality pellets or treats could stimulate allergies.

  • Food colorings – Artificial food dyes serve no purpose in rabbit food and may cause adverse reactions.

The symptoms of food allergies in rabbits often involve the skin and gastrointestinal tract, including itchy, inflamed skin, recurrent ear infections, chronic soft stools or diarrhea, and excess gas or GI stasis episodes. Runny eyes, sneezing and respiratory symptoms are also possible if the rabbit is inhaling airborne food proteins.

Diagnosing food allergies requires an elimination diet over 2-3 months to identify the problem ingredient. This must be done under veterinary supervision to ensure proper nutrition. Once identified, the offending food should be strictly avoided. Antihistamines or steroids may be needed to control flare-ups. Fortunately, simple changes in diet often manage food allergies very well in rabbits once the source is identified.

Irritants and Allergies in Rabbits

It's important to distinguish between true allergies and mere irritants when evaluating skin and respiratory symptoms in rabbits. While both can cause similar signs like itching, sneezing and discharge, irritants are not true immune-mediated allergic reactions.

Common irritants that affect rabbits include:

  • Bedding – Cedar and pine shavings release volatile phenols that directly irritate the eyes, nose, throat and skin. Even dust-free wood shavings can irritate sensitive rabbits. Paper-based bedding is gentler.

  • Hay and straw – Dried grasses release microparticles that can irritate the respiratory tract. Rabbits with compromised lung function may be more affected.

  • Litter materials – Clumping cat litters contain silica dust that can irritate the eyes and nose. Natural litters like aspen shavings are lower dust.

  • Grooming sprays – Perfumes and chemicals in some sprays or shampoos can irritate the eyes, nose and skin.

  • Cleaning products – Disinfectants, scented detergents, and fabric softeners can trigger respiratory or dermatologic irritation when used around the rabbit's environment.

  • Cigarette smoke – Smoke contains many toxins that directly inflame the eyes and respiratory tract. Rabbits should never be exposed to tobacco smoke.

  • Dust and dander – Excess dust and pet dander in the environment can be irritating without causing true allergy. Regular cleaning helps reduce these irritants.

The good news about irritants is that reducing exposure is often curative. Switching to gentler, lower dust bedding, litter, and hay can make a major difference. Avoiding harsh cleaning products and smoke exposure also helps. Air filters, humidifiers and regular grooming further reduce environmental irritants for sensitive rabbits.

True allergies can be triggered by tiny amounts of allergens and often require medication for control. But many responses initially thought to be allergies are actually due to irritants that can be managed with simple environmental changes, avoiding allergy testing and medications. Working with your vet to identify possible irritants and reduce exposures is the first step in helping an irritated rabbit feel better.

Can a Rabbit be Allergic to Hay?

Hay is the most natural and healthy food source for rabbits, but in rare cases, rabbits can develop allergies to components in hay that lead to sneezing, congestion and runny eyes. This is more likely to occur with low-quality hay containing more dust, mold and impurities.

Possible causes of hay allergies in rabbits include:

  • Grass pollens – Rabbits can develop sensitivity to pollens from timothy, orchard, oat, bermuda or other grass hays. This resembles seasonal allergies.

  • Hay dust – Microscopic particles become airborne when hay is handled. Inhaling high levels of hay dust can irritate the nose, throat and lungs.

  • Mold spores – Hay baled before fully dried often contains mold spores that trigger allergies when inhaled.

  • Pesticide residues – Herbicides and pesticides used in hay fields may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Organic hay is less likely to contain chemical residues.

  • Storage mites – Microscopic storage mites feed on hay over time. The mites themselves or their waste material (frass) can become airborne allergens.

  • Other contaminants – Bits of foreign material like dirt, insects, and mouse droppings may get baled into lower grade hay. These could stimulate allergy in some rabbits.

To reduce exposure to potential allergens when feeding hay:

  • Choose the best hay possible – Greener, leafier, finer-stemmed hay with minimal dust and mold. Orchard and oat hay tend to be lower dust.

  • Store hay properly – Keep hay dry and off the ground to limit contamination by mold, insects and rodents. Discard outer bales that get wet or soiled.

  • Feed smaller amounts – Provide a day's ration at a time to limit waste and airborne dust.

  • Use a rack – Getting hay off the ground reduces trampling and dust.

  • Provide extra hydration – More fluid helps clear any inhaled allergens from the respiratory tract.

  • Consider soaked hay – Brief soaking reduces dust but also removes beneficial oils.

  • Try hay cubes – Denser, compacted hay releases less dust. But nutrients are also lower compared to fresh hay.

  • Test different hay types – Oat, bermuda and orchard grass may be better tolerated than timothy hay for sensitive rabbits.

It takes some effort to find hay that doesn't aggravate allergies. But for most rabbits, it is possible to identify well-tolerated hay that allows them to enjoy this fiber-rich food source.

Is My Rabbit Allergic to its Bedding?

A rabbit's bedding material spends hours in close contact with their skin and nose. So it is not surprising that bedding is a common cause of allergic reactions in rabbits. Symptoms of bedding allergies include itchy skin, sneezing, and watery eyes.

Problematic bedding types include:

  • Cedar and pine shavings – The volatile oils in these softwoods directly irritate mucous membranes. Cedar and pine beddings should never be used for rabbits or other small mammals.

  • Aspen shavings- Though safer than cedar or pine, aspen wood shavings still release some dust and phenols that can irritate sensitive individuals.

  • Straw – Chopped straw is used in some rabbit litters but can be dusty. It may also contain pesticide residues if not organic.

  • Corn cob bedding – Fine particles of corn cob can be inhaled and cause coughing or congestion. It also tends to be very dusty.

  • Cat litter – Clumping and clay-based litters often contain silica dust, fragrances, and other chemicals that irritate the respiratory tract.

  • Newspaper ink – Though safe for bedding, some rabbits are irritated by the soy-based inks used in newspaper. Recycled paper bedding with vegetable dyes is an option.

  • Wood pulp bedding – Brands containing artificial fragrances or oils may irritate sensitive rabbits. Plain paper-based bedding is better tolerated.

  • Hay and grass – Ironically, the grasses in hay and fresh lawn clippings can aggravate allergies through pollen and dust exposure.

The best beddings for a rabbit with allergies are generally plain paper-based products with minimal additives. Checking the bedding label and asking about any chemical treatments is prudent. Providing a second enclosed resting area with a different, low-dust bedding is also wise so the rabbit can choose the material that feels best. With some trial-and-error, an appropriate bedding for an allergic rabbit can be found.

Does My Rabbit Have a Pellet Allergy?

It is certainly possible for rabbits to develop allergies or intolerances to certain ingredients found in many commercial pellets and mixes. The most common culprits are soybean meal, wheat or corn. Cheap rabbit foods heavy in these plant-based proteins, carbs and fillers are more likely to cause adverse reactions in sensitive rabbits.

Signs of possible pellet allergies include:

  • Itchy, scabby skin

  • Recurrent ear infections

  • Sneezing, nasal discharge

  • Chronic soft stools or intermittent diarrhea

  • Excessive intestinal gas

If pellets are suspected, the best approach is to transition the rabbit to a high-fiber timothy hay diet without any pellets for 2-3 weeks. This "pellet purge" removes any problematic ingredients. Often, skin and digestive issues resolve during this break from commercial mixes.

Then gradually reintroduce plain timothy or grass-based pellets made with just one or two ingredients. Monitor the rabbit closely for any return of symptoms. Avoid pellets containing soybean, wheat, corn or added sugars, fruits, nuts or seeds which are inappropriate for rabbits.

Ideally choose an extruded pellet without artificial colors or extra ingredients. Simple grass or timothy pellets are gentler on sensitive systems. Supplementing grass hay with fresh greens provides the nutrition rabbits need without inflammatory additives that can trigger allergies.

Does My Rabbit Have Allergic Rhinitis or Sinusitis?

Persistent sneezing and nasal discharge are often signs of allergic rhinitis or sinusitis in rabbits, especially if accompanied by frequent head shaking. This upper respiratory irritation is normally caused by inhaled allergens like dust, pollen or mold. Bacterial or dental issues can also lead to sinusitis.

Key differences between simple allergies versus rhinitis/sinusitis include:

  • Allergies cause intermittent sneezing and clear nasal discharge related to exposure to allergens. Mild cases may respond to removing the allergen.

  • Rhinitis exhibits more continuous nasal congestion, frequent sneezing, and colored discharge even without allergen exposure. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories are often needed to resolve sinus inflammation.

  • Sinusitis also includes thick, opaque nasal discharge, often just from one nostril. Pain causes head shaking. Sinus x-rays or other diagnostics are needed to check for tooth roots, masses or bone infection.

  • Allergies are triggered by IgE antibodies to allergens. But rhinitis and sinusitis are due to chronic inflammation of the sinus cavities themselves. Resolving this inflammation is key to treating them.

For persistent upper respiratory symptoms, a vet exam is advised to inspect for dental issues, take x-rays, and culture discharge to identify any pathogenic bacteria involved. Based on test results, the vet will recommend appropriate medications to reduce sinus swelling, fight infection, and manage pain. Ongoing management of predisposing factors is also necessary.

The takeaway is that chronic nasal discharge signals inflammation of the sinuses that warrants investigation beyond just allergies. Identifying and correcting the root cause results in the best outcome for the rabbit.

Allergies vs. Conjunctivitis in Rabbits

Rabbits with red, runny, crusty eyes may have allergies or conjunctivitis. How can you tell the difference?

  • Allergies usually cause watery or clear discharge and intermittent irritation when exposed to allergens. Discharge and redness may resolve spontaneously once the allergen is removed. Antihistamines can provide relief.

  • Bacterial conjunctivitis exhibits yellow, green, or opaque mucopurulent discharge, often concentrated at the corners of the eyes. Rubbing and crusting of the lids and corneal surface are also common. Antibiotic eye drops are needed for treatment, along with addressing any predisposing issues like dental disease or tear duct blockages.

  • Viral conjunctivitis due to Herpesviruses in rabbits features more serous, watery discharge and sensitivity to light. Supportive care and sometimes antiviral medications are used for treatment.

  • Irritative conjunctivitis can be caused by dust, bedding, or grooming products getting into the eyes. But symptoms persist until the source of irritation is removed.

The main takeaway is that persistent eye discharge, pain, or visual changes warrant a veterinary eye exam to pinpoint the underlying cause and prescribe appropriate treatment. This helps ensure conjunctivitis does not progress to corneal ulcers or vision loss in the affected rabbit.

Rabbit Allergy or Pasteurella?

Pasteurella is a bacterium found in the respiratory tract of many rabbits that can overgrow and cause illness. Pasteurellosis can mimic allergy symptoms, so how do you determine if your rabbit's sneezing and sniffles are from allergy vs. infection?

Allergy clues:

  • Clear nasal discharge

  • Intermittent symptoms depending on allergen exposure

  • Itchy eyes, nose, throat

  • May improve with antihistamines

Pasteurellosis clues:

  • Thick, opaque, colored discharge

  • Persistent symptoms even without allergen exposure

  • Fever, lethargy, inappetence

  • Often just one nostril affected

  • May develop respiratory noises or difficulty breathing

While allergies can predispose to Pasteurella overgrowth, chronic or progressive respiratory symptoms warrant a veterinary exam. Diagnostic testing like blood work, cultures, x-rays, or scoping can identify if Pasteurella or other pathogens are present so appropriate antibiotics can be prescribed. Ongoing management focuses on reducing risk factors for pathogen spread and supporting immune function.

The takeaway is that accurate diagnosis via laboratory testing is key to getting your bunny the right treatment – whether that’s avoiding allergens, using allergy medication, or targeted antibiotics for bacterial infection. Don't assume all sneezing is just from allergies without having your vet help you determine the cause. Proper treatment will help get your hopper happily sniffle-free.


Like other mammals, rabbits can suffer from allergic reactions to inhaled allergens like pollen, dander and mold as well as food ingredients like soy and wheat. Typical allergy symptoms involve the respiratory tract and skin. Diagnosis using blood tests, intradermal testing, elimination diet trials, and other methods can pinpoint the offending allergen. Strict avoidance and symptomatic relief with anti


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