Excessive secretion of saliva and coughing 



Esther van Praag, Ph.D.



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Video taken by Mike


Excessive secretion of saliva is observed mainly after intake of food by the rabbit. The saliva can be translucent, clear or greenish if vegetables were eaten, or the color of pellets. Sometimes it is foamy. This problem is frequently related to the presence of a foreign body such as a piece of hay stuck in the gum or between two cheek teeth, or a plant “thread”, e.g. after eating a celery branch, fennel, or parsley. The rabbit becomes distressed while trying to remove the foreign body. The irritation leads to excessive salivation.

Excessive salivation is often linked to a dental problem and to pain : 

·      Presence of molar spurs on cheek teeth, even when tiny;

·      A split or fractured cheek tooth;

·      An overgrown cheek tooth, that may deviate from the regular alignment of the cheek teeth, causing a deformation of the palate;

·      Misalignment of cheek teeth;

·      Malocclusion of cheek teeth, with irregular surfaces of the crowns, giving a « step mouth » aspect. In older rabbits, this problem can relate to acquired dental disease (ADD).

A bulging lump along the jaw bone can sometimes be palpated. Its presence is a sign of an infection at the root level of teeth, of an abscess. Gum ulceration or secondary tongue lesions are sometimes observed.

Rabbits cannot vomit. The excessive salivation is not the content of the stomach. Instead, paralysis of the larynx can lead to excessive salivation. The eaten food and saliva accumulate in the esophagus is regurgitated through the oral cavity and nose. This gagging disorder is observed in horses, another herbivorous animal whose medicine shows analogies with that of rabbits, and has been suspected in a few rabbits. The regurgitated saliva can be aspired in the airways and cause pneumonia. 

In some cases, an abnormal elongation or drop of the palate has been suspected, linked to the presence of the parasite Encephalitozoon cuniculi. To this day, this has never been confirmed clinically.

Excessive salivation is only rarely linked to a primary respiratory problems or pneumonia. If, however, the saliva and chewed food enter the airways, pneumonia can develop. 

A secondary bacterial or fungal infection can develop under the chin or on the dewlap. 


The oral cavity should be carefully inspected after anesthetizing the rabbit. Radiographs and CT scan help confirm the presence and location of a dental abscess, of bone infection (osteomyelitis, a widening of roots, an abnormal bending of the molar or other problems located under the gum level.


The treatment will depend on the cause and on the dental problems.

If infection, antibiotics must be administered to the rabbit.

It is important to give analgesics to the rabbits, as these animals do not deal with pain well. When a rabbit refuses to eat, assisted feeding should be started by feeding pureed food, e.g., grinded pellets grinded with a coffee grinder and mixed with water, or a nutritive solution specially formulated for rabbits.

Fresh vegetables and hay can be cut in small pieces. Hay can be softened by wetting it. It should, however, be removed after a few hours, as it mold and bacteria develop rapidly on wet hay kept at room temperature.




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