Rabbits have become popular pets and many people have them here in Central Oregon. They are one of our favorite pets to see in our hospital. Rabbits are intelligent, adorable, and make great pets. Most people are unaware that rabbits can be at risk for disease. Two common infectious diseases found in domestic rabbits are Pasteurellosis and Encephalitozoonosis.
Pasteurella multocida is a bacterium rabbits can be commonly infected with, and it is the most common cause of respiratory disease in pet rabbits. Most rabbits that are infected do not show any signs of clinical disease. Rabbits that are stressed or otherwise have an underlying disease may develop clinical signs. Pasteurellosis is sometimes called “snuffles” because infected rabbits often have nasal discharge and sneeze.
Pasteurella multocida primarily causes rhinitis, which is an infection of the mucous membranes inside the nose. In some rabbits the disease may present as a lower respiratory tract infection, affecting the bronchi and lungs, otitis media, which is a middle ear infection, dacryocystitis, which is an infection of the tear-producing sacs, or conjunctivitis, which is an infection of the lining of the eyelids and eyeball. Very severe infections may cause abscesses in various body tissues, reproductive tract disease, and septicemia.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi is a microsporidian parasite responsible for an infection that can affect the kidneys, eyes and the neurologic system of rabbits. Most infected rabbits will never show any symptoms of disease, however, E. cuniculi is believed to be associated with tissue damage to the neurologic system, eyes, and kidneys.
The neurologic symptoms E. cuniculi can cause include vestibular disease, such as loss of balance or coordination, often manifested with a head tilt, circling, or body rolling; seizures, blindness, and spinal cord damage. E. cuniculi can also cause a rupture of the lens of the eye, leading to inflammation in the eye (phacoclastic anterior uveitis) and other eye damage. Additionally, E. cuniculi is believed to be associated with chronic kidney damage. This may not be clinically evident until later in life when irreversible kidney insufficiency or renal failure becomes apparent.
A serology screen test is available for these two infective pathogens. Catching one of these infections early, even before your rabbit has symptoms, has the advantage of being able to treat the infection early, when clinical signs appear.
If you would like more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our veterinarians to discuss testing for your rabbit, give our hospital a call.