Coccidiosis - Rabbit


Introduction

There have been twelve species of coccidia described in rabbits affecting the intestinal tract. Usually to appear clinically unwell, the rabbit will have more than one species infecting it at the time. There is only one specie of coccidia which affects the liver of rabbits and this is called Eimeria steidae.

Severity of the intestinal form of the disease will depend on the specie of coccidia present in the animal and the age of the rabbit - young rabbits are more susceptible to disease than older rabbits, but if a concurrent illness is present, if antibiotics have been given for a long period of time, or when exposed to a large coccidia burden then disease may also occur in adults. Hepatic disease can affect rabbits of any age. Coccidiosis is primarily a disease of husbandry, with damp, crowded and unhygienic conditions predisposing to it. Wild rabbits also carry the disease, but can only spread it if a domestic rabbit is put out to graze on grass that has been grazed by wild rabbits.


Clinical Signs

Intestinal Coccidiosis
As with most coccidial disease, watery or mucoid diarrhoea is usually present and this is sometimes blood-tinged. Depression and weight loss as well as general signs of malaise are also observed. Some cases are sub clinical and no clinical signs are observed.

Hepatic Coccidiosis
May occur only as sudden death in acute cases, but more likely appears as stunted growth, anorexia and weight loss, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Depression and general malaise is also seen.


Diagnosis

In farmed rabbits a sick animal from the group may be sacrificed in order to perform a post mortem examination. Lesions present would include caecal core lesion, mucoid secretion, haemorrhage and oedema of the ileum and jejunum particularly. In the hepatic form a grossly enlarged liver containing abscesses would be seen on post mortem examination.

In pet rabbits history and clinical examination along with signalment will hopefully reduce the differential list. As with many cases of diarrhoea, a faecal sample must be taken and a faecal floatation performed to locate oocytes. Both types of rabbit coccidiosis have oocytes present in the faeces during an acute infection. In hepatic disease a blood sample can be taken for biochemistry. Increased liver enzymes or bilirubin may indicate hepatic coccidiosis.


Treatment and Control

If the case is very severe, hospitalisation may be required to stabilise the patient with fluid therapy and parenteral medication.

In most cases the rabbit will be sent home the same day with an electrolyte solution to be administered into the rabbit's water in order to rehydrate the patient.
Anti-coccidial drugs such as amprolium can be given in the drinking water, or alternatively coccidio-stats, which do not kill but slow the growth of coccidia, can be used. An examples is Sulfadimethoxine. Antibiotics are to be used if a secondary bacterial infection is suspected, but only broad spectrum anti-microbials are recommended. A second faecal examination should be scheduled for two weeks post commencement of treatment.

In farmed rabbits, coccidio-stats are used in everyday feed as a control mechanism. Robenidine is the common drug found in rabbit pellets used for commercial rabbit farms. Preventative husbandry measures such as keeping the rabbits on wire mesh and thorough disinfection of all cages are neccesary to avoid outbreaks. In the case of an outbreak treatment with sulphonamides should be used.


Prognosis

Intestinal Coccidiosis: Depending on severity of infection and immune status and age of rabbit. If caught early then prognosis is good.

Hepatic Coccidiosis: If signs of liver failure were present on presentation then prognosis is poor. In rabbits with heavy infestation, prognosis is guarded to poor. In other circumstances the prognosis will depend on the stage of the disease when treatment commenced.



Coccidiosis - Rabbit Learning Resources
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References

Fox, M and Jacobs, D. (2007) Parasitology Study Guide Part 1: Ectoparasites Royal Veterinary College
Harcourt-Brown, F, (2003) Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, Butterworth Heinemann Ltd
Merck & Co (2008) The Merck Veterinary Manual (Eighth Edition) Merial
Oglesbee, B.L. (2006) The Five Minute Veterinary Consult Ferret and Rabbit Blackwell Publishing
Okerman, L (1998) Diseases of Domestic Rabbits (Second Edition) Blackwell Publishing




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