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Coccidiosis in Rabbits
LIZ VOIGT
6/4/2012 12:00:00 AM

COCCIDIOSIS

Coccidiosis is a disease common in rabbits worldwide. Coccidia are species specific.  This means they are not passed between other species such as dogs, cats, birds or humans.  The disease is caused by members of the genus Eimeria.   Eimeria  stieclae parasitizes the liver, where the other species of Eimeria infects different levels of the intestinal tract. Most infections are caused by two or more of the Eimeria species. Coccidia ‘protozoa’ produce oocysts that are passed in the feces. They are not infective right away. They become infective depending on the environment and are then injested through contaminated feed, water or just by the animal grooming itself. In mild infections, there may be no outward or obvious signs but the disease can also be fatal, especially in young rabbits. Signs of liver coccidiosis infection include: potbelly, poor coat and flesh condition, diarrhea or constipation, white spots on the liver (on necropsy). Animals may go off their feed and become weak. Signs of intestinal coccidiosis include: potbelly, rough coat, diarrhea, poor weight gain. Some animals show intense thirst and die from dehydration and secondary infections. Signs vary with age, resistance, etc. and some show no sign at all.

TREATMENT can be difficult. Sulphaquinoxaline in the drinking water or feed is effective  in controlling the organism until immunity developes.  It has been observed that immunity resulting from mild infections is nearly lifelong in rabbits. To eliminate the problem, cages must be cleaned of feces daily to break the life cycle. Rabbits must be prevented from contacting infective feces or anything contaminated by the same. This will be much easier to deal with if using wire pens. Food and water dishes are best raised off the floor of the pen and hay placed in a hay rack. Young animals should be separated from does ASAP as they are more susceptible to the disease. Even though rabbits practice coprophagy, it is believed that the ‘soft feces’ eaten directly from the anus, do not contain infectious oocysts.

SPRING ARRIVES and all those feces that have been frozen in the back corner of the pen are going to thaw out and make a nice environment for those little oocysts.  Time now should be taken to clean out that corner well.  Wouldn’t hurt to have some sulphaquinoxaline  around to use in the water for spring litters if you are concerned that there may be some coccicia in your barn. This article was gleaned from an article written by  Dr. Chris Hayhow, D.V.M., Ph.D. for the Domestic Rabbits Magazine.

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