Pet Advice Three little rabbit sitting on a wooden table in the garden

Published on October 31st, 2014 | by Debbie Martin


E Cuniculi in Rabbits – The Dangers of This Disease

E Cuniculi in Rabbits is one of the common health problems that rabbits experience. If you are the owner of a pet rabbit, make sure that you are aware of the dangers of this unfortunately common disease and how to spot the symptoms. It is not only important for your rabbit’s health, but also for your own because this disease can infect humans too.

E Cuniculi is a very small protozoan single celled parasite, which is able to live within a host cell in order to survive. It primarily targets rabbits and it is one of the common causes of disease within wild and domestic bunnies. However, it can also infect a human – especially if they are immunocompromised (if they have a terrible immune system etc). This disease has been seen in rabbits in Africa, America, Australia and Europe and in the UK it is common in pet rabbits but rarer in the wild.

According to a recent survey, it was found that 52% of pet rabbits had been infected with this disease, so it is a very common problem indeed.

What are the Symptoms of E Cuniculi?

A Rabbit’s babies can become infected during pregnancy and the E cuniculi spores will pass into the lens of the eye. Later on, the spores will multiply and erupt, which cause cataracts and can even result in the lens rupturing. This will cause inflammation in the eye, which is a very severe condition that will cause the rabbit a massive amount of pain.

Other signs of this disease in rabbits include:

  • Eye disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Neurological disease symptoms such as unsteadiness, head tilt, urinary incontinence, weakness of the back legs and spasms of the neck

If your rabbit is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is very important to take them to a vet as soon as possible for treatment.

How is E Cuniculi Spread?

When a rabbit is infected with this disease, it will pass along the infectious spores in its urine. When another rabbit consumes these spores in urine contaminated food and water or through the bedding, they will contract the disease. The disease is spread to unborn rabbit kits through the placenta during pregnancy.

Once the parasite has gotten into the rabbit’s body, it will be carried into the blood stream and it will target vital organs including the kidney, liver, brain and spinal cord. This will result in these cells rupturing, which will cause inflammation and will become a serious health risk.

While 52% of rabbits have E Cuniculi in their bodies, only 6% of pet rabbits will show symptoms of the disease. If your rabbit starts to exhibit signs of this condition, it is very important to take them to a vet. If you have multiple rabbits, they should all be treated in this case because it is very likely that they have also all been exposed to the disease.

How Does a Vet Diagnose E Cuniculi?

When your vet is diagnosing this disease, they will need to rule out other causes of head tilt such as abscesses, spinal trauma, middle ear infections, lead toxicity, listeria infection, toxoplasma infection and other problems.

At the moment, it is difficult to diagnose this disease because the parasite will only be shown in the urine for 3-4 weeks after the initial infection. In the future, a more advanced ‘paw-print’ test will be developed for detecting this parasite in the urine of rabbits. However, right now there is only a test that confirms exposure rather than proving that there is a current infection.

How is the Disease Treated?

Once the vet diagnoses that your rabbit is suffering from E cuniculi; the treatment will be aimed at reducing inflammation and using anti-inflammatory drugs to kill the parasite. The vet will likely recommend that your rabbit take anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids that will help to kill the parasite. This treatment, along with an anti-parasitic treatment such as Panacur, will persist over 28 days.

How well your rabbit recovers from the therapy will depend on the severity of the infection and the duration of the treatment. If you can get your rabbit treated for this disease as soon as possible, it will have a much better chance of recovering quickly.

If you have more than one rabbit, make sure that all of the others have a blood test so that you can make sure they are not infected too as it is a very contagious disease. If the test is negative, repeat it in one month just to make extra sure. This way you can treat the other rabbits if necessary, then clean and disinfect the environment to avoid any further problems.

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About the Author

Debbie Martin has worked at Beeston Animal Health for over five years, having previously worked as a nurse in equine and small animal practice. Although generally involved with aspects of marketing these days and putting her psychology degree to good use, she still has a great depth of up to date knowledge in all creatures great and small. Debbie lives at home with her partner and two children and spends much of her spare time looking after her horses, dogs and cats or at the home farm with the cows, sheep and turkeys.

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