Rabbit Diseases - Coccidiosis

Intestinal coccidiosis
  • Coccidiosis is a widespread parasitic disease that can infect rabbits.
  • Rabbits can be affected by eight different types of the causal parasite which are a part of the Eimeria species.
  • There is only one species of coccidia which affects the liver of rabbits and this is called Eimeria steidae.
  • Coccidia are microscopic, one-celled protozoal parasites that affect the intestinal tract and liver of rabbits.
  • Intestinal coccidia are usually seen in young, recently weaned rabbits between 4-16 weeks of age and occasionally in older rabbits.
  • Liver coccidiosis can occur at any age.
  • The disease can prove to be fatal in rabbits.
  • Coccidia oocysts are found in food or soil contaminated with infected droppings. The oocyst has a hard shell and can survive on the ground for a long period of time.
  • The disease is transmitted once the parasitic oocysts have been passed in the faeces of the infected rabbit. Once this contaminated matter is ingested then the disease is transferred to the unaffected animal.
  • The oocyst becomes infective 1-4 days after being passed.
  • The intestinal forms of the disease are thought to be the most dangerous to the rabbit’s health as death is more likely.
  • A faecal flotation test is done on the droppings to find the oocysts.
  • Currently there are no vaccines available against coccidiosis.

    • Symptoms:
      Some rabbits can carry coccidia and not show any signs of illness while other may have following symptoms:
    • Watery to mucoid diarrhea
    • Weight loss
    • Depression
    • Weakness
    • Dehydration and Collapse
    • Rabbit may stop eating
    • “pot-bellied” appearance as well as pain in the abdomen
    • Poor growth and/or death in young or unwell rabbits
    • Interference of liver function and blockage of bile ducts in more severe condition

      Liver coccidiosis Treatment
    • If the rabbit is suspected of this infection, the animal should be immediately taken to the vet for treatment.
    • Sulphaquinoxaline used to be the main treatment for a coccidian infection although over the years the parasites have become resistant to it and so it is used much less or even not at all. Currently, it has been suggested that toltrazuril is a more effective medication to treat this disease.
    • Secondary bacterial infections may need to be treated although care should be taken when using antibiotics with rabbits.
    • 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.
    • Infected animals should be isolated for a short period of time to prevent further transmission.
    • The living quarters of the rabbits should be cleaned and disinfected. This is also true for bedding and feeding bowls.
    • Overall, any faecal matter present should be removed and all objects which have had contact with the infected animal should be disinfected.

    • To prevent this disease from infecting rabbits, the environment the rabbits are kept in needs to be as hygienic as possible.
    • This includes cleaning cages daily and ensuring feces does not enter the food or water.
    • There are preventative medications and foods available as well.
    • Prevention also includes proper nutrition. Daily nutrition for rabbits should include fresh grass or hay, dry rabbit pellets and fresh vegetables. Fresh water should be offered daily to prevent coccidiosis in rabbits.
    • Oocysts thrive in warm and humid conditions so all bedding should ideally be kept dry and the area given adequate ventilation.
    • New animals introduced to the rabbit’s environment should be isolated and on occasion tested.
    • Regular faecal checks at least at every annual health check can prevent the disease to occur.