What is E.Cuniculi In Rabbits?
E.cuniculi is a tiny single celled protozoa parasite, which has to live inside a host cell in order to survive. E.cuniculi primarily infects rabbits and is a significant cause of disease. It is also important to rabbit owners as just occasionally it can infect humans, especially if they are immuno-compromised. Infection has been diagnosed in rabbits in Europe, Africa, America and Australia. In the UK the parasite is common in laboratory and pet rabbits, but rare in the wild rabbits.It has also been found in Rodents,Foxes,dogs,cats,pigs,cows,horses and non human primates and some birds.
It is thought in Britain that as many as 52% of rabbits have been affected or exposed to E. cuniculi, although accurate figures are very hard to determine in this condition. Some rabbits may show only very limited signs of the infection.It is also prevelent in Australia,Canada,America, Europe and Africa.
Once a rabbit has the disease it passes infectious spores in its urine. Transmission to another rabbit occurs by eating these spores in urine contaminated food and water. The unborn kits may also be infected across the placenta during pregnancy. Once the parasite has entered the rabbit’s body it is carried in the blood circulation to target organs such as the liver, kidney and central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). This results in rupture of these cells, inflammation and clinical signs, primarily in the liver, kidney, brain and spinal cord. It is likely that the majority of rabbits are infected at a very early age from their mother from ingestion of contaminated urine. One month after infection, the rabbit will be shedding spores of their own, in the urine. The rabbit will continue to shed the spores for up to three months and probably on and off for life.The spores have been found to survive in the environment more than a month.
How can I tell if my rabbit has E.cuniculi?
When the rabbit is first infected, the parasite finds its way into the intestines. Once in the intestinal tract it goes on to affect other organs, especially the kidneys and brain. In these organs the parasite causes a lesion called a granuloma.
Amazingly most rabbits that are infected with this disease go through life quite happily and without any problems. It is only when the rabbit does encounter health difficulties that owners will even know they might have the disease.
However if kits are infected during pregnancy, spores are able to cross into the lens of the eye. Some baby rabbits also display white patches in their eyes, this is because E. cuniculi can affect the eyes by development of granulomas in the lens of the eye. This is normally prevalent when the unborn baby rabbit is
infected via the placenta from the mother.
Because these problems can be caused by other conditions, for example head tilt can also be caused by a bacterial infection, the only way to discover the cause is by a visit to your veterinary surgeon for a diagnosis.
The granulomas that can arise in the kidneys of affected rabbits are usually harmless however they can cause the rabbit to suffer from mild chronic renal failure, which will show symptoms such as an increasing thirst and weight loss. The main problem in the affected rabbit, which does display problems, is when lesions in the brain start causing neurological issues. These symptoms include:
Convulsions – the rabbit might display fitting.
Torticollis (medical terminology for head tilt).
Ataxia (hind limb weakness).
Urinary incontinence – caused by the lesions in the brain/central nervous system and not by those in the kidney.
Loss of balance.
Coma and death
The biggest problem with treatment for E. cuniculi is knowing that it is the cause of health problems in the first place. If the rabbit hasn’t had a blood test and the vet is treating the animal for its symptoms, then in some cases the rabbit may get better and the problem was not E. cuniculi at all!
The drug that is used to kill E. cuniculi that has been found to be most effective is fenbendazole, which in the UK is known as Panacur (used for worming).
The only problem with using this drug to eliminate the parasite is that in many cases E. cuniculi has already cause irreversible damage and inflammation to the brain. Effectively this means that although the parasite has been killed, the rabbit does not actually get any better. This is why some vets will also use a steroid in conjunction with fenbendazole, in an effort to limit inflammatory response in the brain. The drugs are used together because using steroids alone would lower the immune system, allowing the parasite infection to get even worse.
It has been debated by vets about treating your rabbit regularly with Panacur Rabbit wormer to prevent E.C and its symptoms.Some vets are for it and Yes you might think that they would after all you have to buy it from them in most countries as prescription though that is not the case in the UK you just have to be registered with a vet and can buy it online with no problem at all.All I know is that my last rabbit had E.C and developed major symptoms when he was about 6 years old and nearly died from it.I never even knew about E.C until that time.It was a long battle to get him to recover somewhat and even though he lived till he was 8 and 1/2 he would relapse fairly regularly and would have to be treated for it for the rest of his life.
Now with Speedy when we brought him home we realised after a couple of weeks that he had pinworms after seeing them in his poops and believe me that was a shock to see but again he would have picked that up from his mum as a baby and if he picked up pinworms from his mum then there is a good chance he would have picked up E.C too.So he was treated with Panacur rabbit wormer for the pin worms but also for the E.C to and he will continue to be treated between 2 to 4 times a year for the rest of his life because having had a rabbit so sick from E.C before I would rather know that I have done everything I possibly can so the Speedy never has to go through the same thing.
I also wash his veg and anything I pick for him in the garden.And I am always keeping his litter boxes clean too, as well as the regular treatments of panacur rabbit wormer because one he goes out in the garden for play time and two he does go out for his outings in the countryside too.
Here is the link for more information on Panacur Rabbit wormer:
I hope this helps all Rabbit owners make an informed decision on whether they want to try to prevent E.C or just treat their rabbits when they become sick from it.
All information in this post has come from several sources on the internet,the manufacturers of Panacur,my own vet and my own past experiences.