Coccidiosis Parasite

Have you heard about Coccidiosis? Did you know this common but often overlooked parasite could be living in most pet rabbits in the UK, and in some cases can become fatal?

We recently took in an elderly pair of rabbits in to the rescue, each aged around the 8/9 year mark. They were actually ex-FBRC bunnies that had been returned due to their owner’s change in circumstance after 4 years in what was a perfect home. It was a very reluctant surrender back to the rescue.

All the rabbits who enter our rescue are important to us, but given their history we had a special place in our hearts for these two and were desperate to get them a final permanent home to live out their elderly years.

They had enjoyed an indoor home, and so couldn’t be placed in any of our outdoor foster spaces. Sadly we also have a shortage for indoor space in the rescue, and a very high demand for the few indoor placements we have available. So as is often the case for rabbits entering the rescue under these circumstances they were first placed in our heated sheds at The Warren whilst we desperately re-ordered things around the foster care network to create the much needed indoor space.

Brad & Cinnamon appeared to be coping with this well at first, although clearly weren’t as happy as we wanted them to be. After a few days they started to get a bit quieter though, and were going off their food. On this behaviour change we thankfully got them transferred to an indoor space immediately.

The following day, having settled into their indoor foster home we didn’t get the “bounce back” we were hoping for, and it was clear that their health was beginning to take a nose dive. Our foster carer acted on immediate instinct and the pair were rushed to the vet as soon as possible.

On assessment it was clear that things were rapidly deteriorating and both rabbits were starting to show signs of critical weight loss, lethargy, dehydration and loss of appetite. From that moment on they were receiving the best possible care both from our foster care team and our vets. We have to say a massive thanks to the team at Vets4Pets NewtonMearns for their support throughout the treatment.

Following various tests it was confirmed that they were both positive for Coccidiosis. Treatment continued as we desperately worked hard to get them back to full health. Their condition started to fluctuate from incredibly poor, to showing signs of hope and recovery, crashing back to critical condition.

We sadly have lost Brad & Cinnamon this morning following just over a week of intensive treatment to try to get their health back on track.

So what is Coccidiosis, and why does it have this effect on our rabbits?

Coccidiosis is a parasite infection which can affect various organs including the liver, kidneys and intestinal tract. It is an incredibly common parasite that studies suggest is carried by a large number of rabbits, but the effects of the parasite typically seem to be problematic for younger and older rabbits.  Factors such as stress, environmental change, transport and immunosuppression can also trigger the onset of the symptoms.

It is also very difficult to treat, and even harder to eradicate from the living environment, with some studies suggesting the parasite can survive for around 1 year given the right conditions. As well as surviving in the living environment it can survive in grass, hay and bedding materials.

Sadly the reality for any rabbit rescue is that this is a real and regular threat and there is relatively limited options for us to prevent it without significantly impacting our ability to take rabbits in on a regular basis. It is commonly found in areas housing large numbers of rabbits where the parasite can survive and spread easily but can equally be found in any rabbit environment.

We are confident this is not going to create an epidemic for the rescue, for various reasons:

  • Our hygiene routine is daily and thorough, and we have also taken this opportunity to review how we can further improve this to gain additional comfort that we are doing everything that we can to limit the transfer of any disease from one rabbit environment to another.
  • We also make heavy use of our foster care network, meaning the vast majority of our rabbits are kept in separate environments across multiple homes, limiting cross-contamination.
  • There are further measures in place at The Warren where we have multiple environments too.

Further to this, studies would suggest that a majority of rabbits carry the parasite without causing harm. This means we are in no greater or lesser risk today than we have been since starting rabbit rescue six years ago. We do intend to introduce a stricter monitoring criteria for any new, young and elder rabbits within the rescue however in order to more proactively identify early warning indicators of symptoms developing.

With this in mind we do have a concern at the moment with a litter of 6 babies who have been with us for a few weeks. The Autumn babies, now aged around 18 weeks, were in a neighbouring hutch to where Brad & Cinnamon originally arrived. Whilst they are happy, energetic and eating well we have been growing concerned recently that their development is behind where we would expect it to be. This is often symptomatic of multiple generation inbreeding causing some genetic difficulties, but as they are also demonstrating the core symptoms of this parasite too we have an appointment booked for a vet check up tomorrow evening and will progress accordingly. As a precaution they have been removed from our adoption list until a clean bill of health can be offered.

We are sharing our story today not only to highlight the work that often goes on behind the scenes at FBRC dealing with the many sickly bunnies that enter the rescue, but also to try to highlight this lesser known parasite that can cause so many health problems in such a short period of time.

Treatment is difficult and limited in success. It is also not recommended to attempt any proactive or preventative treatments for other rabbits in the surrounding environments due to the intensity of treatments and as such we will only treat based on symptoms. Management of the situation is through careful cleaning routines and close monitoring and identification of any rabbits carrying symptoms.

If you have any concerns about your own rabbits health, please remember that it is always best to seek advice from a rabbit savvy vet in the first instance.