Infection from the protozoa Encephalitozoon cuniculi is widely prevalent within domestic rabbit populations. Many exotic veterinarians speculate that most rabbits have been exposed to E. Cuniculi at some point in their lives whether from vertical transmission between mother to baby via placenta or from ingesting spores shed within the infected urine of another animal. While a large percentage of rabbits that have a titer drawn will show levels indicating past exposure, not all rabbits will succumb to the symptoms caused by an active infection. E. Cuniculi seems to strike by coming out of latency when the rabbit’s immune system is suppressed due to another factor.
Signs Of E. Cuniculi
As a rabbit caregiver, several symptoms one might first notice in an infected rabbit are neurological. A rabbit might tilt their head slightly or show a sudden subtle incoordination of limb movement. Rabbits are experts at hiding illness and injury and they need an attentive caregiver to recognize a slight change in gait or stance from normal. These symptoms may progress to eye nystagmus, uncontrolled body rolling or limb paralysis. Beyond the neurological system, E. cuniculi can also commonly affect the kidneys, eyes and other organs. It is vital that a rabbit showing symptoms of illness be brought immediately for evaluation by a rabbit-savvy veterinarian.
Diagnosis & Medications
Your veterinarian will likely draw an E. cuniculi titer as a diagnostic tool to aid in determining whether the symptoms observed are from an active infection or from a different cause. Commonly, an antiprotozoal medication prescription will be given (Panacur or Oxibendazole are two options). Other medications that may be prescribed are an antibiotic (such as Baytril), a pain reliever (such as Metacam) and possibly a pet safe version of Antivert if the rabbit is experiencing severe dizziness and rolling.
Other supportive measures for your rabbit should include syringe feeding Oxbow critical care formula several times a day to rabbits that are unable to eat properly on their own and ensuring hydration. Rabbits that have lost coordination are often unable to use a water bottle effectively. Providing an easy to reach crock of water and wet fresh greens multiple times each day will help maintain hydration. Your vet can assess for dehydration and administer subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids as needed.
Depending on the severity of your rabbit’s symptoms, you will need to make adjustments for their particular disability. Rabbits may have a difficult time maneuvering into a standard litter box. Low sided litter boxes may be helpful or puppy urine pads can be used. A rabbit that is unable to coordinate limb movement and has become relatively or completely immobile will need an attentive and considerate caregiver to maintain a clean and safe living area. Rabbits may have fur loss and skin breakdown from urine scald if the rabbit is hindered in hind end movement. Using a thick layer of very absorbent bedding (such as Carefresh) which is spot cleaned several times a day, using a rabbit safe shampoo to spot wash dirty areas that your rabbit is unable to clean on him or herself and applying a skin protectant (such as Destin) to wet areas will help maintain quality of life and health.
Recovery & Beyond
Rabbit symptoms related to E. cuniculi infection are wide ranging from mild to severe and need to be supported according to the individual rabbit’s need. Many rabbits make a complete recovery and go on to live long, healthy lives with very little (if any) residual issues. Your vet will work closely with you to determine the best care plan for your rabbit. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take good notes at your rabbit’s exam. Together, you and your vet will make decisions to provide your rabbit the best quality of life possible and support during an E. cuniculi infection.