Keeping Rabbits Healthy: When Coccidiosis Strikes
Coccidiosis is caused by “coccidian” protozoa and is the most common disease in rabbits. It can manifest itself in many places in a rabbit’s body, but the intestines are one of the most common areas. Until recently, it was very difficult to cure the disease and control of the organisms inside the rabbit’s body was the only option. But modern drugs have made it possible to eliminate the bacteria within several days of treatment so your main concern can once again be focusing on prevention. Young rabbits are most at risk for contracting the disease.
Symptoms: In mild cases, no symptoms may be noticeable. In moderate to severe cases, your rabbit may have no appetite, diarrhea or will stop gaining weight. The rabbit may also appear bloated or as if it has a pot belly.
Treatment: Ponazuril (aka Marquis from Bayer) was developed to treat a microsporidian parasite in horses, but it has been found extremely effective for permanently removing coccidia in rabbits. In the UK and Australia, there is a product called Baycox (toltrazuril) which has the same effect and is less expensive. Only 3 doses (1 per day are required) although some prefer to dose an additional 2 days to ensure that the protozoa are gone.
Previously it was not possible to rid the rabbit of the protozoa, only control their growth. This was done with a .025% level of sulfaquinoxaline in the feed for three or four weeks, or in the water for two or three weeks. Other sulfa drugs (sulfadimethoxine, triple sulfa, etc.) may be effective but are less toxic than sulfaquinoxaline. Amprolium in the feed or water was also sometimes effective. Not only are most coccidia resistant to these now, but as mentioned, the treatment lasted several weeks.
After an outbreak, be sure to sanitize and fully disinfect housing, cages, bedding, food and water dishes - anything your rabbit has come into contact with which would harbor coccidial protozoa.
Prevention: Coccidiosis is prevented simply by keeping your rabbit’s housing area as clean as possible. Keep rabbit housing clean and sanitize regularly. Design housing so droppings can fall through to the floor. Keep feces out of food and water. Use a hay rack or tie the hay up with a wire or string to keep it from getting trampled on and soiled.
NOTE: These suggestions for treatment and prevention are not being given by a licensed veterinarian. If you have concerns about the health of your rabbits, you may want to contact a professional. All animal drugs are now under federal regulations. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and needle withdrawal times found on the label of each drug container. Observe all local laws and regulations governing proper drug usage. Dosages may change.