Coccidia infestation in rabbit breeding is often associated with young animal losses. Approximately 80% of domestic rabbit herds serve as hosts for coccidia, however, most of the coccidia carriers do not show any signs of disease. Coccidia are said to be latent, i.e., present in such low numbers that they do not cause disease symptoms. However, they excrete the pathogens in their feces and can thus infect other rabbits in the herd.
An outbreak of the disease, called coccidiosis, occurs mainly in rabbits with weakened or not yet developed immune systems. Old, sick and young rabbits are therefore particularly at risk of contracting coccidiosis. If coccidiosis is not treated or is treated too late, the chance of recovery is slim.
Pathogen of coccidiosis – a spore animal
There are more than 28 known species of coccidia in rabbits. The individual species can be divided into the two main groups of coccidiosis. For liver coccidiosis, which is also called bile duct coccidiosis, the genus Eimeria stiedae is responsible. For intestinal coccidiosis, on the other hand, many different species of coccidia are responsible, often appearing as a mixed infection. Depending on the composition of the individual species, the expression and severity of coccidiosis will vary.
Reproduction and spread of coccidia
The reproduction of coccidia follows the same pattern in all species. A host or the cell of a host is required to initiate the initially asexual reproduction. For this purpose, a host cell in the gastrointestinal tract (or liver, blood, kidneys) is destroyed by multiple nuclear division. The number of cells in which this asexual reproduction is now continued depends on the particular coccidia species.
After asexual reproduction, gametes are formed and sexual reproduction can begin. After the female cell is fertilized, it surrounds itself with a sheath and is excreted as an oocyst in the feces. Outside the host, the oocyst is transformed back into spores from which the infective sporozoites are formed.
If the oocysts are ingested by a new host, the shell of the oocyst breaks open within the host organism and the sporozoites begin their asexual reproduction in the host cells again.
Modes of transmission of coccidiosis in rabbits.
Coccidiosis is transmitted by pathogens shed in feces and ingested through contaminated water or food. Especially with high stocking and poor hygiene, the risk of coccidiosis is relatively high. Nevertheless, the risk of coccidiosis is not eliminated even in hygienically perfect husbandries.
The oocysts are extremely robust and can survive for a very long time in the soil, on meadows, moist bedding, etc. Safe killing is achieved by heating to over 80 degrees Celsius! Good stable hygiene and sufficient storage (composting) of rabbit manure before spreading it in the garden should therefore be a matter of course.
By the way, young rabbits at the age of 3 weeks are particularly at risk. With 18 to 20 days the small Hoppler leave namely for the first time their nest and explore the environment. The immune system, which is not yet fully developed, cannot yet adequately defend itself against the oocysts contained in bedding, food, water or feces, and the disease breaks out, usually at an age of 6 to 8 weeks. Coccidia also have an easy time in stressed, old or immunosuppressed rabbits.
Symptoms of coccidiosis
Depending on the localization of coccidiosis, different symptoms appear in the rabbit. In liver coccidiosis, the parasites are transported by the blood from the intestine to the liver. Here, inflammation of the liver and bile ducts occurs, with abscesses forming on the surface and in the tissue itself, leading to swelling of the liver. Poor general condition, emaciation and a dull coat are the first signs of liver-related coccidiosis. However, jaundice, ascites, constipation and bloat may also occur. Liver coccidiosis often affects older animals. In severe cases, the disease ends in death after a few days; in mild cases, the liver inflammation subsides and the rabbit recovers.
The second form of coccidiosis affects the intestine and is called intestinal coccidiosis. It usually affects young animals at the age of 6 – 8 weeks. In mild cases of intestinal coccidiosis, as in liver coccidiosis, there is a poor general condition with loss of appetite and corresponding weight loss. In severe cases, watery to sometimes bloody diarrhea is seen. The rabbit is unable to compensate for the enormous loss of fluids and the resulting loss of minerals, and death occurs rapidly if adequate intervention is not taken in time.
Treatment of coccidiosis in rabbits
Coccidia can usually be detected relatively quickly by a fecal sample. It should be noted, however, that not every rabbit cud has oocytes and therefore a pooled sample should be taken. There are several drugs on the market for rabbit coccidiosis that promise a good success rate when used early.
In intestinal coccidiosis, fluid loss must also be replenished by supplying appropriate electrolyte solutions. In some cases, oral administration is not sufficient and the rabbit must receive an infusion. For the subsequent build-up of the intestinal flora, well effective preparations are also available.
In the case of hepatic coccidiosis, anti-inflammatory therapy and, if necessary, pain therapy are administered in addition to antiparasitic medication.
Prevention of coccidiosis
Under favorable external conditions (humid and warm), coccidia can sometimes multiply explosively. Stable hygiene should therefore be at the top of the list in the fight against coccidial infestation. Likewise, the separation of sick and weakened rabbits must be strictly adhered to in order to guarantee them a living environment as low in coccidia as possible.
Hygiene also plays a major role in keeping young animals. If the young rabbits leave the nest, it is advisable to change the enclosure to ensure a constant cleaning of the hutch. At least every two days, the young should be moved to another clean enclosure that has been previously cleaned with boiling water. Disease control should be done in close consultation with the veterinarian and not a blanket administration of coccidiostats, as the effectiveness decreases with the frequency of the agent used.
In cases of suspected coccidia, rapid action is one of the success factors for a happy outcome of the disease!
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