Rodentiosis in rabbits

Rodentiosis in rabbits is also known as pseudotuberculosis or rodent plague.

This infectious disease is caused by a bacterium that is not host-specific. Rodentiosis thus occurs not only in rabbits, but also in other rodents, mammals, birds and also in humans.
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While rodentiosis is frequently encountered in wild rabbits, it is rather rare in domestic rabbits, but correspondingly difficult to treat.
Trigger of rodentiosis

Yersinia pseudotuberculosis is a gram-negative bacterium of the Enterobacteriaceae family that has a potentially pathogenic effect on the infected organism. This pathogenicity sets it apart from other bacteria, which are sometimes part of the normal colonization of the host organism and only become prevalent in conjunction with other triggers (weakened immune status) and then have a pathogenic effect.

In 1883, the disease caused by Yersinia in guinea pigs was described for the first time, whereupon Pfeiffer isolated the bacterium and named it Bacillus pseudotuberculosis. It was not until 1966 that Molaret assigned it to the genus Yersinia.

The bacterium is quite similar to the plague pathogen in its properties and specifications. To environmental influences Yersinia pseudotuberculosis is exceedingly resistant and can persist in the soil for many months.

It multiplies in water at a comfortable 18 degrees, while infected animals excrete contagious pathogens in their feces.
Origin of rodent plague in rabbits

For some time, plague was considered a subspecies of this bacterium, but was then assigned to its own genus. Nevertheless, the virulence is quite high.

Infected animals excrete the pathogen Yersinia pseudotuberculosis with feces and urine. Until then healthy animals ingest the contaminated food or water contaminated with pathogens and contract pseudotuberculosis themselves. In domestic rabbits, this is especially possible in outdoor enclosures when wild animals have the opportunity to contaminate food or water.

Direct infection from animal to animal is also possible. If the bacterium has made its way into the intestine via oral ingestion, it causes small injuries in the intestinal wall here and can thus enter the bloodstream. From here, the Yersinia spreads throughout the entire organism and leads to “blood poisoning” with swelling of the spleen.

If this condition is not yet sufficient to provoke circulatory failure and thus death, and the blood poisoning is survived, tuberculosis-like small inflammations occur in all internal organs with severe enlargement of the surrounding lymph nodes.

This subacute form of rodentiosis leads to death in most cases after 2 to 3 weeks.
Symptoms of rodentiosis in rabbits

The initial signs of rodentiosis are not very characteristic and may be equally suggestive of numerous other diseases. The rabbit is dull, may have a fever, has little appetite, and may show diarrhea or respiratory distress.

In the later course, it becomes increasingly emaciated, while the accompanying symptoms sometimes improve in the meantime, only to come up again with a new episode.

As the inflammation in the organs progresses, tissue necrosis (tissue death) and abscesses (encapsulated accumulations of pus) occur, the rabbit becomes weaker and weaker, and eventually dies.

Often the final stage is accompanied by more or less severe convulsions.

Treatment of pseudotuberculosis in rabbits

The chances of curing rodentiosis in rabbits are poor. Often the disease is recognized too late and treatment begins at a stage where massive organ damage is already to be expected.

After the veterinarian can confirm the suspected disease with a fecal sample, specific medications are used. Antibiotics are available that are effective against the bacteria, kill the pathogen and cause the infections to subside accordingly.

If massive tissue loss has not yet occurred, there is a chance of success and recovery of the long-eared patient. However, rodentiosis treatment is not often crowned with success, since the bacteria in the encapsulated areas of the organs in particular are not reached by the antibiotic and can thus continue to do their mischief. A sufficiently long therapy period under a broad-spectrum antibiotic is therefore indicated.

Since rodentiosis belongs to the zoonoses, i.e. it is transmissible to humans (and other domestic animals), treatment should also be made dependent on the respective circumstances. If immunocompromised persons (old, sick, children) have close contact or are entrusted with nursing tasks of the rabbit, a rescue of the hopping patient should be considered to protect human health.

Prevention of rodentiosis in rabbits

Rodentiosis cannot be safely prevented. Vaccination is available, but only for birds and zoo animals.

However, the risk of infection can be reduced to a minimum by taking appropriate measures. Furthermore, the risk of pure domestic rabbits contracting rodentiosis is of little relevance. One of the most effective prophylactic measures is good feed hygiene, where contamination by rodents can be ruled out.

In the case of rabbits kept in outdoor enclosures, the enclosure must also be appropriately secured so that no contact can be made with wild rabbits or other rodents and birds.

Conscientious cleaning of furnishings and hutch should also be a matter of course and not only serves as a prophylaxis against Yersinia, but also keeps other bacterial populations within tolerable limits.

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