|Posted on February 6, 2013 at 10:15 AM|
The following is a reprint of an article received by Dr.
Wendy Feaga, with her permission.
Wendy is a member
of the AFNZRB.
ARBA Rabbit & Cavy Health Committee
I am seeing an unusual number of young rabbits dying with a jelly diarrhea. In some cases I am loosing adults and nursing does. What is going on?
A number of rabbitries are reporting losses of 4-8 week old rabbits, some with no signs of illness, some with just a hint of diarrhea, but many with full blown mucoid enteritis with rapid weight loss (wasting), diarrhea and jelly stools. You may be lucky to lose one or two in the litter or, the entire litter may die over a period of a week.
Generally the adult rabbits are unaffected, but this time we are seeing some adults dying especially nursing does.
The first reports of unusual deaths due to diarrhea surfaced after the 2008 ARBA Convention in Michigan. One exhibitor thought that the floor boards were to blame, but I saw convention rabbits on risers which came down with the jelly diarrhea at the end of the convention, or very soon afterwards. So there was not a good correlation between the ARBA boards and disease.
Often there are complaints of illness after the ARBA convention – the convention rabbits are exposed to other rabbits, new water supplies and general stress, so illness is expected.
It appears we are seeing a new infectious agent to which the rabbits have never been exposed, and this is fairly wide spread. We are seeing deaths in adult rabbits, sometimes losing as many as half the adults, an age generally resistant to diarrhea, or at least an age which usually recovers totally in a few days of pulling them off pellets and just feeding hay.
In the 4-8 week olds, pretty much all that show signs of illness will die regardless of what you try. Rabbits over 3 months of age are more likely to survive. I have tried various medications on the babies with little success.
One that survived was given just hay and water and no medications. Subcutaneous fluids are helpful in the older rabbits, but as I said before, little appears to save the 4-8 week olds.
Fecal exams may show coccidiosis, but treatment for coccidiosis is unsuccessful leading me to believe that there is an additional disease and not simply coccidiosis.
Often I have seen clostridia in fecal samples of rabbits with diarrhea, but have not seen unusual numbers of this normal bacterium in these youngsters.
High protein feeds will aggravate the problem and should be avoided when the rabbitry is experiencing these losses. Although feeding hay is no guarantee of avoiding this current strain of mucoid enteritis, it remains the best recommendation to lessen your losses. Be sure to give fresh hay each day to nest box babies to insure their first meal is hay to establish the correct pH and microbes in their GI tract. In an out-break, I recommend giving fresh hay twice a day to does with litters over 3 weeks of age.
Instead of full feeding these does and litters, feed pellets twice a day and limit the pellets so they are cleaning up each feeding in a couple of hours.
It’s important to provide good sanitation by removing soiled bedding and cleaning the cage floors with a wire brush to remove visible manure, feeding hay on a regular basis, avoid over-crowding, and providing water in a closed water system (impossible in winter when freezing water forces us to use bowls). Before moving a new rabbit into a new cage, especially doe and litter, be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect that cage and equipment. But the bottom line is that the rabbits need to develop and immunity to what appears to be a new infectious agent.
My hope is as this disease goes through a rabbitry that the stock which are exposed and survive will have immunity so that eventually this disease will run its course in a year. Also the normal evolution of an infectious disease is to become less virulent over time because when it is this virulent it dies with its host. A successful organism does not kill its host so it can continue to spread through populations.