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Rabbit Diseases/Infections

Pasteurellosis: The bacterium, Pasteurella multocida, is the major infectious agent of rabbits. It is most often transmitted among chronically infected does and their litters or between breeding males and females. The bacteria most often reside in the nose, lungs and eye membranes, but can spread to other areas of the body. Pasteurellosis of rabbits may take many different forms. Respiratory disease, including pneumonia and infection of the nasal passages and sinuses, is very common. Infections of the eye membranes, middle ear, jawbone and uterus are most often the result of the Pasteurella organism. Abscesses are also common and occur when the Pasteurella organism settles in a specific location. The rabbit's body responds to this invasion with an influx of tremendous numbers of white blood cells to fight the infection. Pus results from the accumulation of dead and dying white blood cells and tissue cells in the area of the infection. Pasteurella infections may become incurable if untreated or improperly treated. Aggressive antibiotic therapy with the appropriate drugs, however, especially if undertaken early in the course of the disease, is often rewarding. Many antibiotics have great difficulty penetrating the relatively inaccessible sites of most infections and the thick pus seen in rabbit abscesses. Pasteurellosis is a persistent problem in most rabbitries and very difficult to eradicate. This disease creates its most serious problems under conditions of malnutrition, overcrowding, poor sanitation, temperature extremes, inadequate air circulation and other stressful situations. Ideally, prospective owners should obtain their pet rabbit from a Pasteurella- free rabbitry, but this is not always possible. Regardless of origin, all newly acquired pet rabbits should be thoroughly examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible after purchase.

Abscesses: As mentioned in the previous section on Pasteurellosis, rabbits are very prone to abscess formation. The bacteria most often involved in these abscesses include Pasteurella multocida and Staphylococcus aureus. Abscesses represent focal areas of infection and may be in single or multiple locations. The most important consideration regarding this condition is the way in which abscesses must be treated. Because rabbit pus is roughly the consistency of toothpaste, lancing and draining abscesses are difficult and attempts to do so may be futile. Abscesses should be treated as if they were tumors and be surgically removed. In addition, an appropriate antibiotic should be given.

Eye infections are relatively common extensions of sinus infections in rabbits and should be treated aggressively with systemic (body-wide) and topical antibiotics. This is important because the eyes are connected to the brain by important nerves. If an eye infection goes unchecked, encephalitis (infection of the brain) is a common and dangerous consequence. Common signs of eye infections include accumulation of debris at the corner of the eyes, and soiling of the hair below the lower eyelip. Obstruction of the nasolacrimal duct, which normally drains tears from the eye into the nasal cavity, causes tears to spill onto the hair below the lower eyelip. Long-term use of topical antibacterial ophthalmic ointment may correct nasolacrimal duct obstruction: flushing is required in some cases.

Internal Bacterial Infections from a host of bacterial organisms are common among rabbits. Affected rabbits show a wide variety of signs because multiple organs (liver, kidney, intestinal tract, brain, etc.) are usually involved. Laboratory workups (blood, urine, bacterial cultures) are vital to properly diagnose and monitor the progress of these cases. Laboratory tests also help predict the outcome. Rabbits suffering from these serious multiple organ bacterial infections (septicemias) must be aggressively treated with appropriate antibiotics and p roper supportive care (nutrition, fluids, etc.). Recovery usually requires several weeks or more of treatment. If infection results in formation of internal abscesses, a cure may be virtually impossible.

Hutch Sores ("Sore Hocks"): Hutch sores are chronically ulcerated and infected wounds on the weight-bearing surfaces of the rear (and sometimes the front) paws. They are caused by a number of predisposing factors: reduced thickness of fur on the bottoms of the feet; continued thumping of the rear feet when frightened; excessive body weight; repeated or continual urine-soiling of feet; lack of movement from living in a small enclosure; and abrasions from irregular cage flooring. Hutch sores can occur in rabbits housed on solid floors, but are more common in rabbits kept in enclosures with wire floors. Pet rabbits that are housed indoors or outdoors should be confined in roomy wire cages with Plexiglas covering about one-half of the floor's surface area. Hutch sores are treated with antibiotics both topically and by injection) and periodic bandaging of the affected feet Treatment is usually long-term and also requires identification and correction of the underlying causes. Hutch sores must be treated aggressively to prevent infection of deeper soft tissues and bone.