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4 Things Rabbit Owners Need To Know About Encephalitozoonosis

Encephalitozoonosis is a serious fungal disease that can lead to paralysis in rabbits. Here are four things you need to know about it.

What causes encephalitozoonosis?

Encephalitozoonosis is caused by encephalitozoon cuniculi, a type of fungi. Rabbits contract the infection by ingesting something that is contaminated with the fungi. The fungi then travels through their gastrointestinal tract and into their blood stream before ending up their kidneys. In the kidneys, the fungi replicate and are released into the urine. At this stage, infected rabbits become contagious. The fungi released with their urine can survive in the environment for up to a month.

After the kidney infection is resolved, the fungi can still be found in the brain cells. Sometimes, they remain there without causing any further problems, but other times, they replicate and lead to encephalitozoonosis.

What are the symptoms?

Encephalitozoonosis causes serious neurological symptoms. You may notice that your rabbit is unable to hold their head straight; this is known as head tilt. Your rabbit may lose control of some or all of their legs and may also lose control of their bladder and bowel functions. Twitching of the eyes is another clue that your rabbit has encephalitozoonosis.

Non-neurological symptoms may also be seen. Your rabbit may suffer from kidney disease as a result of the scarring that the fungi causes within the kidneys as it replicates. Liver disease may also be seen.

Can it be treated?

There are no medications that can cure encephalitozoonosis, but there are a few that can help keep the infection under control while your rabbit's immune system fights off the fungi. Benzimidazole can be used to control your rabbit's symptoms, but when the drug is stopped, the symptoms may return. Oxibendalone, a horse worming paste, has also been shown to provide relief from the symptoms. 

Can it spread to humans?

The fungi responsible for this disease can affect humans, so make sure to take precautions while caring for your sick rabbit. Wear gloves and a mask while handling your pet and change your clothes after leaving the room. Don't forget to wash your hands as well.

If you are immunocompromised, the fungal infection could be fatal, so if possible, have a friend or family member look after your pet for you.

If you notice neurological symptoms in your rabbit, take them to an emergency vet (like those at Bayside Veterinary Hospital) right away. They may have encephalitozoonosis, a serious fungal disease.