Sexually Transmitted Bacterial Infections in Rabbits

PetMD Editorial
May 14, 2010
3 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

Treponematosis in Rabbits

Treponematosis is a sexually transmitted infection in rabbits that is caused by a bacterial organism called Treponema paraluis cuniculi. This bacterium is spread by sexual contact between rabbits, from direct contact with lesions from another animal, and from mother to newborn during development or birth. This bacterial organism is closely related in form and character to the human species Treponema pallidum (syphilis), but is confined to rabbits; it is not transmissible between species. If this infection is caught early, before systemic damage can occur, it can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics.

Symptoms and Types

The signs and symptoms of treponematosis are varied and may include the following:

  • History of swelling and redness around the vulva or anus, lips and nose
  • History of possible abortion or loss of pregnancy, long and difficult deliveries, or appearance of stress during pregnancy
  • Swelling early on of the area near and around the genital regions, the eyes, and around the grooming regions
  • Lesions are often on the face only
  • Raised bumps and crusting on the skin surface

Causes

Treponematosis comes from the bacterial species Treponema cuniculi and is spread through direct contact with the organism. It is possible for the disease to be in a latent stage, and for the infected rabbit to pass the disease on to other rabbits, even though the infected rabbit is not showing any apparent symptoms. Therefore, it is not always possible to determine with a normal inspection whether a potential breeding partner is infected before allowing sexual contact between the two rabbits. If you have recently bred your rabbit, or your rabbit has been paired with a different sexual partner, there is a possibility that your rabbit has come into contact with an infected partner.

Conversely, infection can also be seen in younger animals that may not have had sexual contact and thus may have caught the infection congenitally/in utero, or through direct contact with the lesions in the passage of the birth canal.

Diagnosis

To formally diagnose your rabbit's condition, your veterinarian will need to rule out other conditions that might cause similar symptoms, such as ear mites. Some of the common outer symptoms, such as dry crusts that form with excessive saliva in and around the face, matting of hair around the face, and lesions around the face, will need to be closely inspected, with fluid and tissue samples taken for biopsy.

Along with the thorough physical exam, your veterinarian will need you to give a thorough history of your rabbit's health and onset of symptoms. Your doctor's initial diagnosis will take into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have led to this condition. If the final diagnosis is treponematosis, all of the rabbits that have come into contact with the infected rabbits will need to receive medical treatment.

Treatment

Treatment in the form of a topical treatment is necessary. It is also necessary to keep the lesions clean and dry to help them heal quickly. While this is not always necessary, it can help speed the recovery. A simple topical (external) antibiotic can also be used to speed healing. Only medications that can be applied topically may be used, as oral applications can be fatal, unless your veterinarian advises otherwise. Your rabbit will require follow-up monitoring and care to ensure complete resolution of the symptoms.

Living and Management

It is important to follow-up with your health provider to ensure the rabbit avoids exposure to other rabbits that may still carry this infection, which can result in recontamination, and to avoid infecting other animals until your veterinarian is confident that your rabbit is clear of the Treponema cuniculi bacteria. If you have other rabbits, there is a good possibility that they are also infected and should also receive treatment. Even if they are not showing symptoms, your veterinarian may choose to err on the side of prophylactic treatment to avoid further complications.

The prognosis for rabbits with treponematosis is excellent provided treatment commences immediately and that all rabbits with the T. cuniculi infection receive treatment promptly.

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