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Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases


Pasteurellosis is common in domestic rabbits. It is highly contagious, and is transmitted primarily by direct contact, although aerosol transmission may also occur. The etiologic agent is Pasteurella multocida , a gram-negative, nonmotile coccobacillus. In conventional colonies, 30-90% of apparently healthy rabbits may be asymptomatic carriers. Several barrier colonies of laboratory rabbits have been established as Pasteurella -free.
Clinical Findings:
Pasteurellosis presents with a variety of clinical symptoms including rhinitis, pneumonia, abscesses, reproductive tract infections, torticollis, and septicemia.
Rhinitis ( snuffles or nasal catarrh) is an acute, subacute, or chronic inflammation of the mucous membranes of the air passages and lungs, induced primarily by Pasteurella , but Pseudomonas , Bordetella bronchiseptica , Staphylococcus , and Streptococcus have also been isolated. The initial sign is a thin, serous exudate from the nose and eyes that later becomes purulent. The fur on the inside of the front legs just above the paws may be matted and caked with dried exudate or this area may be clean with thinned fur as a result of pawing at the nose. Infected rabbits usually sneeze and cough. In general, snuffles occurs when the resistance of the rabbit is low. Recovered rabbits are likely carriers. Pneumonia can ensue.
Pneumonia is common in domestic rabbits. Frequently, it is a secondary and complicating factor in the enteritis complex. The cause is typically P multocida but other bacteria such as Klebsiella pneumoniae , Bordetella bronchiseptica , Staphylococcus aureus , and pneumococci may be involved. Upper respiratory disease (snuffles, see above) is often a precursor of pneumonia. Inadequate ventilation, sanitation, and nesting material are predisposing factors. The number of cases of pneumonia is directly proportional to the level of ammonia in a rabbitry. Rabbits usually succumb within 1 wk after signs appear. Affected rabbits are anorectic, listless, dyspneic, and have a fever. Necropsy reveals bronchopneumonia, pleuritis, pyothorax, or pericardial petechiae. Diagnosis depends on signs, lesions, and culture results. Antibiotic treatment often fails because the pneumonia is advanced before it is detected.
Otitis media or interna (“Wry neck” or head tilt) results from P multocida or Encephalitozoon cuniculi infection. An accumulation of pus or fluid in the middle or inner ear causes the rabbit to twist its head, eg, “wry neck” or torticollis. However, not all rabbits with middle ear infections show torticollis. Longterm antibiotic treatment is required for drug penetration into the affected area. Antibiotic therapy may only prevent worsening of clinical signs and as the prognosis is guarded, most colony rabbits with this condition are culled.
Mature bucks and young rabbits seem particularly susceptible to conjunctivitis, (weepy eye) caused by P multocida or S aureus ; however, the incidence is low. Transmission is by direct contact or fomites. Affected rabbits rub their eyes with their front feet. Ophthalmic ointments containing sulfonamides, antibiotics, or antibiotics and a steroid are satisfactory for treatment, but recurrence is common. Flushing the lacrimal duct with an antibiotic solution is often beneficial in chronically affected show rabbits. Conjunctivitis also accompanies rabbitpox ( Rabbitpox) and myxomatosis ( Myxomatosis).
Subcutaneous and visceral abscesses caused by Pasteurella may be clinically silent for long periods and spontaneously rupture. When bucks penned together fight, their wounds frequently develop abscesses. With colony rabbits, it is usually advisable to eliminate rather than to treat the affected rabbit; with pet rabbits, drainage of the abscess accompanied by antibiotic therapy based on culture and sensitivity tests has been successful, although recurrence of signs is common.

Entropion, rabbit

Exophthalmos, rabbit

Pasteurella often causes genital infections, but several other organisms also may be involved. They are manifest by an acute or subacute inflammation of the reproductive tract, and most frequently are found in adults, more often in does than bucks. If both horns of the uterus are affected, the does often become sterile; if only one horn is involved, a normal litter may develop in the other. The only sign of pyometra may be a thick, yellowish gray vaginal discharge. Bucks may discharge pus from the urethra or have an enlarged testicle. Chronic infection of the prostate and seminal vesicles is likely, and because venereal transmission may ensue, it is best to cull the animal in a production rabbitry colony. Surgical removal of the infected reproductive organs in conjunction with antibiotic therapy is indicated for pet rabbits. The contaminated hutch and its equipment should be thoroughly disinfected.
Rabbits may develop Pasteurella septicemia and die acutely without any clinical signs. Septicemia necropsy findings may reveal only congestion and petechial hemorrhages in multiple organs.
Diagnosis of pasteurellosis is based on clinical signs and isolation of P multocida . Carriers can be identified by an indirect fluorescent antibody test on nasal swabs. A technique that uses small, saline-moistened, pediatric nasopharyngeal swabs has proved superior to the standard, larger nasal swab. The swab is directed medially through the external nares past the turbinates and onto the dorsal surface of the soft palate. The swab is then retracted and can be used in the fluorescent antibody test or plated onto a culture medium. An ELISA test for detecting antibodies against P multocida may also prove beneficial in detecting carriers.
Treatment and Control:
Treatment is difficult and may not eradicate the organism. Antibiotics seem to provide only temporary remission, and the next stress (eg, kindling) may cause relapse. Enrofloxacin (200 mg/L of drinking water for 14 days or 5-10 mg/kg parenteral, bid for 14 days) is effective for upper respiratory P multocida infections. Tilmicosin (25 mg/kg, SC) has been reported as an effective treatment for pasteurellosis. Procaine penicillin (60,000 IU/kg for 10 days) was recommended for indiviual rabbits, but its use should be cautioned as deaths from enterotoxemia often follow penicillin administration.

An effective vaccine has not been developed; therefore, the best method of control in large rabbitries is strict culling. Two methods to free a production colony of Pasteurella have been reported. The first involves culture and culling of positive animals; once the colony is Pasteurella -free, it must be maintained in isolation. In the second method, pregnant does past kindling are treated with enrofloxacin. While does remain Pasteurella -culture positive the kits remain Pasteurella -culture negative. Carriers can be identified by an indirect fluorescent antibody test on nasal swabs.

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