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Rabbit Syphilis

by Tal Saarony

The 2 most important facts about rabbit syphilis are:

  • 1.That it is completely treatable and curable;
  • 2. That it is not zoonotic and cannot be transmitted to humans.
  • Rabbit syphilis is a disease caused by the bacterium Treponema cuniculi. It can be transmitted sexually, but has also been seen in rabbits that were living singly, having had no contact with other rabbits, and in rabbits that were sharing space with unaffected rabbits. It is believed that the disease was transmitted to these rabbits at birth or via the mother's milk while nursing. In some rabbits the bacterium may remain dormant for long periods of time, even years, and the affected rabbit will show no clinical signs until a stressful event occurs, causing the infection to erupt.

    no pic
    Feb. 9, 2007 - Discovered what appeared to be an injury in the corner of Gozal’s eye, possibly from a bonding session. It resembled a crusty eye discharge.

    The incidence of syphilis in house rabbits is not known, but it is likely more common than previously thought. It is, therefore, important to be aware of the clinical characteristics of the regular and atypical forms as well as of the easy availability of treatment.

    Clinical signs
    The typical form of syphilis affects the mucocutaneous junctions of the genitalia, the anus and/or the face, mainly around and on the eyelids and nose. Lesions develop slowly. The skin becomes crusty and ulcerated. The secretion of a pus-like exudate and bleeding can occur. Due to slow immune response to the bacterium, the infection can spread to the surrounding areas and other susceptible regions on the body (e.g., from the anus/genitalia to the face) when left untreated.

    no pic
    Apr. 18, 2007 - Wound was crusted over and then suddenly a crater appeared. Gozal was getting an antibiotic eye ointment which had no effect on his condition.

    Over the last years, an atypical form of treponematosis has been observed in rabbits, in which clinical signs are seen only on the face and not on the genitals/anus. The affected area will exhibit lesions that will develop into crusts and, if left untreated, will spread. The lesions may become raw, inflamed, or may bleed or exude a discharge.

    Treatment
    Syphilis bacteria will only be killed with injected penicillin G (benzathine/procaine: 42.000 - 84.000 UI/kg), at intervals of 5 to 7 days, continued 4 - 5 weeks. The importance of injected administration must be emphasized here: rabbits should NEVER be administered penicillin orally. It is important to monitor the rabbit's eating. As the dying bacteria release toxins inside the rabbit's body, the appetite may be affected. Inappetence can last 2 - 3 days, but the rabbit usually begins eating again on its own. It is essential that the antibiotic is not stopped; the rabbit should be encouraged to eat, tempted with favorite foods, and given a lot of attention and love to motivate it to eat.

    no pic
    May 10, 2007 - Around this time Gozal’s nose presented with crusts as well, though to a much lesser degree.

    It is important to monitor the rabbit's eating. As the dying bacteria release toxins inside the rabbit's body, the appetite may be affected. Inappetence can last 2 - 3 days, but the rabbit usually begins eating again on its own. It is essential that the antibiotic is not stopped; the rabbit should be encouraged to eat, tempted with favorite foods, and given a lot of attention and love to motivate it to eat.

    no pic
    June 4, 2007 - Great improvement, after a vet friend (who had been following Gozal’s condition via emails) suggested syphilis. Gozal’s first penicilin shot was on June 1.

    Case Study
    On our website we have a complete case study of a rabbit, Gozal, and his syphilis. There are many pictures, documenting the entire progression and treatment of his illness. To view this case study, please go to our website at: http://www.rabbitnetwork.org/articles/syphilis.shtml

    no pic
    Gozal, September, 19, 2009 - Completely healed and 100% healthy!

    References

  • 1. Saito K., Tagawa M., and Hasegawa A. Rabbit Syphilis Diagnosed Clinically in Household Rabbits J. Vet. Med. Sci. 65(5): 637-639, 2003
  • 2. Saito K., Tagawa M., and Hasegawa A. RPR Test for Serological Survey of Rabbit Syphilis in Companion Rabbits J. Vet. Med. Sci. 65(7): 797-799, 2003
  • 3. Bellangeon M. Tréponématose chez le Lapin de Compagnie PASE 2, deuxième trimestre 2001
  • 4. Saunders RA, Davies RR. Notes of rabbit internal medicine. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing; 2005
  • 5. Quesenberry KE, Carpenter JW. Ferrets, rabbits and rodents. Clinical Medicine and Surgery. St Louis, USA: Saunders; 2004
  • Copyright 2010 Tal Saarony



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