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Category: Rabbit Health

This Isn’t Just A Hobby, Don’t Treat It Like One!

Let’s face it…finding true, production herd rabbitries is hard these days, and it’s even harder to find commercial rabbitry owners who can, or will, mentor you. We are just a different breed of rabbit professionals, and pet or show industry practices are just too impractical, or too downright silly, to be applicable to our businesses.

When you start participating in the online rabbit community, and really you almost have to these days if you are going to participate in as many market areas as possible (and you really SHOULD do that), you quickly find that there are an enormous number of people who consider themselves rabbit experts, and portray themselves as such.

They tout their double-digit years of rabbit ownership as proof, cannot back up a single bit of their “advice” with any sort of industry or scientific research, and they do NOT take kindly to being questioned or corrected. If you challenge their authority, they will dissolve into fits of rage and name-calling immaturity so fast your head will spin LOL

Sadly, those are the people who speak longest, loudest, and most often. Those are the people you will see being called upon again and again to answer questions, and thereby continue their reign of misinformation and hobbyist righteousness. It is just SO difficult to find production herd owners who have the time, and the desire, to share the ins and outs of our trade and when you do, more often than not you will find the pet/show/hobbyists having absolute fits over the advice given and totally distracting from the information being shared with you.

If you are SERIOUS about starting (or expanding into) a commercial rabbitry, you cannot treat it like a hobby. You have to take a very clinical, black and white approach to everything to do with your business, and make NO mistake, you MUST treat it like a business. There is no room in true commercial rabbit production for soft hearts, touchy-feely emotional attachments, anthropomorphism, or pet/show/hobby type husbandry practices. You will burn out, go broke, and run as far and fast as you can from rabbits in a very short amount of time. Those of us currently in the industry don’t want that!

There is currently an absolutely enormous demand for rabbits, and that demand is increasing faster than we can expand our herds to meet it. If WE (U.S. based producers) can’t get closer to meeting the demand, we’ll simply lose it as buyers look elsewhere (outside of the U.S.).

In the very near future, I will be offering several integrated venues for folks just like you to find the information you’re looking for. The bonus? Every person who is breeding rabbits can benefit from the information, regardless of scale or end-use. Information will be tailored to rabbits produced for human consumption and the feeder markets, as well as breeding stock for those purposes. Topics will range from housing, to feeding, to production genetics and record keeping.

I’m excited to get this ball rolling, and start sharing the information with ya’ll!


Coccidiosis – Part Three

I originally thought I could throw this post together very quickly, but the truth is that while treating coccidia is fairly simple, explaining why I think the simplest treatment is the best one gets very complicated, very quickly.

Now, I know I’ve scared the crap out of you and basically told you just how coccidia is going to kill your rabbits and ruin your life, but let me give you a little hope!

There are things you can do to help prevent coccidia infection, and there are treatment options available.

In Part Two, I gave you the sporulation and pre-patent period information for the most common species of coccidia that affect rabbits. Here is a condensed version of that:

Hepatic (liver) species:

E stiedae PP: 14 – 18 days

Sporulation: 3 days

Intestinal species:

E magna PP: 6 – 8 days

Sporulation: 2 – 3 days

E irresidua PP: 9 – 10 days

Sporulation: 2 – 2.5 days

E media PP: 4.5 – 6 days

Sporulation: 2 days

E perforans PP: 5 – 6 days

Sporulation: 2 days

E flavescens PP: 7 – 9 days

Sporulation: 4 days

E intestinalis PP: 9 days

Sporulation: 2 days

As you can see, the shortest sporulation time is 2 days, and the longest pre-patent period is 18 days. Those points are important to know because you don’t necessarily have to diagnose the exact species of coccidia to effectively treat it.

To reiterate again from Part Two, the sporulation time is the time it takes from eggs being expelled in the feces to the time they become infectious, and the pre-patent period (PP) is the amount of time from when the rabbit ingests an infectious egg until the coccidia from it mature and begin producing eggs themselves.

So, as soon as two days after being expelled in the feces, eggs are infectious. Within 18 days of being consumed (and hundreds or thousands of those infectious eggs can be consumed DAILY), those infectious eggs have essentially hatched releasing 8 immature coccidia each, and those have then invaded the intestinal or organ tissues, matured and created potentially thousands of other immature coccidia, and have begun producing more eggs.

Because the route of transmission is fecal contamination, housekeeping plays a vital role in containing and treating coccidia.

Fecal contamination does not mean visibly dirty!

Anything feces touches, even momentarily, can have coccidia eggs on it, even cage wire. So, the rabbit poops, that poop rolls across a wire and falls through. The rabbit then steps on that wire, and it’s foot is contaminated. Hopping around, eggs are spread from the foot, all around the cage and to the other feet. At some point, the rabbit puts it’s foot on the feeder or waterer. A couple of days later, the eggs transferred there are ready to infect the rabbit further.

Think about every possible contamination point….poop in a feeder or water bowl, on resting pads, on the floor and side wire, on nest boxes or toys, on the feed scoop you dropped on the floor, on YOUR hands after touching the rabbit or cleaning it’s cage or litter box….it really is SO easy for those eggs to get spread around!

In most situations it is virtually impossible to eliminate all sources of contamination. You can seriously make yourself crazy trying! Just ask me how I know LOL

What you can and should do is maintain a regular, thorough cleaning routine. What you MUST do when you suspect coccidiosis is implement one IMMEDIATELY.

This involves not only keeping the environment free of feces buildup, but also regular cleaning of feeders, waterers, and the surfaces of the rabbit’s housing as well.

Removing feces from the living environment removes the contamination source, but it does not kill the eggs. The eggs are essentially impervious to everything! One thing they are destroyed by however is a 10% ammonia solution.

One thing they are destroyed by however is a 10% ammonia solution.

NOTE: Household cleaning ammonia is NOT sufficient. You must use industrial strength, 10% ammonia. Check our favorite products page for a source to buy it!

If you clean regularly, and sanitize with 10% ammonia, you will keep the exposure level to a minimum. That’s not to say that you will never have a rabbit with coccidia, but the severity of disease is absolutely dependant on the level of exposure AND the overall immune system status of the rabbit.

That’s not to say that you will never have a rabbit with coccidia, but the severity of disease is absolutely dependant on the level of exposure AND the overall immune system status of the rabbit.

So what about preventatives? Think about that….a preventative actually stops (prevents) something from happening, right?

Well, when it comes to coccidia, compounds are marketed as preventatives, but they actually ONLY work once the rabbit already has the parasite.

The only TRUE preventative is to keep rabbits from contacting oocytes in feces.

Some will say that you cannot totally prevent coccidia infection, and I say you can go ahead and ask a Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) breeder or laboratory about that. You absolutely CAN prevent the parasite entirely, though for most of us it’s simply not plausible to do so, or to maintain a SPF line.

Focus then really has to be on treatment, whether a company calls it’s product a preventative or not.

Now here’s one point where it gets even more confusing – many of these products are chemically known as polyether antibiotics, or ionophores. To learn more about what exactly those are, go here.

One of the compounds marketed as a preventative, and widely used particularly in the massive European production rabbitries, is diclazuril.

What diclazuril does is damage the coccidia during both asexual and sexual reproduction, which reduces the number of oocytes that are produced and shed.

So, diclazuril does NOT actually prevent coccidia infection at all. It reduces the number of oocytes that are produced AFTER infection has occurred. The rabbit still has coccidia, and some damage is still being done inside the intestine (which can still result in decreased appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, and decreased ability to digest feed).

There is also the problem of resistance that can develop to the drug over time, which results in having to add another compound or change compounds altogether.

Now, if you go searching for a way to buy diclazuril here in the United States, you’ll find that there is only one FDA approved product in the US (Protzail pellets for horses), and that it is insanely expensive.

I’ve done a bit of research for you though, and can tell you that the approved usual dose of the drug diclazuril for rabbits, according to European research and maximum residue standards, is about 0.067 mg per kg of body weight each day, which is usually delivered by mixing the compound at a rate of 1 ppm in the feed.

The usual feed additive dose and withdrawal time is listed in the product information for the diclazuril additive Clinacox, and here is the Maximum Residue Limits report from the European Medicines Agency.

You can find the same kind of information for several other products such as Sacox with a simple Google search.

For what it’s worth, you can save your time because there are exactly ZERO of these products available or approved for use in rabbits in the United States. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t use it, but the cost alone is prohibitive for most, and you have to seriously consider withdrawal times. We’re talking about a 70 day growth period here, not 280 days.

My personal treatment of choice is Corid 9.6%. It is cheap, effective when used properly, and has a 24 hour withdrawal time (and because it’s just a synthetic vitamin, observing withdrawal times is optional for personal consumption).

I’m going to tell you how I personally treat a coccidia outbreak.
I have not saved every rabbit that got sick, and I am not a Veterinarian, but within 48 hours I have stopped the outbreak, every single time, in my rabbitry.

My treatment of choice IS amprolium, aka Corid.

Previously, research indicated amprolium dosed at 8mg/kg was effective, albeit not totally effective at preventing the development and shedding of oocytes.

Current, 2018 published research, shows that doses of up to 20mg/kg are as effective as antibiotic drugs at not only stopping outbreaks, but also at stopping oocyte shedding.

I use the liquid, 9.6%, Corid formulation. This product delivers 9.6mg of amprolium per 0.1cc, or 96mg per 1cc.

Given the new research, my 0.1cc per whole or partial pound dosing protocols effectiveness makes sense.

I dose sick rabbits at 0.1cc per pound, rounding up to the next whole pound. This provides 9.6mg amprolium per pound, and I give it orally once a day.

In group situations, such as a growout pen or colony, I dose at 30cc per gallon of water. This solution delivers 22.5mg amprolium per ounce of water…for every two whole pounds of body weight, a growout need only consume less than 1 ounce of amprolium water.

In all cases where I feel it necessary to treat for coccidia, I treat for 14 days, stop for 7, and repeat for another 14. This duration will treat all of the common species to infect domestic rabbits, including hepatic coccidia.

Remember when dosing via water, the rabbit has to consume enough of that water each day to receive at least 8mg/kg, and the water has to be mixed fresh every 24 hours. Individual dosing assures the proper dose is recieved daily.

The treatment time I always use is 14 days on, 7 days off, and repeat for 14 days. This treatment protocol addresses even the hepatic coccidia E stiedae, but it must be strictly adhered to to be successful.

For those looking for an all natural alternative, new research is indicating that 100mg/kg of whole wormwood not only reduces the number of oocytes produced, but increases weight gain in fryers. Check out that study here!

Coccidiosis In Rabbits – Part Two

Coccidiosis. If you’ve been learning about rabbits more than about two minutes you’ve heard of it.

And, if you believe everything you’ve read, you’re probably terrified. Well, don’t be. Once you understand the parasite, you’ll see that while it IS a serious concern, it can be controlled.

To begin, let’s talk about what coccidia actually are. I’ll say this again in case you missed it in Part One – there will be some complicated, science-ish terms used in this section, so I will break them down a bit. I’m not assuming you can’t understand the technical lingo, I just want to be sure you 100% know what I’m talking about.

Coccidia are microscopic, single-celled “obligate intracellular parasites.”

An “obligate intracellular parasite” absolutely MUST be inside an animal cell to live and reproduce. I want to repeat this: inside an animal CELL. That’s important to understand because you’re not going to SEE coccidia like you might see roundworms (the long spaghetti-like parasites puppies will often pass after their first worming..yes, rabbits can get those too!). They are absolutely microscopic at all stages.

There are literally thousands of types of coccidia, but the beauty of them is that they are almost always species specific. Almost (there are some that will infect species other than their normal host, even humans). The genus that WE are concerned about with rabbits is Eimeria.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, 11th Edition, the following are the most common species that affect rabbits (this is not ALL of the species that affect rabbits, just the most common):

E stiedae

E magna

E irresidua

E media

E perforans

E flavescens

E intestinalis

All of the Eimeria species undergo essentially the same process that turns them from non-infectious eggs to disease causing, active parasites. Here’s how it works:

Oocytes are the coccidia eggs, and those are the only form that can survive OUTSIDE the cell of an animal host. They have a thick, tough “shell” that protects them from…well, everything.

When they are first released into the environment in the rabbit’s feces, they are not infectious – in fact, you can think of them sort of like a chicken egg at first. All the material is there to make the parasite, but it has to go through some processes to be a problem.

Sporulation is an asexual form of reproduction of many protozoans, also known as meiosis. As soon as the coccidia eggs enter the environment, the presence of oxygen and moisture que the process of cell division known as sprorulation. For those who already know the term meiosis, sporulation IS meiosis (which, for those who don’t know, is a process of cell division which produces reproductive cells and makes sexual reproduction possible).

Through meiosis, four sporocysts form, and then inside of those sporocysts, two sporozoites form. In the end, after 24 hours to seven full days (depending on the Eimeria species), each coccidia egg contains eight sporozoites. That oocyte is now called a sporulated oocyte, and it is infectious.

So now, one egg has turned into eight infectious….parts. Let’s call them that for now. Then, along comes your rabbit and ingests just one of those sporulated oocytes (infectious eggs). How does that happen?! Well, it’s pretty simple – anything that feces has even TOUCHED can have oocytes on it.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always cleaning water bowls because there’s a floater in there (how does a 14 pound doe fling poop into her water bowl  EVERY DAY?!), or I’m digging little baby turds out of feeders because as soon as I take away nest boxes the WHOLE litter has to try to sleep in the j-feeder.

So, we clean waterers and feeders pretty regularly, right? Well, sort of. See, oocytes are NOT killed by just soap and water. Bleach doesn’t kill them, air doesn’t kill them, sun doesn’t kill them, the friction of scrubbing doesn’t kill them….there are only two things that are proven to work without fail….fire and a 10% ammonia solution.

I certainly don’t torch my rubber water bowls every day, and I don’t scrub them with 10% ammonia solution every day either, so even though I don’t SEE any contamination, it’s still there. And that’s not even considering resting mats, floor wire, nest boxes, the rabbit itself (feet, nails, and fur), or the scoop I use to feed that has surely fallen to the floor a hundred times just this week, etc.!

So, your rabbit has ingested a sporulated oocyte. Crap, now what?!

Once the oocyte reenters the digestive system, it’s shell begins to break down. By the time it leaves the stomach, the oocyte has opened up and the four sporocysts have been released, and they too have opened releasing the total of eight sporozoites into the duodenum (the very first part of the small intestine, just after the stomach).

Those eight sporozoites then travel through the intestine to the part that their particular Eimeria species infects. While it has not been totally determined for every single Eimeria species exactly HOW they know where to go, it’s thought that each species has membrane-bound structures on their surface that release secretions that are then recognized by the host cell’s receptors – until the sporozoites reach those cells and their secretions are recognized, they just glide along inside the intestine. The host cell receptors then recognize the secretions and draw the sporozoites to the cell like a magnet.

Once the sporozoites reach the host cells, they invade them and start feeding. At this stage, they are called trophozoites.

I really want you to remember this part – trophozoites are the initial feeding stage of the coccidia parasite, and it develops AFTER the cell is already invaded. Got it? Great!

Once the trophozoite has fed, the process of schizogony begins. Schiz  WHAT?!

Schizogony is an asexual form of reproduction where the nucleus of the trophozoite divides by mitosis into two identical nuclei. At this point, the trophozoite is now called a schizont. The process of mitosis continues over and over again, resulting in potentially thousands of nuclei inside of each schizont.

So let’s slow down just a second and go over this all again real quick!

  1. An oocyte is expelled with the feces of the rabbit.

  2. At some point between 1 and 7 days later, the oocyte has sporulated and now contains 8 sporozoites, and is now infectious.

  3. The rabbit consumes the infectious oocyte, which bursts open and releases the 8 sporozoites.

  4. The sporozoites float along in the intestine of the rabbit until the magnet-like host cell receptors pull them close. All 8 sporozoites invade separate host cells (each oocyte ingested initially results in eight infected cells).

  5. The sporozoites begin feeding on the hosts nutrients and are called trophozoites.

  6. Once trophozoites finish feeding, they begin reproducing by dividing their nucleus and making two identical ones; each of those two nuclei divide as well, and so on and so forth from two to seven generations depending on species. After the very first nucleus divides, the sporozoites are not called trophozoites anymore, they are called schizonts.

Each nuclei within the schizont becomes a merozoite, which is a new cell in and of itself. The schizonts eventually burst due to the number of merozoites, which kills the host cell they were in and releases all of those potentially thousands of merozoites into the intestine.

The now free merozoites do one of three things….they either invade a new host cell and begin reproducing again into more merozoites, or invade a new host cell and become either macrogametes (female reproduction cells) or microgametes (male reproduction cells).

When some of them become male and female gametes, the parasite is now capable of sexual reproduction (all stages before this have been asexual). A male and a female gamete then come together and form an oocyte. That new oocyte is then passed through the intestine in the feces and the process starts all over.

To recap one final time:

  1. one single sporulated oocyte led to eight infected intestinal wall cells.

  2. Those eight cells hosted potentially thousands of merozoites EACH until the number of merozoites caused the cell to rupture and die.

  3. Each of the merozoites released by that now dead initial host cell go on to invade their own, new host cell.

  4. Some of those merozoites continue to reproduce and create thousands more merozoites, some become female gametes and some become male gametes.

  5. One male and one female gamete come together and create an oocyte which is passed out of the rabbit, and begins the process all over again.

Now, the scary part. A rabbit ingests potentially thousands of oocytes every day. If enough sporulated oocytes are ingested, of the more serious species, and enough damage is done, you may see signs of the disease we call coccidiosis.

Some rabbits never show ANY signs. Ever. They don’t get sick, they don’t go off feed or lose condition, and they appear completely, totally normal. But, they still shed oocytes into the environment. Other rabbits get very ill, very quickly, and before you can do much to figure out what exactly is wrong, they are dead.

Here is a list of the prepatent periods (the time from ingestion of an oocyte to the production of new ones inside the rabbit)  for each of the above, and a graphic showing the location in the digestive tract where each species reproduces.

Click to enlarge

E stiedae       PP: 14 – 18 days

Sporulation: 3 days

Symptoms:    In mild cases of liver coccidiosis (this is the only species known to infect the liver) there may be no signs, but in more severe ones the animals lose their appetites and grow thin. There may be diarrhea, and the mucous membranes may be jaundiced. The disease is more severe in young animals than in old. It may be chronic, or death may occur in 21 to 30 days.

Some of the symptoms are due to interference with liver function. The liver may become really big, and white to yellowish bumps or strings appear in it. At first they are well defined…an obvious round bump for example, but later as they get larger and there are more of them, they are harder to tell one from the other. The enlarged bile ducts are filled with the developing parasites. Under a microscope,you will see a massive enlargement  of the bile duct epithelial cells. Instead of forming a simple, narrow tube, the epithelium is thrown into big, tree-like folds, and each of those epithelial cells contains a parasite.

E magna       PP: 6 – 8 days

Sporulation:  2 – 3 days

Symptoms:    The principal signs are loss of weight, lack of appetite and diarrhea. A good deal of mucus may be passed. The animals lose their appetites and grow thin. The intestinal lining has decreased blood flow and is inflamed, and epithelial sloughing may occur.

E irresidua    PP: 9 – 10 days

Sporulation: 2 – 2.5 days

Symptoms:    This is one of the more pathogenic of the intestinal coccidia of rabbits. This is a BAD one. It causes the usual signs of intestinal coccidiosis. The affected areas of the intestine have a decreased blood flow, there may be leaking of blood from the intestinal lining, and the epithelium may slough and become denuded.

E media         PP: 4.5 – 6 days

Sporulation: 2 days

Symptoms:    It may cause the usual outward signs of intestinal coccidiosis such as watery, blood streaked, or mucous-laden diarrhea. The affected parts of the intestinal lining may be swollen, with greyish spots.

E perforans  PP: 5 – 6 days

Sporulation: 2 days

Symptoms:    E. perforans is one of the least dangerous intestinal coccidia of rabbits, but it may still cause mild to moderate signs if the infection is heavy enough. The duodenum may be enlarged by edema (fluid in the tissues), sometimes chalky white in color; the jejunum and ileum may contain white spots and streaks, and there may be small areas of broken bloodvessels the cecum.

E flavescens            PP: 7 – 9 days

Sporulation: 4 days

Symptoms:    Often presents dually with E intestinalis, so symptoms and necropsy findings are similar.

E intestinalis            PP: 9 days

Sporulation: 2 days

Symptoms:    According to Pellerdy (1953, 1954), experimental infections with this species cause more or less severe intestinal inflammation and diarrhea, and may kill young rabbits. At necropsy, edema and greyish-white foci which may come together to form a, sticky, pus- like layer  in the intestine.

I’ve given you a LOT to think about and absorb, I know. In the next, and final part, I’m going to discuss various prevention and treatment protocols at some depth, using the most recent information I can get my hands on. I’ll include ways to clean and sanitize your rabbits environment, as well as specific products used to treat and prevent the parasite in rabbits.

In the mean time, what I’d like for you to do is carefully consider whether you would be willing to use medications, including antibiotics, to deal with this problem should is present in your rabbitry. There are of course advantages, and disadvantages, both ways so give it very careful consideration.

I’ll have Part Three available for you very soon!

Coccidiosis In Rabbits – Part One

Ok folks, it’s the elephant in the room. Coccidiosis. 

All rabbits are susceptible to it, no matter how they’re kept. Nobody is immune, no rabbit is exempt.

While there are certainly some housekeeping issues that can cause it to be a big, big issue unnecessarily, unless you have a magic rabbit that doesn’t poop the truth is you cannot eliminate every single possible exposure. And guess what…all rabbits eat their cecotropes so, BAM, exposure happens (here’s a curve ball though….cecotropes are NOT a source of coccidia infection in and of themselves). True story.

So, every body and their brother is talking about it. Search every rabbit forum you can find….social media groups, rabbit blogs, message boards, private websites like this one…go ahead, I’ll wait.

Done? Good. Now forget everything you just read.

Did you notice that SOMEBODY always blames coccidia when a rabbit is sick or dies? Yeah, me too. And frankly, I’m sick of seeing all the misinformation spread around with NOTHING to back it up!

Folks, if you take anything at all away from what I say here, make it this: DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.

Don’t just look for the comment with the most likes, or go with the majority rules theory.

So, yeah…don’t believe it because you see it on the internet. Like…this…which is, admittedly, very much on the internet LOL

The difference between that other stuff and what you will find HERE is research. Every single thing is first scientifically proven and documented, before I tested and have practically proven in my own rabbitry.

Another big difference, I won’t just tell you I dug up the research, I will give you the same current research I myself use. You don’t even HAVE to go find it.

So, onward and upward as they say. Part Two will be what you’re looking for. A detailed, thorough explanation of what coccidiosis IS, how it works, what treats and controls it, and I’ll even show you pictures!