Coccidia in Rabbits

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Eimeria species and other coccidial organisms are microscopic intestinal parasites that can infect rabbits, especially young and recently weaned rabbits.

These organisms invade the intestinal tract of young rabbits and can progress to cause a fatal infection of the liver in many cases. These organisms are species-specific or host-specific, meaning that only those coccidial organisms that affect rabbits can only live in rabbits.

The severity of coccidia infection depends on the species of Eimeria, as well as the rabbit's immune state, age, and environmental stresses. Healthy, mature rabbits housed in good environments may only be transiently affected, while young, immunocompromised rabbits kept in poor environmental conditions may succumb to the infection and die.

How did my rabbit get coccidia?

Your rabbit may have acquired coccidia by eating the feces of a rabbit that passed coccidia cysts (the dormant phase of the parasite) in its feces. Simply put, your rabbit can get coccidia if they eat the contaminated feces of another infected rabbit, usually their mother or father. Rabbits from different litters that are housed together may also pass the organism to each other by fecal to oral transmission.

What are the signs of coccidia in rabbits?

Many rabbits with this disease show no symptoms or clinical signs. They simply carry the organism in their intestinal tracts and pass it to other rabbits in their infected stool. But if they do show signs, they often have watery, mucoid, or possibly blood-tinged diarrhea. Young rabbits become so weak they may not be able to stand up on all four feet. The diarrhea may be infrequent or intermittent (stopping and starting again). You may notice these other signs, as well:

  • soft, mushy fecal pellets
  • lethargy (lack of energy)
  • weakness
  • not eating/lack of appetite
  • weight loss
  • dehydration/not drinking

How does my veterinarian diagnose coccidia in rabbits?

Your veterinarian will likely examine a fecal smear under a microscope or perform a fecal floatation test to identify the presence of the coccidia organisms or their cysts in the fecal material.

What is the treatment for coccidia?

Specific anti-coccidial drugs are necessary to treat the coccidial infection in your rabbit. Some forms of coccidia have become resistant to common anti-coccidia drugs used on dogs and cats.

If your rabbit's diarrhea progresses from moderate to severe in intensity, your veterinarian will likely need to hospitalize your rabbit to provide supportive care until it is well enough to go home. Rabbits with coccidia that present with weight loss, weakness, and diarrhea have a poor chance of surviving the illness, so it is vital that a rabbit-savvy veterinarian examines your rabbit when symptoms first appear.

Your veterinarian may also recommend treatment at your home with oral medication. During this time, it is essential that your rabbit continues to eat a healthy diet. If your rabbit is not eating, you must syringe-feed it to ensure it does not become dehydrated.

"For successful treatment of coccidia, follow your veterinarian’s directions very carefully."

Since rabbits are coprophagic (meaning they eat their own feces), they can reinfect themselves. It is extremely important to clean your rabbit’s home environment diligently and meticulously in order to help eliminate the coccidia cysts before they cause a reoccurrence of the intestinal infection in your rabbit.

For successful treatment of coccidia, follow your veterinarian's directions very carefully.

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