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World Zoonoses Day

July 6th is “World Zoonoses Day”; a zoonosis is defined by the World Health Organization as any disease or infection that is naturally transmissible between vertebrae animals and humans. It’s important to understand the zoonoses that can affect rabbits and humans. If you or your rabbit present any symptoms, you can prevent transmission between each other and work quickly to eradicate the infection.


In this article, we are going to explore the more common types of zoonoses seen in house rabbits as well as humans.


  • Pasteurellosis (Snuffles)

  • Dermatophytosis (Ringworm)

  • Mycobacteriosis

  • Cryptosporidiosis (Crypto)

  • Mange

  • Ticks


Disclaimer: We've attempted to include images of more mild cases,

but some may still be disturbing.


Pasteurellosis (Snuffles)


A common name for pasteurellosis is “snuffles.” It is a bacterial infection that affects the respiratory tract. As the name suggests, snuffles causes nasal discharge as well as difficulty breathing, eye inflammation, and swelling around the face. It mainly infects humans, rabbits, dogs, cats, and cattle.


The bacteria can be transmitted through the air, from direct contact with a contaminated object, or from mother to kit in birth. However, between humans and animals, bites, scratches, and even licks are the usual modes of transmission.


If you suspect you or your rabbit could be affected, a veterinarian or doctor can take a nasal swab to confirm the infection. Blood samples or X-rays may be taken in less common circumstances. 


Image from https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-snuffles

To assist recovery, keep your rabbit’s area thoroughly clean and well-ventilated. While cleanliness and a balanced diet can strengthen your rabbit’s immune system to help avoid or fight off an infection, vet care should be sought out at the first signs of illness. Antibiotics may be prescribed if it’s determined that your rabbit needs additional help. Even after they recover, it's possible for rabbits to carry and transmit the bacteria, so keep an eye out for recurrence of symptoms. To prevent transmission, use a mask and gloves when handling known cases, and thoroughly wash areas that have had contact with an animal’s mouth or claws.


Mycobacteriosis


Mycobacteriosis is caused by various bacteria easily spread between animals. The most commonly known form causes tuberculosis in humans. Luckily, rabbits are relatively resistant to this specific form. However, many other forms of this germ exist that can affect different species to various degrees. 


Image from https://www.vetexotic.theclinics.com/article/S1094-9194(11)00080-6/abstract

House rabbits and their owners may contract these germs when exposed to an infected animal or contaminated soils. Most cases of infection have originated from exotic birds and pygmy rabbits. An animal with mycobacteriosis may develop a cough, mucus, weight loss, abscesses, fatigue, fever, chills, night sweats, or loss of appetite. Some complications may manifest internally and will only become evident through behavioral changes.


Various tests are available to diagnose mycobacteriosis. Treatment generally involves long courses of antibiotics and regular check-ups.


While cases are rare in house rabbits, it is important to always observe your rabbit for abnormalities in behavior or physique. Use an abundance of caution when around exotic birds or pygmy rabbits - wash your hands thoroughly after handling these animals, and don’t allow your rabbit to interact with them.


Dermatophytosis (Ringworm)


Ringworm is a common fungal infection of the skin, hair, or nails caused by direct contact with an infected animal or contaminated object. It can be identified by raised, reddened, circular sores that are capped with white, flaky material. The infection can cause hair loss and itchy skin.


A veterinarian or dermatologist diagnoses ringworm by collecting a hair or skin sample and identifying it under a microscope. They might shine a Wood’s lamp on the affected skin and observe it for fluorescence. For humans, a doctor will likely recommend over-the-counter antifungal cream, although stronger antifungal creams and oral medications may be prescribed for more stubborn infections. For rabbits, a vet will sometimes clip their fur and prescribe topical washes or ointments as well as an oral antifungal treatment. 


Image from https://www.facebook.com/BunnyWonderlandSg

If a household is battling ringworm, it is important to keep infected animals separated and keep their living spaces clean. Objects, such as brushes, are often overlooked and can play a significant role in spreading infection. Clean all nonporous surfaces in their environment with a disinfectant labeled for antifungal use. Most all-purpose household cleaners will achieve this when allowed to take effect for 10 minutes. When washing any contaminated bedding, be sure to wash with hot, soapy water to kill the fungus. 


After initial contact with the fungus, ringworm may take 1-2 weeks to develop, so it is important to stay vigilant and quarantine even weeks following treatment. Owners of infected rabbits should avoid close contact with their pets. Use disposable gloves, followed by thorough hand and arm washing after handling infected rabbits, cleaning cages and equipment, or disposing of waste materials.


For more, check out this video from the Indiana House Rabbit Society on treating ringworm in a rabbit.


Cryptosporidiosis (Crypto)


Cryptosporidiosis is a parasitic disease and one of the leading causes of diarrheal disease in both humans and animals. Most people are infected after swallowing food or water tainted with contaminated stool. People who work with livestock or children are at higher risk for being exposed to this parasite. 


The most common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and weight loss. It’s advised to drink plenty of electrolytes and fluids to stay hydrated. To prevent contracting or spreading the parasite, wash hands frequently in public and after handling pets.


A vet or doctor can diagnose the parasite by taking stool samples. Detection can be difficult, so patients may be asked to submit samples over the span of three days.


For treatment in people, an anti-parasitic called nitazoxanide is prescribed to stop the growth of the parasite. For treatment in rabbits, a vet may offer supportive care in the form of antidiarrheal remedies, fluid replacements, and electrolytes. 


Monitor your rabbit’s stool for signs of a digestive imbalance or issue. Stool that is watery, enlarged, or smaller than average are signs that your rabbit is having internal complications and in need of immediate vet care.


Mange


Mange is a skin disease caused by microscopic mites that burrow into skin. In general, there are two types: sarcoptic and demodectic mange. 


Image from http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Skin_diseases/Parasitic/Mange/Sarcoptes.htm

Sarcoptic mange is commonly known in humans as scabies. The affected animal will have significant hair loss and intense itchiness. The most severely affected area is usually the head, but in more severe cases, the lesions can cover the trunk and limbs. In rare cases, severe hair loss or bacterial infections can occur with further complications. Consulting with your vet early is the best way to prevent any worsening issues. 


Demodectic mange is localized and less severe, typically resulting in bald patches on the fur which may be red and crusty. In general, a patch will not appear inflamed or irritated and will not cause serious itching.


Infection occurs when an animal comes into direct contact with an infected animal or contaminated environment, like burrows or nests. Mites can be diagnosed and identified by examining skin scrapings under a microscope. 


To treat mange, oral prescriptions of ivermectin are often effective. In some cases, topical treatments for extended periods may be used. If you or your rabbit are exposed to mange, immediately wash the area thoroughly, and contact your health provider or veterinarian. While healthy animals may resolve an infection on their own, it is important to seek guidance from a vet as soon as you notice any symptoms.


Ticks


Although not as common for the house rabbit, rabbits are also susceptible to ticks. Ticks are small parasites that feed on the blood of a host and can transmit certain diseases, such as myxomatosis and Lyme disease. Major infestations may cause anemia.


Image from https://www.featheredphotography.com/blog/2014/08/05/rabbits-ticks-and-family-history/

The best prevention is to keep your rabbit indoors. If you do bring your rabbit outside, conduct a tick check as soon as you get inside. Ticks are tiny and sneaky - they tend to latch on in inconspicuous crevices of the body. The longer a tick feeds, the more likely they are to infect the animal with diseases that can severely impact their health.


To do a tick check, run your hands through your pet’s fur or use a flea comb. Regular grooming sessions provide a great opportunity to do this. Ticks tend to attach around the head, neck, ears, and feet so pay

special attention to these areas.


If you find a tick on you or your pet, don’t panic - they can be removed quickly and easily. Transmission of diseases can be prevented if removed within 24 hours. See this Mayo Clinic article on removing a tick from a person. On rabbits, you may opt to have a professional correctly remove the tick for you. If any part of the tick is left in place, it can cause infection. If this is not a possibility, follow the steps for removing a tick from a human and disinfect the area.


Keep an eye on the bite area over the next few days, checking for any signs of infection or irritation. If this does occur, speak to your doctor or vet immediately.


Since ticks can spread from humans or other animals, it is important to examine or treat all other pets for ticks accordingly. Humans should wear bug repellent when outdoors and keep their pants tucked into long socks whenever possible. Ticks are more common in warmer weather, but can be found in the winter as well.


Image from http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Skin_diseases/Parasitic/Ticks/Ticks.htm

Zoonoses Summary

Zoonosis

Pasteurellosis (Snuffles)

Mycobacteriosis

Dermatophytosis (Ringworm)

Cryptosporidiosis

(Crypto)

Mange

(ex. scabies)

Ticks

Description

Bacterial infection of the respiratory tract


Mainly infects humans, rabbits, dogs, cats, and cattle

Bacterial infection

Fungal infection of the skin

Internal parasite of the digestive tract

Microscopic mites that burrow into the skin, causing skin irritation

Small but visible external parasites that feed on the blood of their host.


Can carry potentially fatal diseases, such as myxomatosis and Lyme disease

Transmission

Direct contact with an infected animal or contaminated object


Respiratory droplets


From mother to kit in birth

Direct contact with open wounds


Inhalation or ingestion, usually of contaminated water

Direct contact with an infected animal or contaminated object


Takes 1-2 weeks to develop after contact

Ingesting contaminated food, water, or fecal material

Direct contact with infected animal or contaminated environment


Without a host, mites can survive for several weeks in high humidity and low temperatures

Direct contact with individual or infested animal

Symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Inflamed, red, or watery eyes

  • Nasal discharge

  • Sneezing and snoring

  • Facial swelling

Some complications may only present internally. Symptoms can vary greatly.

  • Cough

  • Mucus

  • Loss of weight or appetite

  • Abscesses

  • Fatigue

  • Fever or chills

  • Raised, red, circular sores capped with white, flaky material

  • Hair loss

  • Itchy skin

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Stomach cramps

  • Weight loss

Sarcoptic mange:

  • Lesions on head, may spread to body

  • Severe itchiness

  • Hair loss

  • Emaciation

Demodectic mange:

  • Patches of hair loss

  • Red or crusty skin

  • Not itchy

  • Engorged ticks feel like a small bump on the skin.

  • May be as small as a seed or as large as a pea.

  • After removal, monitor the bite area for irritation or inflammation.

Diagnosis

Nasal swab to diagnose the bacteria


Less commonly, blood samples or X-rays

  • Bacterial cultures

  • X-rays

  • Acid-fast stains

  • Hair or skin sample under the microscope

  • Wood’s lamp illuminated on the affected skin and observed for fluorescence

  • Fungal culture

  • Stool specimens

  • Skin scrapings under a microscope

  • Usually visible to the naked eye.

  • Perform regular tick checks using your hands or a flea comb.

  • Give special attention to ears, face, neck, and feet.

Treatment

  • Antibiotics

  • Quarantine from other animals

  • Some cases may resolve on their own

  • Monitor for recurrence; affected animals will continue to carry the bacteria

  • Long-term antibiotics

  • Multi-drug therapy

  • Oral or topical antifungal medications

  • Clipping (sometimes), for ease of treatment

  • Sanitize nonporous surfaces in living spaces with appropriate disinfectant

  • Wash bedding with hot, soapy water

In humans:

  • Nitazoxanide


Symptom management:

  • Antidiarrheal medications

  • Fluid and electrolyte replacement

  • Nutritional support

  • Antiparasitic (ex. ivermectin)

  • Thoroughly clean environment to avoid reinfection.

  • Remove ticks promptly and safely.

  • Transmission of diseases can often be prevented if removed within 24 hours.

  • An incomplete removal can cause infection. Contact a vet for assistance.

Precautions

Keep living spaces clean and well-ventilated


Feed a balanced diet


Avoid stress, overcrowding, and symptomatic animals

Avoid questionable water sources.


Thorough washing after contact.

Quarantine infected individuals.


Use disposable gloves


Thorough hand and arm washing after handling infected rabbits, cleaning cages and equipment, or disposing of waste materials.

Wash hands frequently, especially after handling pets and when in public.

Avoid contact with animals with unknown skin afflictions.


If exposed, immediately wash the area thoroughly, and contact your health provider.

Keep rabbits indoors.


Check yourself and other pets after being outdoors.


Groom and check pets regularly.


Sources


City of Wheat Ridge Police Department. Foxes with Sarcoptic Mange.

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (2023). Mange | Cornell Wildlife Health Lab

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2024). Conditions and Diseases | Cryptosporidiosis.

Long Beach Animal Hospital. (2020). Pasteurella (snuffles) in rabbits. 

Medline Plus. (2016). Mycobacterial Infections.

Merck Veterinary Manual. (2020). Disorders and Diseases of Rabbits.

Merck Veterinary Manual. (2021). Cryptosporidiosis in Animals.

Merck Veterinary Manual. (2023). Tuberculosis in Rabbits.

Royal Veterinary College. Pasteurella in Rabbits.

Texas A&M University, Kingsville. (2022). Animal Use Safety Data | Pasteurellosis.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2024). Clinical Testing and Diagnosis for Crypto.

VetHelpDirect. Conditions: Ringworm.

Wikipedia. (2024). Zoonosis.

World Health Organization (2020). Zoonoses.

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