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Welcome to our page! We do our best to provide to-be and current bunny owners up-to-date info on the best care for their house rabbits. When we adopted our first bunny in 2005, there was almost nothing on the internet to tell us how to care for him. Just in the past few years, information has exploded online, and now it can be confusing! We try to simplify it by posting weekly articles on current issues, daily care, concerns, proper feeding, and other info so you can enjoy your house-bun! If you are just finding us, feel free to look through the older posts also. Please email us if you have any questions! Happy bunnies make happy hearts!
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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Rabbit syphilis -Treponematosis

WARNING- Some pictures may be disturbing to sensitive readers. It is reality though, so it is imperative to know if you have a rabbit.

(From Rhonda) I chose to post this because we had a bunny with a case of syphilis when we got her. It was on her private parts, and would come and go, as with her stress level just having moved in with us from a hoarding situation. We didn't know anything about bunnies and syphilis at the time, and without taking her to the vet, thought it cleared up, but would show up again. So to the vet we went! Although told by some it can only be spread between the rabbits, I unknowingly spread it between her then to another bun-who got it on her nose! So it can be done! Soap, water, & sanitizer  is our friend!!

Rabbit syphilis is a bacterial disease caused by the spirochete Treponema cuniculi. The bacterium is universal and found all over the world. It infests wild and domestic or pet rabbits. The transmission of the bacterium is not well understood. It may be
·      Direct, between adult rabbits during mating;
·      Indirect, passed through the milk from an infected doe to her offspring. 

Other modes of transmission cannot be excluded since active syphilis infections have found in pet rabbits that were living individually, without contact with other rabbits.
Incubation time for the disease is long, 3 to 16 weeks. Treponema cuniculi can be dormant for a long period of time. A rabbit can thus remain asymptomatic during several years. A stressful event or suppression of the immune system can trigger the onset of the bacterial disease.
The incidence of syphilis in house rabbits is not known, but it is likely more common than previously thought. The disease is not zoonotic, and cannot be passed from rabbits to other animals and humans.
Clinical signs
The classical form of syphilis affects the junction between the mucosa and the epithelium of genital organs, the anus and/or the face, mainly the eyelids and nostrils.

Lesions develop slowly. Large thick crusts will cover the damaged ulcerated skin. Secretion of a white creamy exudate bleeding is possible. 

 Further classical signs of treponematosis (syphilis) in a rabbit: development of crusts at the muco-cutaneous junction on the lips, and on the front of the lower lip and appearance of a swelling on the top of the nose. Crusts growing under the chin can sometimes have the shape of little horns.

 If left untreated, the infection will increase in size slowly. The skin is raw, inflamed, with deep ulcerations, and may bleed or exude a white fluid.

Treatment (Please see an exotic vet- bunny may need pain meds as well)
Administration of the narrow spectrum antibiotic penicillin G (benzathine/procaine: 42.000 - 84.000 UI/kg, SC, IM), 4-6 repeats at intervals of 5 to 7 days, is the treatment of choice against rabbit syphilis. (Rabbits should NEVER be administered penicillin orally; it can lead to severe diarrhea).
Most other antibiotics will not cure the infection. Mostly, healing of the skin lesions is observed during the treatment, but relapse will occur as soon as the treatment is stopped as the Treponema cuniculi bacterium is not killed. This is particularly the case of fluoroquinolone antibiotics. Clinical signs and skin lesions develop rapidly after the treatment is stopped, often in a more severe form than before.
If the rabbit is in pain, analgesics can be administrated (e.g. meloxicam).
It is imperative to monitor the rabbit's eating during the treatment. Indeed, dying bacteria release toxins inside the rabbit's body and blood circulation and 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 to avoid onset of bacterial resistance. The rabbit should be encouraged to eat by its own and drink. If this is not the case, force feeding food with a syringe and subcutaneous fluid administration is necessary.



This is an excellent posting also of a bunny who has syphilis in the eye, then it started spredding. At it's worst, a vet recognized the symptoms and it was quickly cleared up with several injections of Penicillin spaced apart in weeks. 


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.
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.
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.
Syphilis bacteria will only be killed with injected penicillin G, 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.

Gozal was grooming the eye excessively and it was believed she was not allowing the wound to heal. The wound was crusted over, then, suddenly, a crater appeared (the ulceration that formed underneath the crust, ± 1cm into the skin).

(From Rhonda- Although I do not know the vet this person, this can be very typical if you use a non-exotic vet for your rabbit.-IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO HAVE A RABBIT SAVY VET IN ORDER TO CATCH ISSUES BEFORE THEY GET OUT OF HAND SUCH AS IN THIS CASE.)

The vet first tried various methods over a 3 month period to treat Gozal as well as doing fungal scrape testing:

During ineffective medication:

injection of vitamin solution (B1, B2, B6, B12, A, D, and E), 
antibiotic sulfamonomethoxine; 
Panolog, an ointment used for external ear infections 

injected with the same vitamin solution as before
 antibiotic chloramphenicol, 
and more Panolog was applied. 

injected with Baytril (enrofloxacin)

fluoroquinolone preparation (an antibiotic) was applied 

After correct medication.......

 Gozal received a total of 5 injections of penicillin G, a week apart, during 5 weeks. After the first shot he experienced loss of appetite for about 36 hours, but resumed eating on his own. During his illness he never stopped eating and never showed any signs of pain or discomfort.

The first picture is only 4 days after the first injection.

The second picture is only 7 days after the first injection.


Four months after first discovering Gozal’s eye, I noticed that Motek’s nose looked very pink and there was a small protuberance of what appeared to be a raised tuft of hair on the left side of her face.

The protuberance was softish, with clumped hair covering it. It was not crusty. While the lump did not look or feel like the crusts Gozal had exhibited, the pink nose did appear similar. The vet concluded the lump was the same as Gozal’s and diagnosed her with syphilis as well; however, the diagnosis was based strictly on a visual examination and on her proximity to Gozal and previous extensive grooming of his infected skin. No tests were performed on her. She received 2 pen G injections, a week apart. Following the first injection the lump disappeared and the nose improved. She was back to normal after the second injection.