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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!
Email: thebunnyhut101@yahoo.com

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What is E. cuniculi?

 Various studies suggest that up to 80% of the healthy rabbit population carries the protozoa Encephalitozoon cuniculi in its body, without ever showing clinical symptoms of the disease and without development of the disease. Not much is known about the biology and the life cycle of E. cuniculi and its mode of transmission is not yet fully determined.  The presence of the Microsporidae parasites in mammals leads to a micronutrient/vitamin deficiency, which can result in anemia. Not specific information is available for E. cuniculi.

It is only within the last 10 years that significant research into this disease has been carried out and it remains a hotly debated topic.  It is a relatively rare but seriously debilitating disease which all rabbit owners should be aware of.

E.Cuniculi (Encephalitozoon Cuniculi) is a parasite – a small protozoan - that lives in the rabbit's body cells.  The parasite is absorbed into the intestines and causes lesions on the kidneys, brain and other areas.  It is estimated that over 50% of domestic rabbits carry this parasite but only a small percentage of these go on to develop problems.  It can be passed down from a mother to her babies or through contact with other infected rabbits, humans and birds, or merely through contact with spores.

Problems occur when the parasite attacks the rabbit's nervous system.  Some studies suggest that stress or other illness may trigger this but it can often appear to come out of the blue. - See more at: http://www.bunnyhugga.com/a-to-z/health/ecuniculi.html#sthash.IA73f2r8.dpuf
It is only within the last 10 years that significant research into this disease has been carried out and it remains a hotly debated topic.  It is a relatively rare but seriously debilitating disease which all rabbit owners should be aware of.

E.Cuniculi (Encephalitozoon Cuniculi) is a parasite – a small protozoan - that lives in the rabbit's body cells.  The parasite is absorbed into the intestines and causes lesions on the kidneys, brain and other areas.  It is estimated that over 50% of domestic rabbits carry this parasite but only a small percentage of these go on to develop problems.  It can be passed down from a mother to her babies or through contact with other infected rabbits, humans and birds, or merely through contact with spores.

Problems occur when the parasite attacks the rabbit's nervous system.  Some studies suggest that stress or other illness may trigger this but it can often appear to come out of the blue. - See more at: http://www.bunnyhugga.com/a-to-z/health/ecuniculi.html#sthash.IA73f2r8.dpuf
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What is E. cuniculi?
It's a parasite - a small protozoan that lives inside the body cells of its host. It doesn't just infect rabbits: many other mammals (including humans in some special circumstances), and even birds can be infected.






How do rabbits get infected with E. cuniculi? 
The main path of transmission seems to be from mother to her litter, rather than by droppings and urine. Possibly a rabbit may also be contaminated later in life from an infected companion or from contaminated dirt, although there are numerous examples where an E. cuniculi positive rabbit lived together with an E. cuniculi negative rabbit, without infecting the latter.
  
What happens when a rabbit becomes infected?
When a rabbit is first infected, the parasite is absorbed from the intestines. Once inside the body, it heads off to other organs, especially the kidneys and brain, where it causes lesions called "granulomas". These can be found in the kidneys of rabbits only a few months old. Granulomas may develop in other parts of the body, such as the liver, as well as in the brain.

 What kind of problems can E. cuniculi cause?

 


The protozoal parasite attacks the nervous system and major organs, causing a variety of clinical signs that include torticollis (commonly called head tilt or wry neck), liver failure, kidney failure and calcification, incontinence, phacoclastic uveitis, cataracts, fore- or hindquarter paresis (one, or both sides), nystagmus (eye twitching), and/or other neurological symptoms. Invariably the rabbit will die of meningo-encephalitis.
 








Head tilt is often caused by bacterial infections such as Pasteurella multocida, but can be caused by a multitude of other problems. Some texts suggest that head tilt in dwarf breeds is more likely to be caused by E.cuniculi and in larger breeds by Pasteurella although this is also controversial. But both infections are so common it may be impossible to differentiate which (if either) is the cause of head tilt in any particular rabbit. And some bunnies may have both!




Would I know if my bunny has E. cuniculi?
Antibodies to E. cuniculi can be detected on a blood test. Hence, a rabbit that has been infected to E cuniculi will produce antibodies that will produce a positive test.

 Is there any treatment for E. cuniculi?
 The different treatment options will attempt to kill the E. cuniculi protozoa, but are unable to affect the spores. Dying protozoa will lead to inflammation of the surrounding tissues. To reduce the inflammatory reaction, corticosteroids can be given during 3 days, concurrently with fenbendazole. Since their use is controversial in rabbits, and is best avoided, they can be replaced by NSAISs analgesics, e.g., meloxicam (metacam).

Commonly given treatment: Benzimidazoles
Benzimidazoles are now routinely used to treat E. cuniculi . While these drugs have successfully treated many rabbits, they may cause mild to moderate elevation of liver enzymes. It is therefore recommended to do a blood test and analysis of biochemical parameters 14 days after starting the treatment.
The action of benzimidazoles is slow, and depends rather on their presence in the gastro-intestinal tract and the blood than on the concentration present.
Albendazole is known to be broken down in the liver into more hydrophilic products, which decreases its capacity to pass though the brain-blood barrier; the efficacy of the breakdown products against E. cuniculi is, however, not known. The use of albendazole, a drug not licensed for use in rabbits, has led to the sudden death of healthy rabbits or the appearance of bone marrow failure, although this has not been clinically tested.
It was generally found that albendazole was less efficacious that oxibendazole.
Oxibendazole is a rather lipophilic molecule that is not degraded in the body. The advantages of oxibendazole are its passage through the blood-brain barrier into the brain or CNS (Central Nervous System), its lack of teratogen properties in rabbits, and its non-degradation in the liver, prior to passing in the body, unlike albendazole. It is, however, no yet know to what extent oxibendazole is efficacious against E. cuniculi, and what are the long-term side effects of this compound. 
Fenbendazole was studied for its preventive and curing properties in rabbits affected by E. cuniculi and the results have been reported in a scientific journal (Veterinary Record, 2001, pp.478-480). This was a major breakthrough, both because there was scientific data to support the findings and because this was the first treatment that was believed to cure (rather than simply control) the condition. It was furthermore shown that fenbendazole alone crosses the blood-brain barrier in mice. In rare cases, long-term intake of fenbendazole has been associated with the onset of bone marrow failure, digestive problems and anorexia, though this was not clinically investigated. After discussion with vets who treated hundreds of rabbits with fenbendazole, none observed the onset of bone marrow failure in the treated rabbits, given the correct doses during 28 days. 
 
REMARK:
Fenbendazole remains currently the drug of choice for the treatment of E. cuniculi.
Lab rabbits have shown a high titer one year after being treated with fenbendazole and upon autopsy, the presence of the parasite was observed in their brain. These rabbits were however, clinically asymptomatic.
Lately however, more and more rabbits treated with one or with several benzimidazoles compounds showed relapse during the treatment period or after the treatment was stopped. Recently, several caretakers who have been treating rabbits long-term with oxibendazole have reported that the treatment gradually stops working, as if the parasite is developing a resistance to it. Or could two different parasites infect the rabbit, like E. cuniculi and toxoplasmosis ?
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This is Rudy before and after treatment. WARNING, video may be disturbing, but if your rabbit has E. cunicunli, you need to know what you are looking for!   

video
 Video of Rudy, a rabbit presenting clinical signs of encephalitozoonosis: severe involuntary head tilt and rhythmic horizontal movement of the eyes. 
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Rudy, after a 28 days long treatment with fenbendazole. The head-tilt and nystagmus have completed gone, and he has been seizure-free since.



Further information:
 http://www.medirabbit.com/EN/Neurology/cuniculi/pyrimethamine.htm
 http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/resources/content/info-sheets/ecuniculi.htm
http://www.petcarevb.com/wordpress/rabbits/e-cuniculi-in-rabbits/
http://www.bunnyhugga.com/a-to-z/health/ecuniculi.html#sthash.IA73f2r8.dpuf