What is Enterotoxemia?
This condition is caused by bacteria in older rabbits and in younger rabbits (4-8 weeks old), they can become naturally infected. The naturally occurring bacteria in your rabbit’s stomach can multiply and result in severe diarrhea and other symptoms.
This condition can mimic many other bacterial infections or stomach issues rabbits may experience. The symptoms can be sudden and you may notice symptoms after he has been given antibiotics which disrupt his normal stomach environment.
Enterotoxemia is a severe diarrhea that your rabbit may experience. It is most common in rabbits 4-8 weeks old, however, it can impact rabbits at any age. The symptoms are sudden and progress quickly.
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Symptoms of Enterotoxemia in Rabbits
The symptoms of enterotoxemia can vary in severity.
- Diarrhea – Your rabbit may develop watery, brown diarrhea 1-7 days after becoming infected with the bacteria
- Weakness – He may become lethargic and overall weak with no energy
- Dyspnea – His breathing may become labored or difficult as well
- Loss of appetite – Initially there may be a loss of appetite that could even go unnoticed as it tends to be subtle the first few days
- Constipation – Due to your rabbit not eating or drinking like normal, he may become constipated
- Teeth grinding – If he begins to experience pain in his abdomen, your rabbit may grind his teeth
- Collapse – In the later stage of enterotoxemia, your rabbit may collapse or go into shock
- Anorexia – Can be seen up to several hours prior to diarrhea beginning
Causes of Enterotoxemia in Rabbits
There are two possible causes for this condition: antibiotics and natural occurrence.
- When your rabbit’s stomach bacteria is thrown out of balance due to antibiotics he can develop this condition
- If the incorrect antibiotic is prescribed to your rabbit this can also cause problems
- Mostly occurs in young rabbits aged 4-8 weeks old
- Thought to be caused by their diets which are not typically high in fiber
- Can be a reaction to stress, if your rabbit does not handle it well
- Transition into a new environment or around new people can also cause the symptoms to present
Diagnosis of Enterotoxemia in Rabbits
If you suspect your rabbit may have this condition, getting him to his veterinarian immediately is important. If this condition is left untreated it can be deadly. Your veterinarian will want to know if your rabbit has recently been on any antibiotics that could be causing his symptoms. Knowing your rabbit’s age will also be beneficial in determining the cause of his symptoms.
A full physical exam will most likely be performed to see if there are any obvious causes of his symptoms. Your veterinarian may want to take his temperature and feel around his stomach to see how his abdomen presents. Rabbits with enterotoxemia have a doughy feel to their stomachs. His heart rate will be looked at as well when examining him. A blood sample may be taken from your rabbit to determine if he is positive for any bacteria he should not be.
Treatment of Enterotoxemia in Rabbits
Treatment needs to be implemented very quickly as it is possible for your rabbit to die within 24-48 hours of the onset of symptoms. However, if caught early enough, your veterinarian may suggest a different type of antibiotic to treat some of his symptoms. One of these medications is oxytetracycline, however, once any of these medications are stopped the disease returns.
A change in dietary habits can help somewhat, but is a difficult thing to balance. The best option is the change of diet to a low energy, high fiber food. Medications can be used to treat the diarrhea and IV fluids can be used for dehydration.
Once your rabbit is stable again, his digestion and gastrointestinal function may not return to normal. This may lead to further treatment for any side effects of the condition.
Recovery of Enterotoxemia in Rabbits
Follow up appointments may be necessary to ensure there is no further bacterial overgrowth in your rabbit’s stomach. These follow up appointments will be identified by your veterinarian. Changes to your rabbit’s diet may be beneficial as identified above and can be done once he returns home.
Keeping your rabbit’s cage clean and providing him with clean food and water will help to decrease further symptoms. Full recovery is possible soon after treatment is implemented, however not all rabbits have a positive reaction to treatment. If your rabbit does not respond quickly to treatment, his prognosis is poor and death is a possibility.
Enterotoxemia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Reading about Enterotoxemia. My 9 wk old has less energy. Not drinking a lot of water...he likes to play with the ball on his water bottle so i don't usually worry about him getting enough water. Eats hay. Was eating a mix of oats and pellets. Seems to have lost weight. Poops a lot. Today noticed he had longer poops instead of round. Some brown spots as if some diarrhea
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