What is Rotaviral Infection?
This virus commonly affects young and newly weaned rabbits, with studies showing the appearance of naturally acquired antibodies from 6 weeks of age. This virus is characterized by the onset of diarrhea in infected patients, however, this is often self-limiting and patients are expected to make a full recovery.
Rotavirus is a highly infectious viral disease seen in rabbits that is thought to affect almost 100% of rabbits worldwide. It is important to note that this is not a zoonotic disease and differs from the strain that commonly affects humans.
Symptoms of Rotaviral Infection in Rabbits
The most commonly seen symptoms in rabbits with rotavirus are diarrhea, fecal staining of the perineum, anorexia and dehydration. In very young rabbits between 8-12 days of age watery, greenish yellow diarrhea may be seen. Unfortunately, in younger rabbits the dehydration risk is much greater, and in pre-weanling rabbits the chance of mortality is higher. In post-mortem investigations swollen lymph nodes, distended and congested intestines and lesions on the intestines may also be seen.
- Loss of appetite
Causes of Rotaviral Infection in Rabbits
Rotavirus belongs to the family of Reoviridae, genus Rotavirus. This is shed in the feces of infected rabbits and thought to be transmitted via the fecal-oral route. Rabbits who are infected with the virus shed it from day 2 after inoculation, continuing for 6-8 days. Although rotavirus is only mildly pathogenic a mixed infection with other bacteria such as Clostridium spp or E. coli can cause more severe illness in pets.
Diagnosis of Rotaviral Infection in Rabbits
If you notice your rabbit suffering from symptoms of rotavirus such as diarrhea, it is vital you contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination and discuss your pet’s clinical history with you, it is important to inform your veterinarian if your rabbit has been with any other ill animals, suffered from any other symptoms, or may have had access to unusual food, poisonous plants or toxins.
As diarrhea in rabbits can lead to dangerous dehydration, your pet’s hydration status will be carefully assessed. Decreased skin turgor or reduced corneal moisture may indicate dehydration. A human rotavirus detection test may be used to test for the virus using a fecal sample from your rabbit. In order to confirm this diagnosis and rule out other similarly presenting conditions other tests may be performed such as:
- Radiography of your rabbit’s abdomen to rule out other conditions of the gastrointestinal tract
- Fecal flotation test (This will be done with a small amount of stool sample from your pet, you may be asked to collect this from home; this may rule out underlying conditions such as intestinal worms that may cause diarrhea)
- Hematology and biochemistry
Your veterinarian will need to differentiate this disease from others that may require treatment such as Tyzzer’s disease, salmonellosis and coccidiosis.
Treatment of Rotaviral Infection in Rabbits
As this virus is self-limiting with no known cure, the treatment your pet receives will mainly be supportive. If your rabbit is suffering from dehydration, fluid therapy through bolus subcutaneous injection or continuous intravenous drip may be considered.
It is vital that your pet is encouraged to eat during his illness. The stress from the illness, travel and change in environment may cause your pet to become anorexic. As not eating can become dangerous in as little as 24 hours for rabbits and potentially lead to conditions such as gastric stasis, hepatic lipidosis and intestinal ileus, it is vital you encourage your rabbit to eat.
Good quality, fresh hay for fiber to slow digestion time,and an in increase water intake during digestion should be encouraged. Appetite stimulants such as parsley, carrot tops, and kale along with any of your rabbit’s favorite foods, fresh vegetables, and pellets can also be offered. If your pet continues to refuse food, your veterinarian may recommend syringe feeding. Ideal foods for this are pellets moistened with water, pureed vegetables or banana.
Recovery of Rotaviral Infection in Rabbits
The prognosis for your rabbit is good, with full recovery expected within 3-4 weeks. For your pet’s recovery ensure his environment is thoroughly disinfected and he is kept away from other rabbits during the infectious period following inoculation.
As the virus is able to live in the environment for months following shedding, it is vital to use an agent that inactivates the virus (chlorine, formalin and ethanol are considered effective disinfectants). All clothing that comes into contact with the rabbit should be washed on a warm wash of 50 degrees Celsius.
It is important to cease breeding from the rabbits and quarantine your pet for 4-6 weeks following infection.