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What exactly is E.cuniculi? How do our rabbits get this?

Known mostly as EC, you may also hear it referred to as e.cuniculi, and the full name is Encephalitozoon cuniculi.  It is the leading cause of paralysis and neurological damage for U.S. house rabbits.  We’ve all heard the stories: “My rabbit had some sniffles, and when I got home from work her back legs weren’t working”, or “My rabbit wasn’t acting right, and when I woke up his neck was turned funny and he couldn’t walk right”. 

rabbit illness, rabbit paresis, rabbit paralysis

Photo credit: disabledrabbits.com

EC is a protozoal infection, and so is considered parasitic.  The parasites are eaten on hay or other food or water that has come into contact with the urine of an infected rabbit.  Remember – rabbit’s walk in “used” bedding then wash their faces with their paws and forearms.  So toys, blankies, everything in their living area can carry the protozoa.

From the digestive tract, the protozoa move through the bloodstream and into the organs, including the kidneys and brain.  The disease is most infectious when the protozoa are in the kidneys, and there is usually kidney scarring and damage at this point.  The neurological damage may be due to the presence of the protozoa in the brain, or may be a side-effect of immune response, or some of both, depending upon the individual case.  The time from ingestion to external symptoms showing up can be a month or more.

EC is common.  It has been estimated that over half of domestic rabbits are infected, but only about 6% show symptoms.  Why do these poor rabbits end up with problems?  Nobody has been able to pin it down exactly, but certainly any “compromised” animal will have a greater chance of troubles.  Healthy, active young adult animals are less likely to come down with head tilt, hind end paralysis, and other symptoms, than seniors or rabbits with other health issues. 

rabbit neurological problems, rabbit neurological illnesses, rabbit neurological issues, rabbit neurological disease

Photo credit: disabledrabbits.com

Here are some e.cuniculi symptoms to watch for:

Hind leg weakness

Head tilt

Paralysis

Tremors

Sudden urinary incontinence

The good news: it is possible for rabbits to recover from EC.  If not fully, then to a great degree.  It is also possible for paralyzed rabbits to have full happy lives, and with care and support these buns can live a long life. 

rabbit wheelchairs, rabbit carts

Photo credit: disabledrabbits.com

The key: get the treatment, and don’t get discouraged.  It can take months for a rabbit to recover, but have patience.  Usual treatment these days is Panacur, but treatments are continuing to evolve, as it the understanding of the illness as a whole. 

hay, timothy hay, orchard hay, orchard grass, alfalfa, alflafa, aflala, panacure

Photo credit: disabledrabbits.com

Disabled Rabbits.com is a good resource for dealing with head tilt and paralysis.  They’ve got terrific info, and they even have wheel-carts!

A special shout out to the House Rabbit Society, who was instrumental in identifying EC as the cause of so much paralysis, and who made sure that during lab work no animals were harmed. We are proud to be House Rabbit society supporters!

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