Toxoplasmosis or toxoplasma is a disease that results from infection with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. Rabbits can contract the parasites by ingesting them, but they are not a source of infection and live rabbits cannot spread toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasma is only transmissible from rabbits to humans who handle or eat undercooked rabbit meat. Cats are the definite host, and all other warm-blooded animals are intermediate hosts.
Ingested sporozoites hatch in the small intestine and are dispersed throughout the body via the blood and lymphatics. Once the host immune responses are established, the organisms can be found as cysts in various tissues where they can remain for years.
Most obvious symptoms of toxoplasmosis in rabbits are neurological:
Rabbits can contract toxoplasmosis by being exposed to vegetation, food, or bedding contaminated by cat feces.
Trimethoprim-sulfa or sulfadiazine in combination with pyrimethamine are the drugs of choice to treat toxoplasmosis in rabbits. Oral administration of clindamycin and other antibiotics against gram-positive bacteria can cause fatal enteric dysbiosis and enterotoxemia.
Rabbits with toxoplasmosis should have their activity restricted (e.g. avoid stairs and slippery surfaces) according to the severity of their head tilt. It is absolutely imperative that rabbits continue to eat during and following treatment. Syringe-feed food such as Critical Care as necessary if the rabbits refuse food. High-carb and high-fat supplements should be avoided. Encourage fluid intake by offering fresh water, wetting leafy vegetables, or flavoring water with vegetable juices.
- MediRabbit.com, Esther van Praag, Toxoplasmosis, an unrecognized parasitosis in rabbits
- Molly Varga, Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, 2nd edition, 2013.
- Barbara L. Oglesbee, Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Small Mammals, 2e.