Coccidia are fairly common parasites that attack the liver or intestines, and they can kill affected rabbits, especially young ones and rabbits under stress, rabbits who are immune-compromised, or rabbits who are otherwise weakened. (Healthy adult rabbits may show small numbers of coccidia without causing illness, so they may have some degree of immunity.) We recommend testing for coccidia in every new rabbit that enters your home or rescue facility, as well as keeping any newcomers quarantined until treatment has concluded. If testing is preclusive, please consider treating every incoming rabbit as a precautionary measure.
Symptoms include soft stools, diarrhea, weight loss, weakness, a swollen, fluidy belly, and possibly loss of appetite. A severely infected rabbit can die within X days from being exposed to coccidia spores.
Intestinal coccidia are more deadly than hepatic coccidia (the species that affects the liver) and can be diagnosed with a fecal float: a simple procedure your vet can do in his or her office. However, hepatic coccidia must be diagnosed by obtaining a liver tissue sample, which could well be worse than the parasites themselves, so if you suspect liver coccidia, we recommend treatment regardless of conclusive diagnosis. Treatment for both intestinal and hepatic coccidiosis usually includes sulfa drugs (Albon) or Ponazuril.
- Caution: Use of Sulfa drugs during pregnancy can cause birth defects.
Dosage for Albon is approximately x cc, taken orally, x times per day for seven days. Wait a week, then treat again for seven more days.
Give 10 mg of Ponazuril for each pound of rabbit, taken orally, once per day for three days. Wait a week, then treat again for three more days.
Side effects of Ponazuril include an upset stomach or a rash around the mouth.
In addition to drug treatment, good hygiene is essential. Coccidia are easily spread through the poops and take about 48 hours to become infectious, remaining alive for more than a year, and thriving in warm and humid conditions. A healthy rabbit who ingests anything with viable coccidia eggs on it can become infected, including rabbits who are currently being treated for the problem. Therefore, be sure to clean bowls, litter boxes, toys, blankets, etc. thoroughly when treating a sick bunny or when bringing in a new rabbit. Sweep up stray poops daily, and keep the floor clean and dry. We recommend a 10% solution of ammonia when cleaning for a rabbit you know is infected, as bleach has been found to be less effective in killing the parasites, though be sure to remove all traces of the ammonia, itself, before re-introducing the clean article to a rabbit.
If you have multiple rabbits playing outside, move the pen around often if you can. Strong UV sunlight can help kill the eggs, but it’s best to just prevent access to infected areas.
Notes: While other animals can contract coccidia, the species that affect rabbits generally won’t hurt people or a larger pet. However, anyone who is immune-suppressed (AIDs patients, someone on chemotherapy for cancer) should not be around rabbits with coccidia, just to be sure.