Epizootic Rabbit Enteropathy (ERE) is a potentially lethal, little understood but very dangerous threat to a rabbit’s health. It is a fairly recent newcomer to American shores, though French rabbit farmers have been losing rabbits to ERE since 1996.
ERE can look very much like enterotoxemia or mucoid enteritis in a rabbit. But the difference is in part its contagiousness. This severe digestive disease is 'epizootic,' meaning it often strikes many rabbits in a rabbitry at once. And when it does, it still might hop-scotch randomly, here or there. Some rabbits might remain symptom-free, while rabbits round about them fall ill and die.
At particular risk seem to be growing fryers or overweight rabbits.
The most consistent sign is rumbling sounds in the abdomen of a stricken rabbit within a day of exposure. The abdomen becomes very distended, and mucoid droppings are eventually seen under the cage. Within 4-6 days, rabbits with ERE will exhibit most of the following symptoms, however which symptoms might vary:
The illness peaks in 4-6 days, and can last 2 weeks or more. If the rabbit is going to die, it will likely die between day 3 and day 5. Typical losses are 20-50% of the herd. Rabbits begin to recover by day 7, and recovery occurs slowly.
If you were to perform a necropsy of the dead rabbits, you might find an impaction 20-30% of the time. You’d find a tremendous lot of gas and liquid ballooning the stomach. You’d also find considerable distention of the small intestine with liquid and a bit of gas.
What you won’t find are any outward signs of inflammation or other lesions. There may be mild microscopic changes in the lining of the small intestine, but these are not evident to the naked eye.
In the studies performed, up to 40% of infected rabbits died, and 100% of study animals got sick. It didn’t seem to matter how much exposure a rabbit received, whether small or large. All rabbits exposed became equally sick and experienced the same mortality rates.
In all these years, scientists have yet to identify the causative agent.
Nevertheless, this study strongly implicates bacteria as a cause and rules out viruses. But exactly which bacteria are the causative agents is still under discussion.
Scientists have identified rotavirus and Clostridium perfringens in all the 'inocula' taken from animals sick with ERE and used to infect the study rabbits. Researchers are still unsure of the role these germs play in the development of epizootic rabbit enteropathy without further study.
What to do if your rabbits get ERE:
Share your own story below. How did your rabbits fare, and how did you treat the outbreak of epizootic rabbit enteropathy in your rabbits?
Your comments or experiences can help others who read them. So, comment away, and if you have pictures, you can post up to four of them. Pictures are always helpful.
(Have questions? Perhaps your question was already asked, and answered, below. If not, Karen has answered hundreds of your questions in her book: Rabbit Raising Problem Solver, covering every aspect of pet rabbit and livestock rabbit care as well as rabbit health and disease. We recommend it!)
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