Zoonoses

So, what zoonoses could you get from a rabbit?

Fortunately, it is far rarer to get a disease from your rabbit than from more common pets, such as cats or dogs. House rabbits pose an even lower risk of any disease. It appears that any risk associated with rabbits is through either infected wild rabbits or in factory farm situations where hygiene is limited.

Pasteurellosis - The Pasteurella bacteria that may infect a rabbit may also infect scratches or bite wounds to a person with a very low immune deficiency. Make sure you always wash & disinfect any scratches or bite wounds you may incur.

Pin worms - Pinworms are small curved worms that live as parasites on horses, rabbits, and other mammals. A pinworm is white, very thin, and about one-quarter inch long and usually occur when an animal has lived in unhygienic conditions. Pinworms are not dangerous to rabbits or people but can be irritating and lead to skin infections due to scratching. Feeding a high fibre diet and keeping your rabbit indoors in a clean environment will reduce risk of pinworm infection for the rabbit. There is no need to worm your rabbit for pinworms or any other worms as worming medicines are not designed for rabbits. The risk is so low for a human to contract pinworms, there is absolutely no need to panic. In fact, some of the pet worming medicines may be harmful to your bunny.  If your bunny has pinworms, clean bedding & litter trays daily and the pinworms usually go away on their own. If you are concerned, please take your bunny to an experienced rabbit vet.

Tularemia - this disease is really rare and endemic to North America, and parts of Europe and Asia (no cases ever recorded in Australia). The disease is passed to humans by bites from infected ticks and deer flies infecting rabbits, hares & rodents. It cannot be passed from human to human. Symptoms are flu like and can be treated with various antibiotics.

** So who gets Tularemia? Rabbit hunters, trappers, rabbit factory farm workers or some laboratory technicians are at the greatest risk of exposure to disease. (Suddenly this disease doesn't sound so bad! Couldn't happen to nicer folk if you ask me!!)

So, what zoonoses CAN'T you get from a rabbit:

Toxoplasmosis - this is a parasitic disease passed from cat to human through cat faeces and uncooked meats. Avoid by practicing careful hygiene around litter boxes. Wear gloves while cleaning up and wash hands afterward. If you are pregnant, ask someone else to clean your cat's litter box. Keep children's sandboxes covered. Keep your cat from hunting. Cook meats well, wash your hands after handling raw meats and wash vegetables (or preferably... don't eat meat!). Wear gloves while gardening and wash hands afterwards.

Tapeworms & Hydatids - Hydatid disease is a parasitic infection caused by a small tapeworm living in dogs, dingoes and foxes. Tapeworm eggs pass out in the faeces of infected dogs. When grazing animals eat grass infected by the faeces, these eggs may develop into hydatid cysts in the internal organs of the grazer.

The cyst that is formed in the grazing animal contains large numbers of new tapeworm heads. The life cycle is completed when a dog, dingo or fox eats an infected part of the grazing animal containing the cyst. The eggs hatch in the dog and the cycle continues.

Humans can be infected two ways. The first is by eating undercooked meat of an infected grazing animal (sheep, cattle, kangaroo, etc) where they will develop tapeworm. The second is by accidentally swallowing tapeworm eggs transferred from dog faeces (can happen when a dog licks your face after licking their bottoms!), which will turn into the cyst.

Roundworm - Dogs are the most likely to become infected. People can get roundworms from the fecal matter of dogs. Most often, these are young children who eat dirt or sand that contain roundworm eggs because of dog stool left on the soil. Roundworm eggs can hatch in a person's stomach. Roundworms can travel around the body and cause damage to the eyes, leading to blindness. Avoid by making sure puppies are dewormed. Always clean up your dog's stool. Make sure young children don't eat dirt. Keep sandboxes covered.

Psittacosis - This is a bacteria-like organism that causes pneumonia. Pet birds and wild birds can carry and spread psittacosis. People catch psittacosis from contact with infected bird droppings. Avoid by not exposing your pet bird to other birds. Keep the cage clean and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling birds or cages.

Ringworm - This is a fungus that causes a skin rash. Cats are the most common carriers. Ringworm is transmitted by direct contact with fungal spores. Pets may carry spores without any sign of disease. Direct contact with infected animal may cause an itchy rash to develop on the skin - not common.

** Rabbits can sometimes contract ringworm from eating grass that has been toileted by dogs/cats. Try to avoid letting your bunny on grass that may be infected and also avoid picking grass from nature strips for your rabbit to eat where dogs have toileted.

Myxomatosis - There have been no reports of anyone picking up the rabbit virus or developing antibodies to it.

Calici virus - Human infection with rabbit calici virus is not known to occur, and no ill effects have been seen.

** How to avoid Myxo & Calici for your rabbit - keep your bunny indoors or insect proof all outdoor accommodation. If your bunny plays outside, try to avoid contact with grass that dogs & cats frequent (fleas from dogs/cats can transmit myxo & calici & can be present in the grass).

Living with companion animals is both rewarding and fulfilling. When animals are present, we relax and feel comforted. Tests have shown that companion animals decrease our heart rate and blood pressure. Adults & children alike learn to nurture and feel compassion for other living beings and this promotes a very positive approach to the way we socialise with other people.
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Luckily, rabbits cannot pass on many of the diseases commonly associated when living with pets. The term for disease passed from animals to humans is zoonoses

As rabbits are fairly new to living indoors as companion animals, there is still a bit of confusion as to what risk they may have on human health in close quarters.

We don't want to alarm anyone with this article - it is very rare for people to contract any disease from their pets. Keeping pets indoors lessens their exposure to disease, parasitic insects and infection from wild animals. Following basic hygiene principles such as washing your hands after contact with your pet's bodily fluids should also be sufficient to avoid any risks to human health.

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