Against the odds: how my rabbit defeated E cuniculi

Ashley, a Dwarf Lop, battled his way back from a severe parasitic infection with the support of his vet and is now able to wander round the garden again with his devoted companion, Jack, by his side. His owner, Paul, tells the story of his recovery.

The first sign that something wasn’t quite right with Ashley, an adorable-looking two-year-old Dwarf Lop, was that he was struggling to use one of his hind legs. Soon afterwards he became lame, leading his owners, Paul and Alex, to take him to the vet.

‘The usual questions were asked,’ recalls Paul, a call centre manager, based in Leicester. ‘Had he jumped from a high point? Had he had an accident? We could safely say no because the garden’s flat and there’s no way that would have happened.’

Initially the vet wondered if Ashley might even have got into a fight with his bonded partner, Jack, but Paul was sure that wasn’t the case. ‘Jack is quite timid for his size,’ he explains. ‘Ashley rules the roost.’

Suspecting that Ashley had strained his back leg, the vet prescribed anti-inflammatories and, for a while, the young rabbit seemed to rally.

Then, a couple of months later, events took a dramatic turn for the worse.

Virtual paralysis

One morning, Paul went out to the rabbits’ hutch to feed them and let them out for their morning run. To his horror, he found Ashley unable to move from the back end and soaking wet from his own urine. ‘It was a mad panic,’ says Paul. ‘We put him on the grass and all he could do was circles with his front paws. We thought this could be it for him.’

Paul and Alex rushed Ashley to the vet, who thought the suffering bunny might have broken his back. Due to the implications for the rabbit’s quality of life, the vet suggested putting Ashley to sleep. Paul wasn’t prepared to give up on his beloved pet, however. So, he asked for Ashley to be referred to a specialist for further investigation.

Ashley was referred to a vet hospital, where the specialist recommended a number of tests, including X-rays and blood tests, as well as a procedure to flush out Ashley’s bladder. The tests revealed that Ashley was suffering from a high level of E cuniculi, a microscopic parasite that commonly affects the brain and kidneys.

Many rabbits carry the parasite but show no signs of infection. For others, however, an E cuniculi infection can result in severe symptoms including paralysis, fits, head tilting and urinary incontinence. The infection is spread between rabbits via urine or transmitted during pregnancy.

The vet prescribed various medications for Ashley and warned Paul that his pet may well need to stay on some of these medications for life. At this point, Paul rang Petplan – which provided Ashley’s insurance cover – to find out whether Ashley’s treatment would be covered by the policy for the remainder of his years. He was relieved to discover that all costs – both the veterinary visits and the medication – would be covered by Petplan.

Route to recovery

With the diagnosis made and medications prescribed, Ashley’s long journey back to recovery could begin. Paul and Alex bathed him every day to keep him clean and did physiotherapy with him after his bath. Finally, around six months after Ashley had first seen the specialist, he began walking again and a couple of weeks after that, he started to hop.

‘He still wobbles, he doesn’t hop normally,’ Paul explains. ‘He tilts a little to one side, but he can get around.’ Ashley even comes voluntarily to the door of his hutch at 6pm every night to receive his anti-inflammatory medication via a syringe.

Paul’s extremely proud of how bravely Ashley has handled his ordeal. ‘He’s such a strong rabbit to have gone through all he’s gone through – being constantly picked up, prodded and shaved down below,’ he says. ‘Even after all of that, he doesn’t shy away from you.’

Based on his own experiences, Paul’s advice for other rabbit owners is this: ‘If at any point you think something’s wrong, don’t leave it. Just go to the vet. And definitely have pet insurance. If you’re investing your time and love in an animal, insurance should go alongside. If we hadn’t had insurance, it would have been a huge struggle for us to meet the costs of Ashley’s treatment.’

Advice from a vet

While many rabbits acquire the E cuniculi pathogen from their mother, the parasite can also be spread via urine. To minimise the risk of your rabbit becoming infected, Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner recommends keeping your rabbits’ hutch and run clean and also doing regular check-ups to monitor any changes in their health and wellbeing, especially the onset of a head tilt. 

Has your rabbit successfully overcome an E cuniculi infection? Tell us on Facebook, Instagram or X with the tag #PethoodStories and we might share on our channel (@petplan_uk).

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