Do Rabbits Carry Any Contagious Diseases?

Behind their soft fur and quivering noses, rabbits may carry serious contagious diseases transmissible to humans and other pets. Don’t let their captivating hop and affectionate nuzzle lull you into complacency – without proper precautions, your bunny could turn your family’s world upside down. From sinister Salmonella to the anxiety-inducing Encephalitozoon cuniculi, rabbits harbor illnesses capable of wreaking havoc. But with knowledge comes power. Arm yourself with information on rabbit disease prevention and join the offensive against harmful contagion. Triumph over transmission begins with recognition of the adversaries. Read on and ready yourself for the epic battle against rabbit-borne pestilence!

Contagious diseases that rabbits can carry and spread

Rabbits can carry and spread a number of contagious diseases that can infect both humans and other animals. Some of the most common and concerning contagious diseases that rabbits may harbor include tularemia, salmonella, ringworm, Encephalitozoon cuniculi, rabies, tetanus, and snuffles.

Rabbits can become infected with these diseases through contact with infected animals, ingestion of contaminated materials, or through bites from vectors like ticks and fleas. Once a rabbit is harboring one of these illnesses, the disease can then spread to humans, dogs, cats, and other rabbits through direct contact with the infected rabbit or its waste products or through vectors.

Proper handling and responsible pet ownership is imperative to prevent transmission of these contagious rabbit diseases. Understanding what diseases rabbits may carry, how they are spread, and how to spot signs of illness can help rabbit owners take appropriate precautions. Consulting a veterinarian promptly when a rabbit appears ill is also key. With vigilance, these contagious diseases that rabbits can carry and transmit may be avoided or managed.


Tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, is a potentially serious bacterial disease that both wild and domesticated rabbits can carry and communicate to other animals. The bacteria that causes tularemia is Francisella tularensis. This highly contagious bacterium is found naturally in the environment and can be transmitted in several ways.

Tularemia can be spread through direct contact with an infected rabbit's blood or tissue. The disease can also be contracted through tick and deer fly bites. Eating or drinking contaminated food or water is another means of tularemia transmission. Even inhaling particles contaminated with the Francisella tularensis bacteria can cause infection.

Rabbits most often get tularemia from tick bites or ingestion of contaminated material from the environment. The disease attacks the rabbit's organs, especially the liver and spleen. Symptoms include listlessness, loss of appetite, high fever, swelling of the eyelids, and diarrhea. Sudden death can occur.

While tularemia can be fatal in rabbits, prompt antibiotic treatment may be curative. Isolating sick rabbits is essential to avoid spread to humans and other rabbits. Proper cooking of rabbit meat also kills the Francisella tularensis bacteria. Using tick prevention medication on rabbits can help deter the disease. Tularemia is very contagious, so all precautions should be taken to avoid transmission from infected rabbits.


Salmonella is a common bacteria that can infect rabbits and subsequently spread the illness to humans and other animals. There are over 2,500 known serotypes of the Salmonella bacteria. Most rabbits who carry Salmonella are asymptomatic carriers, meaning they display no signs of illness. However, rabbits afflicted with Salmonella may experience diarrhea, which facilitates transmission of the bacteria.

Rabbits most often acquire Salmonella through consuming contaminated food and water. Fecal-oral transmission can spread the bacteria quickly between rabbits and other livestock. Rabbits can pass Salmonella through their droppings, which may contaminate their bodies, enclosure, food, and water. The bacteria can survive for weeks in the environment.

Humans may contract Salmonella through direct contact with an infected rabbit or its environment. Eating undercooked rabbit meat or meat products can also transmit the bacteria. Symptoms usually appear 12-72 hours after infection and include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.

To control Salmonella, keep rabbits' enclosures disinfected. Avoid introducing new rabbits from unknown sources. Cook rabbit meat thoroughly. Wash hands thoroughly after contact. While most people recover from Salmonella without treatment, antibiotics may be needed for vulnerable populations. Vaccinating rabbits against Salmonella may also help reduce transmission.


Ringworm is a contagious fungal infection that affects the skin of rabbits. The infection is caused by dermatophyte fungi known as Trichophyton or Microsporum that thrive on keratin, a protein found in skin cells, hair, and nails. Spores from these fungi readily spread between rabbits and other animals.

Ringworm infection leads to circular, bald patches in a rabbit's coat as the fungi impacts the skin and hairs. Crusting and scaling of the skin often occurs. Ringworm can spread rapidly between rabbits kept in close quarters through direct contact or by contact with contaminated hutches or bedding.

To treat ringworm fungus in rabbits, antifungal medications are prescribed. The infected rabbit should be isolated during treatment to prevent transmission. Hutches, bowls, bedding and other items must be thoroughly disinfected. Humans can contract ringworm from rabbits, causing a rash to form. Wearing gloves when handling infected rabbits is advisable.

With prompt treatment and proper hygiene, ringworm can be controlled and eliminated in rabbits. Checking new rabbits for skin lesions and quarantining them for a few weeks helps prevent introduction of ringworm fungus into an existing rabbit colony. Keeping hutches clean is also paramount in preventing this contagious fungal infection.

E. cuniculi

Encephalitozoon cuniculi, often abbreviated E. cuniculi, is a microscopic parasite that is a common pathogen in rabbits. The single-celled organisms attack the central nervous system, kidneys, and sometimes the eyes. A rabbit may carry E. cuniculi without displaying signs, serving as a source of infection for other rabbits and humans.

Rabbits typically contract E. cuniculi by ingesting spores that have been shed in the urine of an infected rabbit. The spores travel to the intestines where they enter the bloodstream and spread to organs. The parasite causes lesions and inflammation of the brain, resulting in neurological symptoms like head tilt, incoordination, paralysis, and seizures.

E. cuniculi spores shed intermittently in urine and feces of infected rabbits. The parasite is very hardy and can survive for months in the environment. All it takes is ingestion of a few spores for transmission between rabbits to occur. Proper sanitation of housing is crucial to prevent spread. Treatment with fenbendazole may suppress spore shedding.

Humans can develop Encephalitozoonosis from E. cuniculi by inhaling spores from rabbit urine and feces. Immunocompromised individuals are at highest risk. Anyone with pet rabbits should wear gloves when cleaning cages and litterboxes and wash hands thoroughly afterwards to avoid potential transmission.


Rabies is an invariably fatal viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals, including rabbits. The rabies virus is spread through bites from infected animals, usually wildlife like foxes, raccoons, skunks, and bats. Unvaccinated rabbits are susceptible to contracting rabies this way, particularly free-roaming outdoor rabbits.

When a rabid animal bites and transmits the virus, it travels along nerves and invades the central nervous system. Rabbits with rabies may demonstrate a variety of neurological symptoms including unprovoked aggression, impaired movement, paralysis, seizures, and delirious behavior. Death typically occurs within days of onset of symptoms.

There is no cure for rabies once clinical signs appear. However, proper immunization of rabbits, livestock, and pets can prevent the spread of rabies. Reducing wild animal populations around areas with outdoor rabbits can also lower rabies risk. People potentially exposed to rabies require prompt post-exposure prophylaxis treatment.

While less common than other diseases, rabies in rabbits is of utmost concern due to its zoonotic potential. Teaching children to never handle stray or wild rabbits is prudent. Rabies vaccinations and boosters for rabbits are recommended where the viral disease is prevalent. Any rabbit bite should be medically evaluated for potential rabies exposure.


Tetanus is a life-threatening condition caused by toxins from the common Clostridium tetani bacterium. Often found in soil, the bacterium can enter the body through wounds and cuts. While rare in indoor rabbits, tetanus is a concern when rabbits are wounded and exposed to outside soil and manure that may harbor Clostridium tetani.

Some typical ways rabbits acquire tetanus include bite wounds, shearing cuts, wire cuts, and surgical procedures. The potent neurotoxin produced by the bacteria travels along nerves and causes severe muscle spasms, rigidity, and seizures. Inability to open the mouth and difficulty swallowing are classic signs.

Prompt wound care reduces tetanus risk if soil contamination occurs. Antibiotics, tetanus antitoxin, and wound debridement are used to treat tetanus once detected. Supportive care and sedatives help control seizures and spasms from the neurotoxin until the toxin is neutralized and eliminated from the body.

Prevention is key to protecting rabbits against tetanus. Annual tetanus antitoxin boosters are recommended for rabbits at risk. Keeping housing and yard areas free of manure buildup reduces potential C. tetani exposure if a wound occurs. Promptly cleaning and treating any injury is imperative, especially when outdoor soil contact is involved.


Snuffles is a highly contagious upper respiratory infection in rabbits caused by the bacterium Pasteurella multocida. This common rabbit pathogen spreads rapidly between rabbits through direct contact and airborne transmission when infected rabbits sneeze or cough. Snuffles can severely impact health, causing chronic sinus and lung infections.

Nasal discharge, runny eyes, sneezing, wheezing, and labored breathing are characteristic signs of snuffles in rabbits. The mucus/discharge may be clear at first but can become thick and purulent. Severe infection can progress to pneumonia. Snuffles is zoonotic, meaning humans can also become infected through contact with sick rabbits.

Rabbits with snuffles must receive antibiotic therapy, often for extended periods. Isolation and sanitation procedures are necessary to prevent recurrence and spread. Discouraging overcrowding, stress, poor ventilation, and adding new rabbits from unknown backgrounds helps curb snuffles outbreaks. An effective Pasteurella vaccine may help reduce susceptibility.

Since snuffles is so contagious and difficult to eliminate completely, adding any infected rabbit to another rabbit colony is inadvisable. Potential pet rabbit owners should instead look for rabbits from a breeder who tests for Pasteurella and follows strict biosecurity protocols to prevent snuffles infection.

Diseases and infections that are contagious to rabbits

In addition to the common contagious diseases rabbits can harbor and transmit to humans and other animals, there are several illnesses that rabbits themselves are susceptible to contracting from other species. These include viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and other pathogens that thrive in rabbits once introduced.

Knowing what infectious agents can spread from other pets and livestock into an unprotected rabbit is important for prevention. Isolation periods for new rabbits, ideal housing, and proper sanitation habits are key to keeping rabbits healthy and free of contagious diseases communicable to them from other animals they encounter.

Some of the most significant contagious diseases that rabbits are at risk for acquiring include myxomatosis, rabbit viral hemorrhagic disease, wry neck, papillomatosis, coccidiosis, Cheyletiella parasitovorax infestation, pasteurellosis, pododermatitis, and conjunctivitis. Understanding these diseases helps rabbit owners take appropriate precautions.

Diseases contagious between rabbits

Certain highly contagious diseases spread rapidly through close contact between infected rabbits and susceptible rabbits. These illnesses thrive when unvaccinated rabbits are housed in crowded, unsanitary conditions that facilitate transmission.

Myxomatosis, viral hemorrhagic disease, pasteurellosis, ringworm, and intestinal coccidia are some of the most common rabbit only contagions. They are efficiently spread through direct contact with sick rabbits, their waste and bedding, or indirectly by insects. Proper housing, sanitation, quarantines, and immunizations are key preventive measures.

Isolating any new rabbit introductions for a minimum 30 day quarantine period allows monitoring for potential illness before permitting contact with a healthy colony. Never hastily introduce unfamiliar rabbits, always allow proper acclimation time. Schedule annual veterinary well checks to establish herd immunity through recommended vaccines. Follow sound sanitation and husbandry practices.

With vigilance and committed preventive protocols, rabbit owners can help protect their collections from exposure to dangerous diseases contagious amongst rabbits. Familiarity with the signs of common rabbit illnesses allows for early intervention and treatment if a contagious disease does infiltrate the colony. Never delay contacting a rabbit-experienced vet if illness is suspected.

How to prevent the spread of diseases from a pet rabbit

Owning a pet rabbit comes with the responsibility of protecting human family members and other pets from potential diseases a rabbit may harbor. Fortunately, rabbit owners can take proactive steps to minimize the likelihood of disease transmission.

  • Acquire rabbits only from reputable breeders or rescues that health screen prior to adoption. Avoid unknown sources like flea markets.

  • Schedule annual veterinary wellness visits to vaccinate rabbits against contagious illnesses like myxomatosis. Keep vaccines current.

  • Quarantine new rabbits a minimum of 30 days before introducing them to a colony to check for illness.

  • Avoid overcrowding rabbits and provide adequate cage sizes and ventilation.

  • Thoroughly sanitize rabbit cages, bowls, litter boxes, and living areas daily.

  • Use safe litter and bedding like paper versus hay which can harbor bacteria.

  • Protect outdoor rabbits from wandering wildlife that may transmit diseases.

  • Cook rabbit meat thoroughly and prevent cross-contamination in kitchens.

  • Have children wash hands after handling rabbits and supervise interactions.

  • Wear gloves when cleaning rabbit environments and wash hands afterwards.

  • Isolate rabbits displaying any signs of illness until evaluated by a vet.

Following sound preventive rabbit care practices keeps pets and their humans safer. Being proactive and diligent helps restrict contagious rabbit diseases from transmitting within a household or collection. Prioritizing rabbit health improves quality of life.


Rabbits can harbor a variety of contagious bacterial, viral, parasitic, and fungal diseases transmissible to humans, other rabbits, and various animal species. Tularemia, salmonella, ringworm, Encephalitozoon cuniculi, rabies, tetanus, and snuffles are key examples requiring vigilance and preventive care by rabbit owners. Likewise, rabbits are susceptible to contracting illnesses from other pets and wildlife.

Knowledge of common rabbit diseases, modes of transmission, and best practices for prevention, early detection, isolation, sanitation, medical care, and immunizations are crucial for optimal rabbit health. With attentive husbandry, the risk of communicable illnesses in rabbits and transmission to other pets and people can be greatly diminished. Healthy rabbits start with educated owners committed to outstanding care and disease prevention.


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