Rabbit syphilis, also known as vent disease or treponematosis, is a sexually transmitted disease that affects rabbits. Here are four things you need to know about it.
What causes it?
Rabbit syphilis is caused by treponema cuniculi, a type of bacteria. This bacteria affects both wild and pet rabbits. Rabbits can contract this disease by mating with an infected rabbit. It can also be passed from a mother to her babies through the mother's milk.
Once a rabbit is infected, they can be symptom-free for as long as several years. Symptoms may be triggered by suppression of your rabbit's immune system due to stress, malnutrition, or illness.
What are the symptoms?
If your rabbit has symptomatic rabbit syphilis, you'll notice that they have small blisters or sores on the skin around their genital region. The eyelids, nose, and lips can also be affected. Heavy scabs form over top of the blisters or sores and you may see pus or blood oozing out from under the scabs.
Can it be treated?
Rabbit syphilis is treated with antibiotics, specifically, with injections of penicillin. You probably already know that penicillin is very dangerous to rabbits when it's given orally or topically since it can disrupt the balance of bacteria inside their digestive systems, but when it's injected, it's safe for your pet, so don't worry.
Your rabbit will need four to six injections over a five to seven day period to clear up the infection. Once the treatment is finished, your rabbit's sores will heal. It can take 10 to 14 days for this to happen, and once your rabbit is healed, you can breed them safely.
If your rabbit shares its cage or hutch with other rabbits, the others will need to be treated as well. This is necessary because they could be infected without showing any symptoms and could re-infect your rabbit.
Can you catch it?
The bacteria that causes rabbit syphilis is related to the bacteria that causes human syphilis, but fortunately, they are different enough that the rabbit version isn't transmissible to people. You don't need to worry about contracting syphilis from handling or caring for your sick rabbit. However, you should still wash your hands after handling your rabbit to avoid spreading the disease to other rabbits.
If you think your rabbit has rabbit syphilis, take them to a vet (like those at My Rancho Bernardo Pet Hospital) right away. This condition is easily treatable with injections of penicillin.