Skin diseases of rabbits - without pruritis

Whilst pruritis is one of the most common signs you’ll find in any skin condition, there are still plenty of other dermatological conditions that may cause other problems. In this article, we take a look at 5 of the more frequently encountered skin conditions where pruritis isn’t the main feature.

Posted: 11 February 2019

Skin diseases of rabbits - without pruritis


1. Dermatophytosis

Fungal infections in rabbits and small mammals are often found, particularly in newly acquired animals from pet shops. The fungal species found in rabbits include;

  • Trichophyton mentagrophytes
  • Microsporum canis
  • M. gypseum.

The signs to look for include scaling, crusting and erythema.

Diagnosis is made by;

  • Fungal culture – this is the most accurate method. There are some good in-house culture kits available, such as the ChroMyco Duo
  • Wood's lamp – be aware this is only positive in 50% of M. canis infections
  • Microscopy - direct examination of hair or scales in 10% KOH

Treatment can be approached in several ways

  • Itraconazole – use for 1 month
  • Enilconazole - twice weekly is effective
  • Cleaning - it’s wise to disinfect the animal’s home and discard all bedding

Other skin disease with scaling and crusting include;

2. Rabbit syphilis (Treponema paraluiscuniculi)

This organism is primarily spread between rabbits by sexual contact, so the more a rabbit is bred, the more chance it has of becoming infected. It can also be spread by direct contact between young rabbits and an infected adult. Both males and females are affected.

What are the signs of rabbit syphilis?

  • Genital lesions – look for evidence of crusts, erythema and oedema in the genital area. They’re initially red and inflamed, developing into vesicles, papules and ulcers.
  • Facial lesions – similar sores can be found on the nose, chin, mouth and around the eyes. This is as a result of the bacteria spreading by self-grooming.  Up to 1 in 5 rabbits will develop facial lesions. Maternally acquired lesions are mainly on the face.
  • Pain – the lesions are painful, so the animal may show signs of stress and discomfort. However, they’re not pruritic.
  • Anorexia – the pain from the lesions will make the animal depressed and often reluctant to eat.
  • Abortion and metritis – a pregnant female is also at risk, as would the neonate.
  • Sneezing – around 1/3 of clinical cases may sneeze as a result of nasal lesions

Have you read our article on managing rabbit syphilis? >

Treatment – this is best achieved with Penicillin G (injectable only). Give 4-6 repeats at intervals of 5 to 7 days. Remember, never give oral penicillin to rabbits. Most other antibiotics are ineffective.

Lesions usually heal within 10–14 days and recovered rabbits can be bred without danger of transmitting the infection. Remember to treat all in-contact rabbits. You can reassure your clients that this disease is NOT zoonotic.

3. Myxomatosis

This infection is caused by the myxoma (pox) virus, which is transmitted by arthropod vectors (e.g. fleas) or physical transport. Old World rabbits (most rabbits we see in the UK) are extremely susceptible to the infection.

Clinical signs can be either acute or peracute. We would usually find oedema of the head, ears, eyelids and genitalia. The lesions often produce a milky discharge (affected rabbits will produce copious quantities of oculonasal discharge). Firm non-pruritic and erythematous nodules (known as myxomas) are generally found with less virulent myxomatosis strains. Most animals will also be pyrexic, anorexic and depressed. Wild animals are easily handled as they are so unwell.

Morbidity and mortality rates are very high, so owners need to prepare for the worse. Whilst supportive treatment can be offered, euthanasia is usually recommended.

Prevention by vaccination is by far the best approach.

4. Pododermatitis

This condition produces skin ulcerations that can range from being superficial to deep, and in some cases will progress to osteomyelitis. It can be caused by several factors, but the two most common ones are obesity and a damp floor. Wire cage floors have also been implicated. There is also a genetic disposition to this condition in some breeds, such as the Rex, where the fur on the planter aspect is not sufficient to give protection.

A continually damp floor (a very common husbandry problem) will trigger pododermatitis. Rabbit owners must be committed to cleaning and maintaining good hygiene. You could suggest ‘vet bedding’ in some area, as well as clean litter in the litter tray. Pelleted bedding pulls moisture away from the surface, which keeps the feet dry. In addition, pelleted bedding is non-toxic.

The organism that is most often associated with photodermatitis is Staphylococcus aureus.

The signs to look for include;

  • Chronic granulomatous dermatitis of the metatarsal area
  • Sore hocks – check for causes of pain e.g. ulceration
  • Crusty, erythematous, purulent and necrotic lesions, which are often bilateral

5. Sebaceous adenitis

Also known as exfoliative dermatitis, this is a condition which results in inflammation of the sebaceous glands. It’s often secondary to a thymic tumour, thought there might also be an autoimmune or hormonal influence. Signs to look for include;

  • Inflammation of sebaceous glands and hair follicles
  • Patches of alopecia or coat thinning – often these are symmetrical
  • Scales and hyperkeratosis – often tightly adherent to the skin, especially around the head, neck and pelvic region
  • Sebaceous gland destruction – the condition is progressive, starting with inflammation, and developing into necrosis

Diagnosis is best made by biopsy, otherwise the skin changes can be confused with allergies, fungal infections, or parasitic infestations. You also need to exclude cutaneous lymphoma. Radiography of the chest would help identify a silent thymic tumour.

Whilst the condition can’t be cured, you can help symptomatically by prescribing cleaning and moisturising. Chlorhexidine washes and conditioners will help loosen and remove scale and moisturise the skin.


You’ll probably already know about the FREE Webinars we sponsor via Webinar Vet. If you’re looking for more information on rabbit skin conditions, why not take a look at this one. Dermatology of Rabbits and Rodents by Stephen White.