Been a Busy Couple of Weeks…

Since my last post here, that is.

The mouse problem is getting sorted, steadily. Chocolate hazelnut spread is proving the best bait on the little nipper traps and most days I’ve moved a couple of mouse corpses from the bunny shed to the ferret cage (the ferrets adore eating fresh mouse – far better than boring old ferret kibble!), starting with definitely adult mice and now coming down to half-grown mice, so we’re making progress.

The bunny population is down to 22, Jezebel’s last litter having been culled out and butchered. I wasn’t happy with the livers and some consultation with my vets has confirmed I have a hepatic coccidiosis outbreak on my hands – enough that the youngsters have spotty livers and some haven’t grown as well as they should, but not so bad they were dropping dead on me. Still, that’s bad enough so I’m going to have to go through the cages and scrub each one out with 10% ammonia solution to kill the parasites (Eimeria steidae, a sporazoan) and up my cage-cleaning and hygiene routines somewhat.

Coccidiosis is one of these things that no bunny keeper can ever turn their backs on. Practically every bunny in the world carries one or more of the various species of coccidia that can live in rabbits; most are gut parasites and this one causes liver damage. It doesn’t affect the meat for culinary purposes, although the livers are unusable in this litter. The babies are usually safe enough from sickness while they’re suckling because they get immune protection from their mother’s milk. The older ones develop immunity as they live with the parasites. The ones who suffer and sometimes die are the ones between about 4-5 weeks and 4-5 months, after they’re weaned but before their own immunity develops fully. So, since I can’t eliminate the bugs (my vet has confirmed that she can’t find any drug that will kill coccidia without killing the rabbit as well) I just have to try and keep them in cleaner conditions, so they’re not picking up too many of the parasites, and scrub cages as and when I can with the 10% ammonia solution, which is the only thing that will kill the spores that the parasite leaves around the environment.

I normally clean cages every couple of days, but since that’s clearly not good enough, I’ve pushed that up to daily cleaning. I’m also introducing litter-trays for the bunnies; rabbits usually litter-train quite well and Trudy, Silver, Jet, Tigger and Delilah are happily using their trays properly (as are Trudy’s litter, copying mum) while Samson and Jezebel think I’ve given them chew toys and the two Rex boys like to use them as building blocks and stack them up instead of sitting in them. They’ll get the idea in a few more days when the novelty wears off, I expect.

Turning to herbal remedies, one I found that offers some promise was garlic – there have been lab trials using garlic in rabbits against coccidiosis that show definite helpful effects both as a treatment and, even more, as a prophylactic. I don’t know how they were administering garlic to their rabbits but none of mine will eat it minced or chopped, so that’s a non-starter. To be honest, I wasn’t very hopeful since most rabbits loathe all alliums. Trudy, Delilah and one of the Rex boys tried a small piece each before hopping away, the others didn’t even sniff too closely.

I have managed to track down a supplier of rabbit pellets containing a coccidiostat, a drug that reduces the parasite’s ability to reproduce itself, but the nearest stockist is 60 miles away, so I’ll have to go down and fill the car full to make it worthwhile. I’ll get to that next week!

(I had intended to do it today but…. the boiler quit on us last night, so it was rather more important today to be on hand to let the plumber in. We’ve had fairly sharp frosts the past few nights and it’s not a good time to be without heating, so last night my mother commandeered all the hot water bottles and our one electric-powered convector heater, and I put another blanket on the bed and invited the whippets to share rather than putting them in their cages for the night. It was toasty but I did get stepped on somewhat by restless dogs. The heating is now fixed again, thank goodness!)

So, the bunnies will be an ongoing shell-game for a time as I shuffle them around, cleaning spare cages and then moving rabbits into them and cleaning the next couple of cages. I need to build some fresh cages anyway, which will help, and I think I’ll remove the two big cages I’ve been using as growing-on spaces for youngsters and build a lot of smaller cages I can put two bunnies at a time in, in the interests of improving hygiene and the ability to isolate any illness. I’ll also stop any further breeding until I’ve got this sorted out and the system rejigged to my satisfaction (and the bunnies’ improved health benefit!) so I should work down to just my breeding stock of 7 over the winter as youngsters grow up and are culled out.

Fortunately there’s plenty of rabbit in the freezer.

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