In any clinical environment where ill animals are in proximity to each other it is possible that infections can spread from a sick animal to a healthy animal. Veterinary hospitals are always following strict infection control procedures, but it occasionally can still happen.
How likely is my rabbit to contract a hospital-associated infection?
It is important to remember that hospital-associated infections are rare and the vast majority of rabbits that enter a hospital environment will not contract any illness as a result of being there. This should in no way ever put you off allowing your rabbit to be admitted to hospital should they require to be so.
What infections could my rabbit contract?
Any number of bacteria, viruses, or protozoa can spread within a veterinary hospital as well as internal and external parasites.
Pasteurella infections thrive in situations whereby rabbits are kept near to each other. The bacterium is spread in the nasal secretions of infected rabbits so can be easily passed on to other rabbits in the same environment.
E. cuniculi is spread in the urine of infected rabbits. The problem with E. cuniculi is that over 50% of all rabbits are deemed to carry the parasite; many will never show clinical signs of illness. Therefore, rabbits who are actually infected may not be deemed as infectious.
Myxomatosis is spread by blood sucking insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. Most myxomatosis infected rabbits are not admitted to hospital but are nursed at home by their owners or are sadly euthanised to spare them any further suffering. However, these rabbits are still bought into the veterinary practice and into the waiting room and consulting room where it is possible for infected fleas to hop off the rabbit.
Viral haemorrhagic disease, both strains 1 and 2 may show no or minimal clinical signs which may not be attributed to the virus. The virus can be transmitted by objects that have been in contact with the virus such as on clothes, tables, bowls, hay etc.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an antibiotic-resistant bacteria and is a critically important human pathogen that is also an emerging concern in veterinary medicine, It is present in a wide range of animal species, including, rabbits, both as a cause of infection and in healthy carriers.
MRSA can enter the body via open wounds, causing wounds that won’t heal. Any wound is potentially at risk including surgical wounds post neutering.
There are many others.
What will my vet do to minimise the risks?
Infection control practices are strictly monitored in veterinary practices in order to prevent cross contamination between patients. Surfaces are disinfected and strict handwashing procedures are carried out between patients. Any patients suspected of harbouring a contagious disease are isolated.
Barrier nursing of patients in isolation includes housing them in an area separate from the main hospital, usually with a separate ventilation system. Animals are cared for using separate utensils, bins, bedding, and food. Hospital staff wear protective gear in the isolation area so when they leave, they can remove the gear and not contaminate patients outside of the isolation area. Only trained personnel are allowed into the isolation area.
What can I do to minimise the risk?
If you think that your rabbit may be infectious to other rabbits, ie they are sneezing, known carriers of E. cuniculi or you think they may have myxomatosis, then it is important to tell the receptionist when you are booking an appointment at the veterinary hospital. Follow the instructions from the hospital staff about how to bring your rabbit into the facility. They may ask you to wait in the car until your appointment, or they may book an appointment at the end of the day so the practice can be thoroughly cleaned prior to any other rabbits coming into the practice the next day.
What if my rabbit contracts a hospital-associated infection?
You will need to discuss your concerns with your veterinary hospital. It may be possible, such as in the case of E. cuniculi or Pasteurella that your rabbit was already a carrier and the stress of a hospital stay or vet trip has bought on the illness rather than them actually getting infected from being at the hospital.