Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Treponema cuniculi

Synonym(s): Treponema paraluis-cuniculi

Contributor(s): John Chitty, Susan Dawson, Anna Meredith, Vetstream Ltd, Vicki Baldrey




  • Order: Spirochetalis.
  • Family: Spirochetaceae.
  • Genus: Treponema.
  • Species: cuniculi or paraluis-cuniculi.


  • Gk: trepein - turn + Gk: nema - thread.
  • L: cuniculi - rabbit, underground passage.

Active Forms

This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to purchase a 30 day trial, or Login

Clinical Effects



  • Does not survive outside the host.


  • Venereal.
  • Direct contact - affected does can infect kits at birth or via the milk.
  • Vertical transmission commonly occurs as kits are infected from the birth canal.

Pathological effects

  • Humoral antibodies can be detected in exposed and infected rabbits.
  • Infection stimulates a polymorphonuclear cell response, then infiltration of plasma cells and macrophages.
  • Causes venereal spirochetosis of rabbits.
  • Lesions are usually limited to vulval or preputial skin and appear as papules, ulcers or hyperkeratosis.
  • Lesions begin as areas of hyperemia and edema and progress to large papillary nodules that can become crusty.
  • Lesions may also occur on the nose, lips, chin, face, eyelids, ears and paws, due to the social and grooming habits of the rabbit. 
  • Spirochetemia has been reported.

Other Host Effects

  • Subclinical infection is possible, with overt disease precipitated by stress or immunosuppression.


Control via animal

  • Often self-limiting.
  • Treponemas are susceptible to antibiotics.
  • May be eliminated from a colony by selective breeding of virgin females.
  • Also consider quarantine of new animals and possible serological testing of new animals during quarantine.

Control via chemotherapies

  • Penicillin Penicillin is the treatment of choice - usually given in the form of three long-acting injections given subcutaneously a week apart:
    • Dose rates vary widely, but general 42-84 mg/kg penicillin weekly for 3 treatments.
    • Long-acting amoxicillin may also be used via the same regime.
    • Monitor for dysbiosis during treatment and provide a good quality high fiber diet and probiotic.
  • Tetracycline Tetracycline and chloramphenicol Chloramphenicol are also effective.
  • Treat all in contact animals.
  • Analgesia Analgesia should also be provided.

Control via environment

  • Does not survive for long away from the host.

Other countermeasures

  • Selective breeding of virgin females may be able to eliminate spirochetosis from a colony.


This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to purchase a 30 day trial, or Login

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Scarff D (2008) Skin diseases of pet rabbits. UK Vet: Companion Animal 13 (2), 66-75 VetMedResource.
  • Centurion-Lara A, Castro C, Castillo R et al (1998) The flanking region sequences of the 15-kDa lipoprotein gene differentiate pathogenic treponemes. J Infect Dis 177 (4), 1036-1040 PubMed.
  • DiGiacomo R F, Talburt C D, Lukehart S A et al (1983) Treponema paraluis-cuniculi infection in a commercial rabbitry: epidemiology and serodiagnosis. Lab Anim Sci 33 (6), 562-565 PubMed.
  • Cunliffe-Beamer T L & Fox R R (1981) Venereal spirochetosis of rabbits: description and diagnosis. Lab Anim Sci 31 (4), 366-371 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Varga M (2014) Skin Disease. In: Textbook of Rabbit Medicine. 2nd edn. Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford. pp 271-302.
  • Meredith A (2006) Skin Diseases and Treatment of Rabbits. In: Skin Diseases of Exotic Pets. Eds: Patterson S. Blackwell Publishing. pp 288-311.