Lapis ISSN 2398-2969


Synonym(s): Sheep/beef measles, tapeworm infection

Contributor(s): David Vella, Ron Rees Davies, Jenna Richardson, Lesa Thompson


  • Rabbits are definitive hosts for tapeworms such as Cittotaenia ctenoidesand Mosgovoyia pectinatabut such infestations are extremely rare.
  • The tapeworms develop within the intestine and segments pass in the feces.
  • Mites act as intermediate hosts and are ingested by rabbits when grazing.
  • Clinical consequences, apart from visible tapeworm shedding, have not been reported.
  • Cause: rabbits are intermediate hosts for a number of carnivore tapeworms, most importantly Taenia serialisTaenia pisiformisand Echinococcus granulosus.
  • The metacestode (cyst) stages of these parasites can form at a variety of sites, including mesentery, hepatic margins, subcutaneously and intramuscularly.
  • Signs: usually asymptomatic. Soft tissue swellings can result if the larval stage of the tapeworm forms cysts within the rabbit's tissues. Apart from the presence of fluid filled masses, the cysts are rarely a clinical problem. 
  • Diagnosis: history and clinical signs, physical and cytological examination of cyst fluid. Incidental findings at surgery or post-mortem.
  • Treatment: drainage of cyst fluid, praziquantel, surgical excision.
  • Prognosis: good for simple cysts, guarded for cases with hepatic disease.

Certain tapeworm species may inhabit the small intestine of rabbits as their definitive host (mites or ants being the intermediate hosts). However, such infestations are rare, and are usually mild and asymptomatic. This article will not cover this type of cestode infection where rabbits are the definitive host.

Print off the Owner factsheet onFaecal testing  Faecal testing   to give to your clients.

Presenting signs

  • Often asymptomatic.
  • Cyst formation resulting in soft, fluid filled masses palpable or visible in subcutaneous sites. Pain can be associated depending on location of cyst.
  • Swellings have been reported at many sites, including the submandibular area, masseter muscles, axillae region, hindlimb muscles and on the serosal peritoneum. Individual reports of a retrobulbar cyst and retroperitoneal cyst are also documented.

Geographic incidence

  • Variable with local prevalence of the parasites/definitive hosts concerned.
  • Outdoor rabbits grazing on contaminated pasture.

Age predisposition

  • Post-weaning when able to access grass.
  • Cysts become more numerous with age if rabbit is continually presented with infective ova.

Breed predisposition

  • All breeds susceptible if exposed.

Public health considerations

  • Like rabbits, humans can act as an intermediate host for a variety of tapeworms.
  • Pet rabbits cannot transmit infection to humans unless eaten.
  • Commercially infected animals should not be used for food production.

Undercooked infected meat can transmit infection to humans.

Cost considerations

  • Veterinary treatment/surgery where necessary, though this is usually cosmetic.
  • The parasite is not commonly seen in a commercial environment.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMedand VetMedResource.
  • Lord B (2012) Gastrointestinal disease in rabbits 2. Intestinal Disease. In Pract 34 (3), 156-162 VetMedResource.
  • Cousquer G (2008) Internal Parasites of Rabbits. Vet Nurs Times (10), 18-20 VetMedResource.
  • O'Reilly A, McCowan C, Hardman C et al (2002) Taenia serialis causing exophthalmos in a pet rabbit. Vet Ophthal (3), 227-230 PubMed.
  • Bennett H (2000) Coenurus cyst in a pet rabbit. Vet Rec 147 (15), 428 PubMed.
  • Fountain K (2000) Coenurus serialis in a pet rabbit. Vet Rec 147 (12), 340 PubMed.
  • Allan J C, Craig P S, Sherington J et al (1999) Helminth parasites of the wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus near Malham Tarn, Yorkshire, UK. J Helminthol 73 (4), 289-294 PubMed.
  • Jenkins D J & Thomson R C (1995) Hydatid cyst development in an experimentally infected wild rabbit. Vet Rec 137 (6), 148-149 PubMed.
  • Boag B (1985) The incidence of helminth parasites from the wild rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus (L.) in eastern Scotland. J Helminthol 59 (1), 61-69 PubMed.
  • Flatt R E & Moses R W (1975) Lesions of experimental cysticercosis in domestic rabbits. Lab Anim Sci 25 (2), 162-167 PubMed.
  • Flatt R E & Campbell W W (1974) Cysticercosis in rabbits: incidence and lesions of the naturally occurring disease in young domestic rabbits. Lab Anim Sci 24 (6), 914-918 PubMed.
  • Hamilton A G (1950) The occurrence and morphology of Coenurus serialis in rabbits.  Parasitology 40 (1-2), 46-49 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Lloyd Lucas A & Jonea A (2010) Coenurus serialis cyst causing bone destruction in a rabbit.  Zoomed Bulletin British Veterinary Zoological Society. 10, 42-44. 
  • Harcourt Brown F (2002) Infectious diseases of Domestic Rabbits: Endoparasites: Tapeworms. In: Textbook of Rabbit Medicine. Butterworth-Heinemann, London. pp 363-364.
  • Soulsby E J L (1982) Order: Taeniidea. In: Helminths, Arthropods and Protozoa of Domestic Animals. 7th edn. Balliere-Tindall, London. pp 106-127.