Small Mammal Encephalitozoonosis, also known as SME, is an infection caused by a protozoan parasite called Encephalitozoon cuniculi. This parasitic infection can affect a variety of small mammals, including rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice and hamsters. SME is found worldwide and can cause serious neurological problems in affected animals.
The infection is transmitted through the ingestion of E. cuniculi spores, which are found in contaminated soil, food, water or bedding. Symptoms can vary depending on the type of small mammal affected, but generally include central nervous system disorders such as seizures, ataxia (incoordination), tremors and paralysis. Affected animals could also develop skin lesions, including scabs and alopecia (hair loss). In addition, SME can cause eye problems such as retinal detachment or inflammation, as well as kidney and liver damage.
Diagnosis of SME is based on clinical signs, a physical examination and laboratory tests. Treatment usually consists of medication to reduce symptoms and prevent further progression of the disease. Since SME is highly contagious, it’s important to isolate infected animals from healthy ones and to clean the environment regularly with disinfectants.
SME can be prevented with good husbandry practices, such as regular cleaning of cages and avoiding mixing animals from different sources. Vaccines are available for guinea pigs and rabbits, but not for other small mammals.
Symptoms of Small Mammal Encephalitozoonosis
Symptoms of Small Mammal Encephalitozoonosis can vary depending on the species of small mammal affected. Generally, signs include:
- Neurologic disorders such as seizures
- Ataxia (incoordination)
Skin lesions such as scabs and alopecia (hair loss) might develop. SME can also cause eye problems such as retinal detachment or inflammation, as well as kidney and liver damage.
Diagnosing Small Mammal Encephalitozoonosis
Diagnosing SME is based on clinical signs, a physical examination and laboratory tests. The most reliable method of diagnosis is by identifying the presence of Encephalitozoon cuniculi in the urine or feces of the infected animal.
Stages of Small Mammal Encephalitozoonosis
The animal is not yet infected but there is a risk of infection due to contact with contaminated soil, food, water or bedding.
The animal begins to have clinical signs such as seizures, ataxia (incoordination), tremors and paralysis. This stage can last anywhere from several hours to several weeks.
Over time, the symptoms can become more severe and irreversible damage can occur. This stage can last for months or even years. Common signs include progressive paralysis, difficulty breathing, seizures and blindness.
With proper treatment, some animals will be able to recover from SME with no lasting effects. However, in some cases the damage is too severe and the animal will not survive.
Treating Small Mammal Encephalitozoonosis
Treating SME usually consists of medication to reduce symptoms and prevent further progression of the disease. Treatment can include anti-inflammatory drugs, anticonvulsants, antibiotics, as well as nutritional and supportive care. It’s important to isolate the infected animal from healthy ones and to clean the environment regularly with disinfectants. Vaccines are available for guinea pigs and rabbits, but not for other small mammals.
Preventing Small Mammal Encephalitozoonosis
SME can be prevented by providing good husbandry practices such as regular cleaning of cages and avoiding mixing animals from different sources. Keeping food and bedding clean, and providing fresh water can help prevent the spread of infection.