Disease: Rabbit and hare syphylis

This page provides general information about this condition; reveal the text by clicking on the green headers. Press releases, results from DWHC investigations as well as other useful documents and relevant literature can be found at the bottom of the page.


Treponemes are a group of spiral, motile bacteria that are responsible for a range of diseases in many different animal species including humans. The species of this bacteria that is currently most relevant to European wildlife health is T. paraluiscuniculi responsible for causing the venereal disease known as syphilis in rabbits; there is some confusion as to the naming of the very closely related strain of this bacteria that causes the disease in hares which some researchers have provisionally called T. paraluisleporidarum.

In domestic cattle, several species of Treponema are responsible for a crippling infection of the feet and hooves known as digital dermatitis; recently, treponemal infection was associated with severe hoof malformity in free-living elk in North America highlighting the possibility of cross-transmission from livestock to wildlife.

Lumeij JT, de Koning J, Bosma RB, van der Sluis JJ, Schellekens JF. Treponemal infections in hares in The Netherlands. J Clin Microbiol. 1994 Feb;32(2):543-6.

Lumeij JT, Mikalová L, Smajs D.  Is there a difference between hare syphilis and rabbit syphilis? Cross infection experiments between rabbits and hares. Vet Microbiol. 2013 May 31;164(1-2):190-4.


Susceptible species

Rabbits and hares can both be infected with and develop clinical signs attributable to T.paraluisleporidarum.

T. paraluiscuniculi is not zoonotic and is different to the species that causes disease of the same name in humans.


Signs in animals

Infected animals develop white, raised, crusty lesions at the mucocutaneous junction of the anus, genitalia and mouth. The surface of this swellings can be ulcerated and these sores may lead to a general loss of condition.

Some studies have shown that whilst large numbers of hares have been exposed to the bacteria (anitbody testing), very few animals have lesions suggesting that the condition can be self-resolving and animals can develop immunity.


Ranieri Verin, Mariana Pestelli and Alessandro Poli. Treponemal Infection in Free-ranging European Brown Hares (Lepus europaeus) in Central Italy: Serology and Epidemiology. Journal of Wildlife Diseases Oct 2012, Vol. 48, No. 4 (October 2012) pp. 1079-1082

Infection of animals

Transmission is via direct contact, usually reproductive activity, between infected and non-infected animals. As lagomorphs are polygonous, the disease can potentially spread rapidly through a population.

Research results

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Overige berichten

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