ISSN 2398-2969      



Synonym(s): Lyme disease, Spirochetosis


  • CauseBorrelia burgdorferi.
  • Signs: erythema chronicum migrans.
  • Diagnosis: histopathology, identification of spirochetes in the skin lesion and blood, seroconversion.
  • Treatment: self-limiting condition in rabbits, spirochetes sensitive to penicillins.
  • Prognosis: good.

Presenting signs

  • Lyme disease is an inflammatory disorder, seen in humans, resulting from infection with the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi  Borrelia burgdorferi  , spread through a tick bite.
  • It usually produces a skin lesion called erythema chronicum migrans (ECM) in humans; these lesions are classically described as 'bullseye' lesions.
  • Weeks to months later these lesions may be followed by neurologic or cardiac abnormalities, migratory polyarthritis, intermittent attacks of oligoarticular arthritis or chronic arthritis of the knees.
  • Lyme disease has also been reported in a number of domestic animals, including dogs, cats and horses.
  • Whilst seroconversion has been reported in rabbits following exposure to infected ticks, there are few reports providing an account of the presenting signs.
  • Experimental infections have produced erythema chronicum migrans (ECM) lesions.
  • One study reported erythematous lesions at the site of tick attachment 17 days after initial feeding:
    • The lesion, which covered much of the rabbit's back, had a red border and partial central clearing.
    • Spriochetes were identified in areas of dermal inflammation in both the center and periphery of these lesions.
  • Another study reported ECM lesions appearing away from the site of the tick bite some 10-12 weeks after tick feeding in 8 experimentally infected rabbits:
    • In one of these rabbits, lesions were observed at the site of tick attachment.
    • The initial lesions were described as macules and papules measuring some 2-3 mm in diameter.
    • Within 3-5 days these had enlarged to as much as 5 cm in diameter, becoming slightly elevated annular or oval lesions with bright red to reddish-violet margins.
    • The authors were unable to determine whether these lesions were causally related to the spirochetes or due to other factors associated with the tick's feeding process.

Acute presentation

  • No obvious signs.
  • Erythema chronicum migrans lesions may be seen two or more weeks after tick feeding.

Geographic incidence

  • Lyme borreliosis spirochetes circulate more or less wherever there are competent tick species.

Age predisposition

  • Not known.
  • Older rabbits may have developed immunity to ticks and be able to mount an immune reaction that shortens the tick's feeding time, thereby reducing the potential for spirochete transmission.

Sex predisposition

  • Not known.
  • Female rabbits serving as hosts for pathogen-free feeding ticks may show reduced breeding success.
  • One study reported that mating success, pregnancy incidence, litter size and neonatal viability were reduced in tick-exposed rabbits, and the proportional number of abnormalities found in preimplantation-stage embryos was much higher than in unexposed controls. Fecundity was restored by prolonging the interval between tick exposure and breeding or by treatment with an acaricide.

Breed predisposition

  • Little information available on specific breeds.
  • Positive serological test results probably reflect exposure rather than susceptibility.

Public health considerations

  • Although Lyme disease is a zoonotic disease, there are minimal public health implications associated with the keeping of rabbits.
  • Infected ticks have to go through a moult before they can feed again and transmit any spirochetes.
  • The smooth coat of rabbits makes the identification and early removal of attached ticks relatively easy.
  • Early identification and removal of tick nymphs and adults has been found to significantly reduce the risks of spirochete transmission and is recommended in humans and, indeed, all vertebrate species.

Cost considerations

  • Negligible.

Special risks, eg anesthetic

  • Negligible.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Couper D, Margos G, Kurtenbach K et al (2010) Prevalence of Borrelia infection in ticks from wildlife in south-west England. Vet Rec 167 (26), 1012-1014 PubMed.
  • Steere A C, Coburn J & Glickstein L (2004) The emergence of Lyme disease. J Clinical Invest 113 (8), 1093-1101 PubMed.
  • Randolph S E (2001) The shifting landscape of tick-borne zoonoses: tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme Borreliosis in Europe. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci​ 356 (1411), 1045-1056 PubMed.
  • Shang E S, Champion C I, Wu X Y et al (2000) Comparison of protection in rabbits against host-adapted and cultivated Borrelia burgdorferi following infection-derived immunity or immunisation with outer membrane vesicles or outer surface protein A. Infect Immun 68 (7), 4189-4199 PubMed.
  • Foley D M, Wang Y P, Wu X Y et al (1997) Acquired resistance to Borrelia burgdorferi infection in the rabbit. Comparison between outer surface protein A vaccine- and infection-derived immunity. J Clin Invest 99 (8), 2030-2035 PubMed.
  • Wikel S K (1996) Host immunity to ticks. Annu Rev Entomology 41, 1-22 PubMed.
  • Foley D M, Gayek R J, Skare J T et al (1995) Rabbit model of Lyme borreliosis: erythema migrans, infection-derived immunity, and identification of Borrelia burgdorferi proteins associated with virulence and protective immunity. J Clin Invest 96 (2), 965-975 PubMed.
  • Butler F T (1994) Arthropod and helminth parasites from rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in south west Ireland. Irish Natur J 24 (10), 392-395 VetMedResource.
  • Fikrig E, Magnarelli L A, Chen M C et al (1993) Serological analysis of dogs, horses and cottontail rabbits to an antigenic flagellar epitope of Borrelia burgdorferi. J Clin Microbiol 31 (9), 2451-2455 VetMedResource.
  • Shih C M, Telford S R 3rd, Pollack R J et al (1993) Rapid dissemination by the agent of Lyme disease in hosts that permit fulminating infection. Infect Immun 61 (6), 2396-2399 PubMed.
  • Piesman J, Maupin G O, Campos E G et al (1990) Duration of adult female Ixodes dammini attachment and transmission of Borrelia burgdorferi, with description of needle aspiration isolation method. J Infect Dis 163 (4), 895-897 PubMed.
  • Telford S R 3rd & Spielman A (1989) Enzootic transmission of the agent of Lyme disease in rabbits. Am J Trop Med Hyg 41 (4), 482-490 PubMed.
  • Daniel J C Jr., Sonenshine D E & Juneja S C (1988) Disruption of pregnancy of rabbits serving as hosts for feeding ticks. Theriogenology 30 (6), 1087-1092 PubMed.
  • Benach J L, Bosler E M, Coleman J L et al (1984) Experimental transmission of the Lyme Disease spirochete to rabbits. J Infect Dis 150 (5), 786-787 PubMed.
  • Kornblatt A N, Steere A C & Brownstein A G (1984) Experimental Lyme Disease in rabbits: spirochetes found in erythema migrans and blood. Infect Immun 46 (1), 220-223 PubMed.
  • Burgdorfer W, Barbour A G, Hayes S F et al (1982) Lyme disease a tick-borne spirochetosis? Science 216 (4552), 1317-1319 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Stanek G, Strle E, Gray J & Wormser G P (2002) History and characteristics of Lyme Borreliosis. In: Lyme Borreliosis, Biology, Epidemiology and Control. Eds: Gray J S, Kahl O, Lane R S & Stanek G. CABI Publishing. pp 1-28.

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