I have had a very unfortunate and painful crash course on mycotoxin poisoning. Don't know what that is? Neither did I, other than hearing the word on the rabbit lists I am on, until my bunnies started dying.
For the last 8 years, I have bought my rabbit food from Pet Supplies Plus. They have always carried a brand called Double Duty and we bought it 50 pounds at a time. Over the years, my bunnies have never had any health problems and with the exception of new rescues coming in with illness or my bunny with cancer, I have been very fortunate. In July 2002, Pet Supplies Plus changed their brand of rabbit feed from Double Duty to Scarlet. We bought a bag because the bunnies obviously still needed to eat! The bunnies took to it with no problem but my husband commented that this new food "looked" cheaper and lower quality than the other food. 6 weeks after the bunnies started eating this new food, several of them suddenly started getting sick. The first signs I saw were excessive drinking, messy butts, runny eyes and runny noses. My first thought was "What the heck is going on here?" "Why are my bunnies suddenly getting sick?". My husband and I decided it was most likely the food since that was the only thing that had changed in our environment. We removed all their food and put it aside in a bucket. The next day, I found a feed store about 25 miles from our house that carried Purina Rabbit Chow.
I took 2 of the sickest bunnies to the vet. She didn't find any specific cause but put the bunnies on an antibiotic. Peanut was the first bunny to die on 9/23/02 followed by Freckles on 9/24/02, Vincent on 9/27/02, Daffy on 9/28/02, SweetPea on 10/3/02, Big Bunny on 10/24/02, Snugglebunny on 11/29/02, Calypso on 12/02/02 and Cocoa on 1/9/03. You can see all my beautiful bridge bunnies and what signs and symptoms they had by clicking here. We had several more vet trips and many medicines later, the bunnies were still sick or dying.
After the first 2 bunnies died and 5 more were still sick, I notified the pet store that I believe that the problem was most likely mycotoxin poisoning and that I would be sending a food sample to the state veterinary lab to find out for sure. They basically blew me off and told me to let them know what I found out from the testing but that no one else had reported any problems. I told them that most people have 1 or 2 rabbits and if they got sick or died suddenly, they wouldn't have a clue why and wouldn't pursue it the way I was.
Freckles's body was sent to the state lab in Columbus, OH for Necropsy and when Daffy died, his body was also sent for testing. In the meantime, I also filled a bag with the bunny pellets I suspected of being the problem and I sent it off to the state lab in PA.
Sections of cerebrum, cerebellum, brainstem, kidney, lung, spleen, pancreas, liver, kidney, skin, stomach, large and small intestine were examined.
To see complete necropsy results, click here.
Feed sample submitted contained 60.0 ppb Zearalenone and 2.0 ppm Deoxynivalenol (vomitoxin or DON). Sample submitted was negative for aflatoxins at levels > or = 5.0 ppb and T-2 at levels > or = 50.0 ppb.
Now I can't begin to claim that I really understand what all this all means except that the food was positive for mycotoxins and my bunnies had a variety of problems found upon necropsy with the most likely cause being those mycotoxins.
So now what...I called the Pet Supplies Plus again once I received the mycotoxin positive results. Pet Supplies Plus stated that they REFUSE to remove the food from their shelves and said they have no intention of doing anything about it. They told me to call the home office, which I did, and they told me to call the distributor, which I did. Nobody seems to want to acknowledge this, even with the lab proof I have.
On 10/25/02, I spoke with the State of OH department of Agriculture and explained to them what has been going on and the response from the pet store. The gentleman I spoke with (don't wish to list his name here) was appalled at the reaction of the pet store and sent an investigator to the store the following week. On 10/25, I also bought a new bag of food off the pet stores shelves and sent it to the state lab in PA for additional testing. I wanted to see if what the pet store was still selling was contaminated with mycotoxins. Interestingly enough, the food on the shelves was in a completely different bag that what it had been packed in since it first came into their store. Seems kind of strange to me since they had told me they didn't intend to do anything about the food after I reported it to them since they said that no one else had complained.
10/28/02 I got a call back from the distributor for the pet store and he informed me that they do not feel that there is enough evidence to prove that their food had anything to do with my bunnies deaths or current health problems. Therefore, they intend to do nothing about the situation or reimburse me at all for all my expenses. I told him that he had not heard the end of me.
I took Cocoa to the vet again on 10/28/02 because he seemed to be getting worse. Cocoa has had white stuff coming from his nose for a few weeks. He has been on SMZ, Oxibendazole, Lincocin and several other medications but he has made no improvements. The vet said that the white stuff from his nose would usually indicate pasteurella but he has no lesions which would confirm that. His ears were fine and his lungs sounded good but he is down to 2lbs from 2.5lbs. She started Cocoa on baytril and Pen-G on the hopes that we might be able to get this cleared up.
During this time, Caly has been extremely sick. The vet has tested for many things and not found any cause for the use of her limbs, severe malnourishment and deyhdration. Caly's eyes, ears and nose have remained clear and she showed no obvious signs of infection. I was syringe feeding Caly twice a day in addition to sub-q fluids, baytril, Pen-G and oxibendazole but there was still no improvement. Caly had a Rabbit Complete blood panel done and her results were all over the board but didn't point to any specific problem. To see Caly's blood results, Click Here. My vet began contacting other vets and resources that either one of us could think of.
My vet received the results from the 2nd sample of Scarlett food that I sent to the State Veterinary Lab in PA. This time, they wouldn't send the information to me so I had to have the vet fax it over. There was a comments section and this is what it said.
Specimens are accepted through practicing vets on behalf of owners of pet animals. We will offer consultation to you in an effort to help solve your client's problems. Please relay these results to your client. There is a rumor circulating among rabbit fanciers that mycotoxins are causing problems among rabbits. I suspect that these rumors originate from a non-veterinarian nutritionist. On several occasions I have referred to colleagues whose practices are limited to veterinary toxicology. They have no knowledge that rabbits are particularly sensitive to any of the common mycotoxins. The history provided by Ms. Palevsky suggests environmental problems resulting in or in addition to some of the common pathologic problems of pet rabbits. She refers to pathology reports but did not include them. The results of our tests are included. None of these feeds are considered to have mycotoxins in concentrations expected to be harmful to domestic animals. Also, for future reference, we do not conduct testing on products for the purposes of quality control on those products. If you, doctor, have any additional questions, please don't hesitate to call.
The lab findings from the second set of tests on the food are
as follows: (To see the first results again, Click
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Last Updated: January 10, 2004 01:36 PM