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Vaccinating Pet Rabbits

Vaccinating Pet Rabbits

Why You Should Vaccinate Pet Rabbits Against Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis first appeared in the UK in 1953 and killed millions of rabbits throughout the entirety of the British Isles. Farmers welcomed the disease as rabbits have always been a long-standing nuisance when it came to crop cultivation. However, with meat still rationed after the Second World War, many people felt the loss of a cheap and readily available chicken substitute. Others were horrified at the sight of so many sick and dying animals – Myxomatosis is a horrible disease which causes intense suffering among domestic and wild rabbits. Rabbits had many influential champions after the war, including Winston Churchill, who was involved in making the deliberate transmission of the disease a criminal offence. The reaction to Myxomatosis was mixed, and eventually, it was allowed to run its course with the government allowing the reduction in the wild rabbit population.

Myxomatosis is Still Around

For those that think Myxomatosis has disappeared or is just a disease found in wild rabbits in the countryside, think again. Myxomatosis is still present in the UK in both the wild rabbit population and domestic pets because it is so easily transmissible. Myxomatosis passes between rabbits via blood-sucking insects, including mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and mites. Myxomatosis spreads rapidly amongst wild rabbit colonies and can quickly be passed onto a pet rabbit in the garden. That rabbit doesn’t need to be in close physical proximity to a wild rabbit; it just needs to be bitten by an insect that has already bitten another rabbit with the disease. Myxomatosis is found throughout the UK, even now, and no geographical area is free of this disease. Unvaccinated rabbits will die within 10-14 days. Death can be prolonged and cause intense suffering in the wild rabbit population. 

The Symptoms of Myxomatosis

The virus has different strains, which can alter the incubation period. This is anything from a couple of days to fourteen days. You may notice a difference in your rabbit’s behaviour and eating habits during incubation. Once the virus gets a grip on the animal, then the first physical impact will be on the genitals, eyes and nose. Symptoms include: -
  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Swollen and inflamed eyes, which cause blindness
  • Ulcers and inflammation on the genitals, eyes and nose
  • High fever
  • Difficulty breathing and respiratory problems
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Lethargy

Other Preventative Measures

  • Keep your garden free of areas of stagnant water, especially during the warmer months – these attract mosquitoes
  • Use mosquito-proof insect netting and guards on outdoor hutches
  • Control fleas regularly in all your pets, including cats and dogs, which can pass fleas onto rabbits
  • Clean and disinfect your rabbit enclosures and housing regularly – remember to use a rabbit-safe disinfectant
  • Change the bedding frequently
  • Keep the hutches in an enclosed location during the spring and summer
  • Myxomatosis can be spread from rabbit to rabbit within a domestic group via bedding, hutches, grass, feed bowls, carriers and even human clothing. If one rabbit becomes ill, then you will need to carry out a complete disinfection procedure
  • If you live in a rural location, prevent contact between your pet rabbits and the local wild rabbit population. This might involve installing rabbit netting around the perimeter of the garden
It’s unnecessary to keep rabbits indoors to avoid Myxomatosis, although clearly, this does reduce the risk. However, if you keep your pet rabbits outside, you’ll need to take extra preventative measures alongside annual vaccinations to protect your pet from this disease. Part of good rabbit care is a regular programme of vaccinations and check-ups. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously, so they can experience dental problems. Your vet will also check your rabbit’s heart and respiration rates on a routine check-up. Vets can provide helpful advice about diet and any other management concerns you may have.

Protecting your Pet Rabbit Against Myxomatosis

Thankfully, there is a vaccine to protect against Myxomatosis, but rather like many vaccines, this doesn’t offer total 100% protection. A vaccinated rabbit can still catch the disease, but with veterinary support, the recovery rates are reasonable, a bit like the Covid vaccine in humans. Vaccinated rabbits experience a more mild form of the disease. Unvaccinated rabbits rarely survive; the only option is to put them to sleep to avoid any further suffering.

The Myxomatosis Vaccination

Myxomatosis is not the only fatal disease that pet rabbits need protection against. Vaccinations also cover Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhagic Disease or R(V)HD and a further sub-strain of this disease, R(V)HD2. Most pet rabbits have an annual combined vaccination which can start from five weeks old, although rabbits that young will need a separate vaccine to protect against R(V)HD2 at ten weeks old. Your vet can discuss the best way to keep your rabbit/s happy and healthy.

How is Myxomatosis Treated?

There is no treatment for Myxomatosis in vaccinated pet rabbits, only supportive measures like pain relief products and anti-inflammatory therapies. Vaccinated rabbits which contract Myxomatosis have a good chance of recovery but will need supportive veterinary care.

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