This is our third week focusing on rabbit health in the run up to Rabbit Awareness week. Today we’re highlighting Myxomatosis which is a serious and often fatal condition in rabbits. We want to emphasise the importance of vaccination against this disease in your rabbits.
What is Myxomatosis?
Myxomatosis is a disease in rabbits which arrived in the UK 50 years ago. It is a severe and often fatal condition which had major effects on the UK rabbit population when it first arrived. It continues to cause deaths in unvaccinated rabbits each year.
Myxomatosis is a viral disease that can be passed on by fleas, mosquitoes and mites which have bitten an infected rabbit. The virus can be also passed on through direct contact between rabbits and through infected rabbit secretions.
Who does it affect?
Any rabbit could be at risk but rabbits living outdoors who could come into contact with wild rabbits would be at the highest risk of contracting the disease. Whilst vaccination cannot guarantee prevention of Myxomatosis, it hugely reduces the risk of rabbits contracting the disease. The Myxomatosis vaccination is an annual injection which your vet can administer. If vaccinated rabbits contract the disease, their symptoms are usually milder and most of the time the rabbits will recover.
Is it serious?
Myxomatosis can be a very serious disease for rabbits causing swelling of the eyelids, nose, mouth and around their back end. It can lead to poor appetite, blindness, lethargy and breathing difficulty. Most rabbits which haven’t been vaccinated sadly either die or require euthanasia due to their symptoms. In vaccinated animals with the disease, treatment is normally supportive and carries a better outcome for the rabbit.
Is there any treatment?
If you suspect your rabbit has Myxomatosis, whether vaccinated or not, it is important to take them to your vet as an emergency. Rabbits can go downhill rapidly so require urgent attention. Your vet will be able to gauge the severity of the disease and advise whether treatment is possible.
What can I do to prevent it?
Vaccination for Myxomatosis is the best way to reduce the chance of your rabbit becoming infected. Your rabbit will require an annual booster but talk to your vet who can advise you on this. It’s important that dogs and cats are treated for fleas as these could pass on to your rabbit. Speak to your vet about the correct flea treatment for each pet as they can be toxic if put on the wrong animal. Make sure there’s nothing to attract wild animals to your garden around your rabbit. Insect screens fitted to rabbit hutches can work well too.