Rabbit Vaccinations

Rabbits can (and should) be vaccinated against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD). Vaccinations stimulate the rabbits body to produce antibodies to particular diseases so that they become immune to (can't catch) them. Antibodies destroy viruses and bacteria entering the body. Different types of antibodies are needed to fight different illnesses. If a rabbit comes into contact with the disease after it has been vaccinated it has the antibodies already to fight the disease. An unvaccinated rabbit needs time to develop antibodies, during which the illness has time to develop and may be to advanced for the rabbit to fight successfully.

Vaccination is also often required for getting pet insurance, holiday bording and attending events.

Note: This information is aimed at UK rabbit owners, vaccinations are not yet available in all countries (such as the USA), contact your vet to see if it is available to you.

Myxomatosis

What is Myxomatosis?

Smudge Myxomatosis is a potentially lethal disease affecting rabbits caused by the myxoma virus of the pox family. It originally came from Australia where it was released deliberately to reduce the massive wild rabbit population which were considered pests. It was transferred, again deliberately, to France and from there spread to the UK. It is common among the wild rabbit population in the UK. Over 90% of wild rabbis contracting Myxomatosis die from the disease. Recovery is more likely in pet rabbits if given intensive veterinary treatment.

It is spread by direct contact and by insects. Fluids from a infected rabbit such as discharge from the eyes, nose or lesions on the skin contain the virus and can infect another rabbits through scratches, abrasions or contact with mucus membranes.

Insects including mosquitoes, ticks, mites, lice and fleas can all carry the disease. This means that even if your rabbit doesn't come into contact with other rabbits it is still important to vaccinate. Insect carriers mean the disease can be transmitted over distances and even indoor rabbits are at risk.

Symptoms

The first symptoms are generally discharge from the eyes and swelling around head, ears and sometimes genitals. Within a fews days the eyes maybe swollen shut. The swelling can make eating, drinking and breathing difficult. Lumps or nodules may also develop. Secondary infections such as pastrella (snuffles) are common. Death can occur within a few days to several weeks. Those that recover may take weeks or even months to do so fully.

Prevention - Vaccination

Rabbits can be vaccinated against Myxomatosis from 6 weeks of age. Rabbits should not be vaccinated while pregnant or ill. After the firsit vaccination regular boosters are required. Boosters are given either every 12 months or every 6 months, depending on the risk in your local area.

Vaccination does not guarantee that a rabbit will not contract myxomatosis, there is still a small risk. Vaccinated rabbits contracting myxomatosis also have a greater chance of recovery.

Note: For the vaccination to be effective it needs to be given partly into the skin and partly under the skin. Ask your vet to confirm that this is the procedure they will follow when vaccinating your rabbit. If they query this, ask them to check with the vaccine manufacturers Intervet. If the vaccination is given incorrectly then it may need to be repeated.

Vaccinations generally cost between 10-20 each.

Prevention - Insects

As insects are the main way myxomatosis spreads controlling them is an important way to minimise the risk of infection. It is important to treat other household pets such as cats and dogs for fleas. If you have an outbreak of fleas it will also be necessary to treat the house and carpets. Treatment for mites and lice can be recommended by your vets. Hutches and other living accommodation can be cleaned with anti-mite disinfectants designed specifically for use on animal cages. Hanging sticky fly paper (out of reach of rabbits teeth) can help control fleas and flies. Electronic fly traps can be used inside. Its important not to use fly sprays around your rabbit or other pets.

Treatment

Prompt treatment is important. Whilst there isn't an actual cure for Myxomatosis supportive treatment can allow the rabbit to fight the infection and stand a chance of survival.

Treatment may include frequent cleaning of the eyes and other discharge, force feeding (if the rabbit stops eating), fluids and anti-biotics to prevent secondary infections.

If you believe your rabbit is suffering then choosing to put your rabbit to sleep may be the kindest action to take. Your vet should talk through treatment options and likely hood of survival with you and will advise you on the best course of action.

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD)

What is Viral Haemorrhagic Disease?

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is a more recent disease that Myxomatosis, it was first reported in the UK in only 1992. It is spread through direct contact between rabbits and also through contaminated surfaces such as bedding, hutches and clothing. This means both indoor and outdoor rabbits are at risk.

It can survive for 3 months at room temperature. The incubation period is 1-3 days and death usually occurs 12-36 hours after the onset of fever.

Symptoms

Symptoms can include high fever, lethargy, collapse, convulsions, paralysis, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite and bleeding from the nose. In some cases (approx. 1 in 10) there are no visible symptoms. The rapidness of the disease means that the rabbit may die within 24 hours of noticeable symptoms.

Prevention - Vaccination

Vaccination is very successful, it can be done from 12-14 weeks of age. The vaccination is also safe for pregnant rabbits. A booster needs to be given ever 12 months to ensure continued protection.

Vaccination against Myxomatosis must not be done within 2 weeks of vaccination against VHD.

Prevention - Other

Don't handle rabbits in petshops or other similar environments and wash your hands thoroughly after visiting environments that contain other rabbits. Buy bedding and food from reputable sources. Take precautions to minimise insects coming into contact with your rabbits (see Myxomatosis prevention).

Treatment

There is no cure and VHD disease is almost always fatal, most rabbits die within days. Surviving rabbits are infectious and can spread the disease.

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