Myxomatosis was introduced in the 1950s as a control method to help control spiraling wild rabbit numbers that had become a serious agricultural pest, this distressing and fatal infectious disease has plagued pet rabbits ever since. The disease in wild rabbits tend to be cyclical with very major outbreaks associated with ideal climatic conditions in some years.
Estimates of the number of cases of myxomatosis in pet rabbits being brought to veterinary clinics vary annually depending on the background prevalence but usually run into many thousands of cases in any year, making this the commonest preventable infectious killer disease of pet animals in the United Kingdom. Sadly the majority of pet rabbits that contract this disease do not survive and in most cases euthanasia is the only humane option to avoid suffering. Typical signs first appear within a fortnight of contracting the disease and include swelling of the skin and in particular of the face around the eyes, mouth and ears and genitals as well as a high fever, lethargy, progressing to anorexia. Commonly affected rabbits develop respiratory disease and discharges from the eyes and mouth. Without intervention and euthanasia affected rabbits typically suffer a slow and lingering death.
Fewer people are aware of another serious and more recent threat- that of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD)- also known as viral haemorrhagic disease. Originally identified in rabbits from the far east and since the 1980s endemic in wild rabbits in the UK, it is less recognized than the more familiar myxomatosis but in fact even more deadly whenever outbreaks occur. This is a particular frightening viral disease with a short incubation period of 1-3 days and a very rapid disease course. In acute outbreaks unprotected rabbits typically being found dead without prior warning.
There is no specific treatment for either of these fatal infectious diseases so prevention is vital. So how can we protect pet rabbits against these diseases? Keeping your pet away from wild rabbits is important to reduce the chance of direct transfer but insect carriage is the most important route of transmission. Because both these viruses can be transported by insects its really important that pet rabbits are also protected. Flea treatment can be given and nets and repellants can be used outside the immediate environment, however vaccination is vital to consider for all pet rabbits. Vaccination used to be fiddly with 6 month protection being the best that could be managed against myxomatosis and separate vaccines being needed to cover both diseases. But now it is easier than ever before with a single dose annually being all that required to protect against both diseases.
Despite the frequency of fatal infectious disease in pet rabbits, it is estimated that as little as 15% of the 1.6 million pet rabbits in the UK are protected by vaccination. The Summer risk period is approaching rapidly and its now simpler than ever to ensure your pet rabbit is protected against these two hidden killers so ring us now to make an appointment if your rabbit hasn’t received a vaccine dose in the last 6 months.
Rabbits can suffer from other health problems, the most common being overgrown teeth. This can cause pain, mouth infections and ulcers, and signs can include weight loss, dribbling and abscesses. Rabbits teeth need regular checks and this is usually done at vaccination, however if your rabbit is prone to teeth problems we recommend you have them checked more frequently.