The importance of vaccinating rabbits
By : Victoria Carey
Myxomatosis and VHD
It is important to keep up-to-date with vaccinations. Depending on where you live in the UK, vaccines for Myxomatosis and VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) should be given. I live in East Anglia, where the wild rabbit population is rife. It is recommended that your rabbits should be taken to your local vet to be vaccinated against Myxomatosis every six months, and VHD annually. Myxomatosis is a very dangerous and often fatal disease and a lot of wild rabbits are exposed to it. If your rabbits are allowed access to roam free in the garden where there are wild rabbits nearby, then they are at greater risk of catching the disease, and therefore it is essential that they are vaccinated against Myxomatosis. A rabbit can be vaccinated from as early as 6 weeks old. The vet will only vaccinate a healthy rabbit. A pregnant rabbit cannot be vaccinated, as it can be harmful to the unborn rabbits.
Myxomatosis is of a viral nature. It arrived in the United Kingdom 50 years ago. It was first observed in Uruguay in the late 1800s, and was introduced into Australia deliberately in 1950 in an attempt to control the rabbit population, which had become a pest. It was illegally introduced to France in 1952 and as a result of this, it spread to the rest of Europe.
If rabbit owners also keep cats or dogs that hunt wild rabbits, then the cat or dog may carry flees which would put a pet rabbit at risk. Foxes visiting the garden can also carry flees which can be transferred to the rabbit if allowed to get close to the living quarters. Flees can also survive for several months in hay. Parasites such as Cheyletiella (rabbit fur mite) can also spread Myxomatosis.
Myxomatosis is spread by flees and mosquitoes carrying the Myxoma virus which bite the rabbit and thus infects it.
When one has seen full-blown Myxomatosis in a rabbit, it is absolutely horrendous. It causes the rabbit immense suffering, leading to fatality in a fortnight. At that advanced stage, treatment is normally futile and it is kinder to have the rabbit euthanased.
Symptoms start with runny eyes, which progress to severe conjunctivitis and blindness. Following on in quick succession is swelling of the genitals. Swellings on the head and lumps on the body can be seen. Thick pus discharges from the nose and the eyes. There are two types of Myxomatosis; one causes snuffles and pneumonia, and the other (Nodular Myxomatosis) affects the skin and carries a better prognosis.
Even vaccinated rabbits can contract Myxomatosis, but the disease is much milder and they do not normally die from Myxomatosis. If your vaccinated rabbit is suspected to have caught Myxomatosis then you should seek prompt veterinary attention. Vaccinated rabbits are usually treatable.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is a very serious infectious disease that can affect rabbits. Unfortunately, this is not curable, and once a rabbit is infected, it is fatal. This is not so if a rabbit is vaccinated against VHD annually.
VHD is spread by direct contact between rabbits and also by indirect contact. Possible sources of indirect contact are people, clothing, contaminated living quarters and bedding, as well as insect vectors such as fleas.
VHD is caused by a calicivirus and the incubation period is just one to three days. The virus itself is very stable in the environment and can survive for up to 105 days.
When a rabbit is infected, the symptoms are; depression, collapse, difficulty breathing, high body temperature, lethargy and bleeding from the nose. Death occurs within 12-36 hours from the onset of symptoms. The mortality rate is as high as 90-100%.
VHD can be prevented by vaccination which can be given from eight weeks of age, but vets prefer to give it at 10-12 weeks.
By vaccinating your rabbit, you will be buying your rabbit a long and healthy life as well as peace of mind for yourself that you have done everything you can to protect your rabbit from these awful conditions.
Victoria Carey GBAR RVECP Rodentologist
This article is presented through the courtesy of Animal Pets and Friends Articles and Website
[PGAA Note: According to Pet Sitters International at http://www.petsit.com/pet-care-tips-for-rabbits? “Although pet rabbits in the United States do not require any vaccinations, veterinarians in the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe routinely inoculate for two fatal viruses common to the continent’s wild rabbits: Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD). Myxomatosis spread to the UK after being introduced intentionally into France (and Australia) to control the wild rabbit population. Myxomatosis is also currently seen, albeit rarely, along the U.S. Pacific coast. It is contagious by direct contact with other rabbits as well as through insect (mosquito) bites.”]