It’s absolutely vital that your rabbits are vaccinated against Myxomatosis (Myxi), Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD/ VHD) and RVHD-2.
This article focuses on Myxomatosis and RVHD, for more information on RVHD-2 and vaccination requirements follow this link. Both diseases are fatal, vaccination is the only thing that will help protect your rabbit.
The combined vaccine Nobivac Myxo/ RHD offers protection against both Myxomatosis and RVHD and is an annual injection. It does not offer complete protection and vaccinated rabbits can still contract the diseases, however, the cure rate is significantly higher in vaccinated rabbits, usually with milder symptoms. Those rabbits that are vaccinated often survive; however, those that are not will usually always die.
Myxi was introduced to the UK in 1953 as a way of controlling the wild population of rabbits. The disease is caused by the Myxoma virus and is usually fatal when contracted by rabbits both wild and domestic. There are different strains of the Myxoma virus with different levels of virulence (harmfulness). Some rabbits will have a genetic resistance to Myxomatosis, however, this is rarely seen.
The temperature has an effect on mortality rates, the disease is more lethal in colder temperatures as opposed to warmer climates.
A variety of symptoms can be displayed including:
- Lesions on the eyes, nose, mouth, ears and genitals typically appearing 4-5 days after infection. The entire face may also swell.
- Red/ watery eyes.
- Loss of appetite.
- Runny nose.
- Breathing difficulties.
- Lesions over the body.
- Eventually the eyelids will close.
Secondary infections usually occur and can lead to pneumonia and inflammation of the lungs. In most cases a rabbit with Myxi will die within 14 days. Rabbits without vaccinations have been known to die within 48 hours of contracting the disease.
- Myxi is commonly spread by biting insects, such as fleas and mosquitoes.
- Direct contact with infected rabbits can also spread the disease through inhalation.
- Fluids from the lesions of infected rabbits spread into the environment will also infect unvaccinated rabbits.
As well as vaccinating your rabbits against Myxi other steps can be taken in conjunction with vaccination to help protect your rabbit.
Treat your rabbits with flea and insect repellents. Permethrin based products both repel and kill biting insects. You can also use insect nets on housing and runs to help prevent biting insects/ mosquitoes from entering your rabbits environment.
If you have other animals make sure they are treated with flea and insect repellents to prevent them from bringing any biting insects into your home. Only use products specifically for use on the animal you are treating, Permethrin is highly toxic to cats and exposure can be fatal.
On rare occasions domestic rabbits infected with the Myxomatosis disease can recover, however, this is very rare . Treatment would include antibiotics, non steroidal pain killers, a warm environment and good nursing. Other factors will contribute to recovery; including level of care given, temperatures, virulence of the strain and secondary conditions.
Euthanasia is usually the only cause of treatment.
Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD/ VHD)
RVHD was first documented in the UK in 1992. It was first noted in China with commercial rabbit institutions in 1984. The disease spread through Asia and then into Europe. Its believed RVHD came to the UK from Angora rabbits imported from Germany. The disease is deadly and most rabbits will die within 3 -4 days of contracting the disease. RVHD causes acute internal bleeding, ultimately resulting in death. The disease is fatal and rabbits have been known to die within hours of displaying normal behaviours.
RVHD remains active in the environment for several months, the virus thrives particularly well in colder temperatures.
Rabbits under 4 weeks old are known to be unaffected and even develop a life long immunity to the virus if they are exposed to it. Once the rabbit reaches 6-10 weeks the immunity goes if they have not been exposed to the virus.
Due to how fast infected rabbits die from the disease it may not even be detected, as there can be no outwards signs of infection as the bleeding can just be internal. Other possible symptoms could include:
- Loss of appetite.
- Lack of co-ordination.
- Respiratory difficulties.
- Bleeding from their orifices just before death.
- Blood clotting difficulties.
- Convulsions have been seen just before death.
The incubation period for RVHD is between 3-4 days.
Rabbits can contract RVHD in a number of ways:
- Eating hay from a field with infected wild rabbits.
- Birds can bring in the disease on their feet or faeces.
- Biting insects can transmit the disease (to a lesser extent).
- You could bring the virus in on your clothes and shoes from infected wild rabbit secretions or direct contact from infected rabbits.
- Predators that have consumed infected rabbits spread the virus into the environment through the passing of faeces.
The easiest way this disease is spread is via the faecal to oral route. The only prevention is most definitely vaccination .
There is no treatment for RVHD.
If you suspect that your rabbit has any symptoms of Myxi or RVHD contact your vet IMMEDIATELY.
Resources used: Second Edition, Textbook of Rabbit Medicine, Revised and Updated by Molly Varga