Pet rabbits are susceptible to 2 serious diseases, both of which cause intense suffering. One of these diseases – rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD) – is almost always fatal. Recovery from the second disease – myxomatosis – is rare, and affected rabbits are often euthanised. However, you can protect your rabbits from these diseases by vaccinating them. If your pets aren’t already protected, book an appointment with your local Healthy Pet Club practice to discuss an appropriate vaccination schedule.
Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD)
This viral disease, which is widespread in wild rabbits, is usually fatal. Many affected rabbits are found dead with no obvious signs but you may see bleeding from the mouth, nose and anus before death. This results from massive internal bleeding.
It is very difficult to avoid exposure to the RVHD virus because it survives well in the environment and can easily be transported on objects as diverse as your shoes, other pets’ feet, car wheels, or wild birds or insects. Vaccination – which is very effective – is therefore the only means of protection. It is also important to clean and disinfect (using rabbit-safe disinfectant) anything that could harbour the virus (e.g., hutches, water bottles, bowls, etc. from an unknown rabbit) and to find out what happened to the previous occupant of a second-hand hutch before using it.
This viral disease is spread by blood-sucking insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. It is widespread in wild rabbits. The most obvious signs of disease are:
- Conjunctivitis (red, runny eyes)
- Puffy swellings around the ears, eyes, nose, mouth, anus and genitals
- High fever
- Difficulty seeing, eating, drinking and breathing due to swelling and secretions.
Most rabbits die within 14 days of becoming ill, although vets often recommend euthanasia because of the poor prognosis and suffering involved.
There is a chronic form of the disease that rabbits are more likely to survive but this is fairly uncommon in pet rabbits.
Vaccination against myxomatosis is strongly recommended. The vaccine is not 100% effective, but it does reduce disease severity and makes recovery much more likely. You can also reduce your rabbits’ risk by:
- Controlling flea infestations and using insect-proof screens to deter flies and mosquitoes
- Quarantining sick rabbits, and those that have been exposed to sick rabbits
- Preventing contact with wild rabbits
- Not allowing contact with other rabbits during a myxomatosis outbreak.
Protecting your rabbits
Vaccinating your rabbits against RVHD and myxomatosis is the only way to protect them against these diseases, both of which cause extreme suffering. If your rabbits aren’t up to date with their vaccinations, book an appointment with one of our vet nurses at your local Healthy Pet Club practice to keep your rabbits safe.