Myxomatosis is caused by a virus. The first signs of infection are puffy, fluid filled swellings around the head and face.
“Sleepy eyes” are another classic sign, along with swollen lips, tiny swellings on the inside of the ear and puffy swellings around the anus and genitals.
Within a day or so, these swellings can become so severe that they cause blindness. Eating and drinking becomes progressively more difficult and death usually follows within 12 days.
All breeds of rabbit can be affected, including the wild rabbit throughout the country.
Myxomatosis is spread by blood-sucking insects, such as the rabbit flea and possibly mosquitoes. The virus can remain alive in the blood of hibernating fleas over the winter.
Some rabbits may survive for weeks or months after infection. But in general, a severe infection in a susceptible rabbit will lead to death within 12 days, usually from secondary lung infection.
Myxomatosis can be controlled by:
Although no vaccine can ever guarantee 100% protection, it offers the best chance of producing immunity against Myxomatosis.
A single vaccination should be given to rabbits over six weeks of age. Immunity will take some time – 14 days to be established, so the animal should not be exposed to infection during this time.
An annual booster is recommended, except in situations where the disease is rife or the rabbit is likely to be exposed frequently to infection. In these cases, 6 monthly boosters are advisable.
Illness & Disease in Rabbits
v Viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) is a very serious disease that can affect rabbits. Unfortunately, there is no cure once a rabbit is infected.
v All rabbits are at risk of VHD.
v VHD is spread by direct contact between rabbits (both wild and domesticated) and also via indirect contact. Possible sources of indirect contact are people, clothing, contaminated hutches and bedding, as well as insect vectors such as fleas.
v VHD is caused by a calicivirus and has an incubation period of just 1-3 days. The virus itself is very stable in the environment and can survive for up to 105 days.
v Signs include depression, collapse, and difficulty in breathing, convulsions, high body temperature, lethargy and bleeding from the nose. Death usually occurs within 12-36 hrs after the onset of fever.
v VHD vaccination can be given from eight weeks old. boosters are given annually.
Rabbits kept as pets are much less active than those which live in the wild, so being overweight is always a risk. Obesity puts pressure on the heart and joints, can create “bed sores” on the hind legs and may shorten your rabbit’s life. Some obese animals find it hard to clean themselves, which can lead to fly strike. But more importantly, if they can’t reach their bottoms they can’t re-ingest caecotrophs – the sticky dropping they need to eat as an essential aid to survival.
A calorie-controlled food, such as excel tasty nuggets may be suggested.
Never withhold food from your pets – your rabbit must have some fibre in their digestive system at all times. If their digestive system stops moving, rabbits will die.
Fly strike in domestic rabbits is sadly all too common a problem throughout the summer months. Not only is fly strike, or “Myiasis”, extremely distressing for all concerned, but potentially fatal. Fly strike is the infestation of any animal with maggots. Whereas blu- bottles only lay eggs on dead or rotting flesh, green bottles flies lay eggs in warm, damp places, such as wet fur on animals. The eggs hatch a day later, and the larvae, maggots, eat into the flesh, i.e. your rabbit. As the maggots grow, they eat further into the rabbit and, generally, if it is not found in time, the rabbit will has suffered so much that it has to be put to sleep.
Flies will strike any healthy animal, but in generally it is those which have a wet or dirty groin, which are most at RISK. However , any rabbit which is unable to clean itself properly may become infected. Typically this includes obese females, females with large dewlaps, or skin folds around their abdomen, rabbits with urinary problems, elderly or arthritic rabbits, long-coated breeds, and rabbits with teeth problems who are unable to groom themselves. Any animal with a wound is also a prime candidate for the fly to lay its eggs, as the odour and moisture from flesh attracts these insects.
Individual rabbits can react in different ways to fly strike. Some will try to escape from the pain, which is usually around their rear end, so they dig themselves into a tight corner; whilst others will dart about, and pull at their genital area. If you observe any unusual behaviour in your rabbit during the summer months, then pick it up immediately and check underneath.