Myxomatosis is a very serious and deadly viral disease that infects and kills thousands of rabbits in the UK. It infects both wild and pet rabbits, and is widespread among the wild rabbit population.
It is a highly contagious disease and your rabbit can catch it from wild rabbits via direct contact, but also from fleas and other blood sucking parasites transmitting the virus. All breeds of rabbit are at risk, including indoor rabbits. Transmission of the disease is higher during the summer due to the increased numbers of fleas.
A rabbit may have the disease for 5 – 14 days before showing any signs, and in this time is infectious to other rabbits. Common symptoms include:
- puffy eyelids
- purulent (pus-producing) conjunctivitis
- fluid filled swellings under the skin around the eyes, ears and genital region
- noisy, laboured breathing
It is usually fatal within 2 – 3 weeks; unfortunately most rabbits with the acute form are put to sleep on humane grounds to prevent unwanted suffering.
A milder/chronic form may be seen in partially immune rabbits, where the symptoms present as solid lumps over the ears and head. They may be single or multiple, and in some cases lumps may appear on the rest of the body. With proper nursing they can survive but the lumps may take over six months to disappear.
How can the disease be controlled?
A combined vaccination for Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic disease is now available for rabbits which can be given once a year. Vaccination can be started at any time, in rabbits over 6 weeks of age, but is best given around May – June, ahead of the peak Myxomatosis season in late summer/autumn. They will need a yearly booster to remain protected.
- Parasite control
Keep wild rabbits away from pets and use a rabbit-specific flea treatment available from your vet. If you have other pets that come in to contact with your rabbit, like cats or dogs, ensure they are up to date with their preventative flea treatment too.