One vaccination can save a lot of lives
You love your pet rabbit, but have you done all that is possible to ensure its long and healthy life? Many rabbit owners dont realise that their domestic rabbit can also get myxomatosis. A simple annual vaccination will keep your rabbit out of danger, and International Rabbit Day on 24th September is aiming to publicise the benefits of vaccinating your rabbit. Not convinced? If you still think vaccinating your rabbit is an unnecessary expense, read the following statement from PetPlanet vet June Third-Carter:
Myxomatosis is a terrible disease, the worse for being deliberately introduced. Myxomatosis is caused by several strains of poxvirus. It is endemic in the population of wild rabbits, with biting insects serving as the vectors for transmission. Where some immunity has built up, the infected rabbits show tumour-like skin lesions and generally recover, but where immunity is poor the mortality rate is high.
Unfortunately people assume that it is just a disease of wild rabbits. Domestic rabbits have no natural immunity and if infected will almost invariably die.
The illness begins as lethargy, red, puffy eyes, watery eye discharge and swelling around the anus and genitals. There is a fever and as the disease progresses, the whole head can become swollen. Secondary respiratory infection and severe conjunctivitis set in, and the blind, hunched and miserable creature presents a sorry sight in the latter stages of the disease.
There is no treatment except nursing, which is unlikely to be successful, and most rabbits are euthanased for humane reasons. I have known rabbits to survive, and in these the disease seemed to take a slightly different course, with areas of skin puffing up and peeling away, but later healing over again, but survival is extremely rare.
It is only with the growth in popularity of the rabbit as a pet that a vaccine has become easily available. Prior to the current individual doses we only had multi dose vials for farmed and breeding rabbits and had to get groups of pet rabbit owners together to share the cost of a vaccination session. Few people were prepared to pay much to get a rabbit vaccinated.
The new vaccine is promoted at vet's surgeries, and in pet magazines, but people really need to know at the time they buy their pet and few pet shops or breeders pass on this information. You can get a leaflet at your local veterinary surgery. It is not a common disease in pet rabbits but is so devastating when it happens that people should consider vaccinating when they have access to it. Flying insects can carry it even into towns and there is always a reservoir of infection in the wild rabbit population.
The current vaccine is Nobivac Myxo made by Intervet UK. Rabbits 6 weeks and older can be vaccinated, with a booster yearly or 6 monthly in the face of an outbreak.
No vaccination can ever be guaranteed to be completely effective, but it does offer the best chance for immunity to this disease. Intervet, who produce the vaccine, also advise that potential contact with the disease can be reduced by taking some preventative measures.
These include restricting your rabbits access to wild rabbits, and flea and mosquito control measures. Keeping your rabbit's bedding dry and storing rabbit pellets in a dry area will help prevent the moist conditions upon which mosquitos in particular thrive.
Although these measures are not a substitute for vaccination, they will help prevent exposure to the disease, and are good common-sense measures to ensure the comfort and well-being of your rabbit.