Vaccines are a very important part of your pet’s health care plan as they offer immunity against harmful viruses. In the UK, we vaccinate rabbits against two fatal diseases: Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD). It is important that your rabbit sees your local vet once a year to have a full check-up and a booster vaccination, to help keep your fluffy friend happy and healthy.
What is Myxomatosis?
Myxomatosis is a viral disease that is widespread throughout the UK, affecting both wild and pet rabbits. It causes fever, conjunctivitis and swelling around the eyes, face, ears and genitals. These swellings can lead to breathing issues and blindness which can affect the rabbit’s ability to eat and drink. Supportive treatment can be attempted, however this disease is usually fatal and therefore euthanasia is often recommended to end the rabbit’s suffering.
Myxomatosis can be spread via direct contact with an infected rabbit; it is also spread via blood-sucking insects such as mosquitos, midges and rabbit fleas. Therefore, it is important to keep your rabbit’s enclosure clean to help keep flies away from your pet and to treat your rabbit for fleas when necessary, using medication from the vet.
What is Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease?
Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is a rapidly fatal viral disease. Many rabbits with this disease are unfortunately just found dead in their hutch. Occasionally, breathing difficulties and bleeding from the nose or bottom may be seen before death. There are now two strains of this virus in the UK, RHD-1 and RHD-2, both of which cause the same clinical signs.
The RHD viruses can be transmitted rapidly between rabbits in close contact and are very resistant in the environment, where they can remain active for many months. The RHD viruses can be found on contaminated food, bedding or hutches and can be spread via insects, rodents, birds and also by humans, as they can carry the virus on their clothes if they have been in contact with an infected rabbit.
What vaccine should my rabbit get?
The vaccination that Vet on the Net would recommend is Nobivac Myxo-RHD PLUS. This is a live recombinant vector vaccine for rabbits, which offers protection against myxomatosis and both strains of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease virus.
Rabbits should be vaccinated from 7 weeks of age and a single vaccine offers 12 months of immunity. It is important that your rabbit continues to be vaccinated every 12 months to ensure they are protected against these diseases.
If your rabbit has previously been vaccinated with a different type or brand of vaccination, such as Eravac, Filavac or Nobivac Myxo RHD, it is important to speak to your vet to discuss a vaccination plan going forward. Rabbits that have been previously vaccinated against myxomatosis AND both strains of RHD can just be given the new Nobivac Myxo RHD PLUS when their booster is next due.
Are there any risks to vaccination?
Vaccine reactions are very rare in rabbits and therefore the benefit of vaccinating them far outweighs the risks of them contracting these deadly diseases. On rare occasions, rabbits can develop a small non-painful lump at the site of vaccination and have a mild increase in body temperature, which can result in them feeling a little under the weather for a day or so post-vaccination. Severe, anaphylactic, life threatening reactions to vaccination are extremely rare (i.e., less than one rabbit per 10,000 rabbits vaccinated).
I have house rabbits; do they still need to be vaccinated?
Myxomatosis is spread by biting insects such as mosquitoes, fleas and midges. Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease can be spread by bringing contaminated items into the house such as hay and vegetables. Therefore, even rabbits that never go outside are still at risk from these fatal diseases, so the vets at Vet on the Net would recommend that all pet rabbits are vaccinated every year.
If you have any further questions about vaccinating your rabbit or any other concerns with your cotton-tailed friend, then remember the Vets at Vet on the Net are available for video consults in the comfort of your own home!
Dr Louise Abuzet BVM&S CertAVP(ECC) CertAVP (ZooMed) BSc(HONS) MRCVS
RCVS Advanced Practitioner in Emergency and Critical Care
21st January 2021