Rabbit Health and Vaccination
Caused by a pox virus, myxomatosis is a highly contagious and often fatal infection. Symptoms include conjunctivitis followed by swelling of the face, the genital region and lumps on the skin. It may take up to 2 weeks for an infected rabbit to die and treatment is invariably unsuccessful.
The most common form seen in the UK is spread by insects biting the skin, including mosquitoes and rabbit fleas. Because of this mode of transmission house rabbits are still at risk of the disease.
How to protect your rabbit against myxomatosis:
Vaccination: A live vaccination is available in the UK. This is a combined Myxomatosis and VHD vaccine.
It can be given from 5 weeks of age, boosters are necessary every 12 months.
But remember vaccination is not 100% effective
Insect control: use of flea preventive products. Ensure to seek veterinary advise as flea products safe for dogs and cats may be lethal to your rabbit and vice versa. Remember to protect all pets against fleas.
Other insect controls like fly screens.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 1 (VHD1)
Also known as RHD1, it is a calicivirus that is highly infectious. The disease usually presents as sudden death, often with a bloody discharge from the nose or bottom. A less sudden form affects rabbits 2 months or older with non specific dullness, fever, anorexia, diarrhoea, followed by nervous signs like wobbliness and then death in most rabbits affected. There is no specific treatment. The virus is thought to be spread by contact with infected rabbits but also by aerosol, birds and objects that the rabbit may come in contact with. The disease also persists in the environment, but modern disinfectants like vircon and trigene are effective in killing the virus.
Your rabbit can be protected by vaccination from 5 weeks of age and will require annual boosters. The VHD vaccination is now available at our practice as a combined vaccine with Myxomatosis. This requires 12 monthly boosters.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (VHD2)
Please note the information on VHD2 is current as of September 2017.
Also known as RHD2 – it is a new variant of the VHD1 and was first suspected in the UK in 2010, most likely imported from mainland Europe. The threat of RHD2 to domestic rabbits has become more apparent in the past year. RHD2 can affect both young and adult rabbits. Some infected rabbits will die suddenly with no ‘obvious’ cause, others can present with difficulty breathing, lethargy, inappetence, a high temperature and blood from their bottom or nose. A few rabbits may be only mildly ill and then recover. It is spread via contaminated food/hay/water, transported on the wind or spread by people/ vermin/birds/insects. It is a very tough virus and can survive for many months in the environment.
Pool House experienced its first confirmed case in August 2017 and unfortunately the virus is now a significant risk to local Rabbits.
Rabbits can be vaccinated against RHD2 with a separate vaccine called Filavac but unfortunately, there is currently a UK-wide stock issue from the manufacturers and its supply is both patchy and unpredictable. Please contact the practice direct for the current status of the vaccine on 01543 262464.
FLY STRIKE IN RABBITS
The summer months bring flies, and sadly, every year, cases of fly strike. Fly strikes occurs when blowflies lay their eggs on the rabbit’s skin. The site is usually the rabbits back end, around the anus and genitals, and the flies are attracted by a dirty backside, i.e. urine and faeces. These eggs then hatch to maggots which burrow under the rabbit’s skin. They cause devastating damage and sometimes will enter body cavities. Aggressive supportive treatment is often necessary to save your rabbits life, and sadly, it is sometimes too late.
Fly strike can be fatal – take precautions, check your rabbit daily and act quickly if you suspect fly strike!
Fly strike risk factors
- Incorrect feeding
- Dental disease
- Old age
- Spinal pain or arthritis
- Poor hygiene
- Infrequent checking of rabbit
- Poor grooming
- Insufficient exercise
- Urinary issues
- Open wounds
You can protect your rabbit against fly strike!
- Remember that flies are attracted to damp soiled areas- a hutch soiled with urine and faeces is a fly’s ideal environment
- In warm damp conditions eggs hatch rapidly (within 2 hours)- check your rabbit’s backside regularly, at least twice a day. Check it is clean and that no eggs are present.
- A rabbit with a clean back end, in a clean hutch is at minimal risk. A rabbit should naturally keep itself clean. If your rabbit doesn’t appear to be doing so, seek veterinary advise
- Brush your rabbit regularly as matted fur will clog with urine and faecal matter
- If your rabbits becomes matted we can clip fur to prevent fly strike.
- If your rabbit is overweight, weight loss through diet correction and increased exercise is essential- we are always happy to help with advise and support.
- Seek rapid treatment for any wounds or problems like diarrhoea that might attract flies
- If your rabbit suffers from problems that mean it is unable to groom itself, as well as treating those problems, it is essential that you clean bunny’s back end at least twice daily.
- The use of Rearguard can protect your rabbit for up to 10 weeks, it is applied to the hindquarters and stops fly eggs developing. It does not however repel flies- so all other measures are still necessary. Please ask for Rearguard this summer to protect your rabbit.
Other skin parasites:
Rabbits suffer from fur mites, ear mites and fleas- should you notice your rabbit has scurfy skin, is scratching or has scabs around the ears, you need to seek veterinary attention.
The faeces your rabbit passes gives us a clue to their digestive health
Hard Droppings – Normal hard droppings look similar to these. They should be fairly dry and should be approximately the same size and spherical in shape. Tear drop shaped pellets are unhealthy. If your rabbit starts producing mishapen or small very dark faecal pellets it may indicate that not enough food is passing through the gastrointestinal tract. This could be due to reduced food intake as a result of dental disease/pain or reduced gastrointestinal motility.
Caecotrophs – These droppings are normal and should be produced by all rabbits. The digestive tract of a rabbit is evolved to eat large amount of grass with a high fibre content. Fibre is fermented by bacteria in the large bowel to produce caecotrophs, moist dark caecal pellets, which are expelled and eaten to provide vitamins and other essential nutrients. When these caecotrophs are not eaten because either the rabbit is too overweight to reach the anus, or has difficulty due to back problems or dental pain and they simply can’t eat them, they become stuck to the bottom of the rabbit.
Various causes of ill health, such as pain from dental disease, fly strike, kidney problems may stop your rabbit from eating. Whatever the cause, 24 hours without food is an emergency in a rabbit! Without fibre passing through, the gut shuts down. If your rabbits stop eating seek immediate veterinary attention.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi is a parasite that invades cells in the body, affecting the brain and kidneys. It is transmitted in rabbit urine. It is transmissible to people, particularly immunocompromised individuals. Panacur can be used to protect your rabbit during times of possible exposure; for example introducing a new rabbit, mating your rabbit, acquiring a new rabbit and if you know your rabbit has been exposed to an infected rabbit. The manufacturers recommend preventative treatments 2-4 times a year.
Is your rabbit insured?
As rabbit medicine develops further the veterinary profession can offer more and more to help should bunny become unwell. Assess the benefits yourself. We recommend insurance for any pet