Ask the vet
Esther Van Luipen
Rabbit owners get ready to get your rabbit vaccinated with their yearly vaccination for Myxomatosis.
Myxomatosis is a virus that was first discovered in a laboratory in Brazil in the 1930s. Then, in 1950, someone in Australia introduced it to the rabbit population that was eating all the vegetation. The results were disastrous: in a short time the rabbit population was decimated. The disease was then brought to Belgium and France for the same reasons. There is no evidence that the disease was brought intentionally to Ireland, but when it came to this country it was also used to control the wild rabbit population in several places.
Myxomatosis is a pox virus that grows best on the skin of the rabbit. The very first signs are puffy, fluid swellings around the head and face (looking like ‘sleepy eyes’) and swollen lips, tiny swellings on the inside of the ear and puffy swellings around the anus and genitals. Within a day or so the swellings can become so severe that they cause blindness.
All rabbit breeds are affected. Myxomatosis is not spread from one rabbit to another rabbit. It is spread by blood sucking insects, such as fleas and mosquitoes. Myxomatosis virus can remain alive in the blood of fleas for many months. As the flea bites the rabbit, a small amount of the live virus is placed in the skin of the rabbit as the insect sucks blood. In five to 14 days the virus is transmitted to a local lymph node and then passes into the blood of the rabbit which moves it around the body. Within a short space of time affected rabbits become blind because of the swelling around the eyes and, for this reason, feeding and drinking is often difficult
After infection, some animals may survive for weeks or months, but in general, if an infection is severe in a susceptible rabbit, death occurs within 12 days. With intensive nursing a rabbit can recover, but it may take weeks or months and even then, there may be severe scaling, scabbing and scarring on the head and the body.
To prevent this disease it is important to flea your rabbit on a monthly basis with the appropriate flea product (ask your vet which one is safe for rabbits to use) and to vaccinate your rabbit. The vaccination that is currently available only lasts for six months. To get the most out of your vaccination get your rabbit vaccinated in the month of April. If there is a big outbreak of myxomatosis in wild rabbits around Mayo, I would advice to also vaccinate your rabbit in October.
Esther van Luipen is a veterinary surgeon in Claremorris Small Animal Practice. Feel free to contact her with any of your small-animal concerns on 094 9373955 or at email@example.com.