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Rabbit Vaccinations

Rabbits are fast becoming popular pets here in The Republic of Ireland. They are already the third most popular pet in the U.K. and America, where many are even kept as house rabbits.

It comes as a surprise to most people that rabbits need annual vaccinations, but like most pets they need vaccinations and regular veterinary care. They need protection from Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease.


Myxomatosis is a viral disease spread by biting insects such as fleas, flies and mosquitoes, but it can also be spread mechanically by the like of thistles. Therefore just because your pet rabbit does not come into contact with wild rabbits does not mean that it will not contract the disease. House rabbits also need protection as they are exposed to flies and mosquitoes and fleas carried into the home by other domestic pets.

The vaccine is first given at the age of eight weeks and annually thereafter, although rabbits at high risk* can be vaccinated at six monthly intervals. Pregnant does should not be vaccinated. Ideally the vaccine should be given in the Spring and Autumn when the disease is most rampant.

Myxomatosis was first recorded in 1898. Many attempts were then made to introduce the disease into Australia to control the wild rabbit population that had got out of all control. It was successfully introduced in the early 1950′s when it not only wiped out nearly all the wild rabbit population but also the pet rabbits. In 1952 Dr. Armand Delile introduced the disease onto his estate in Paris to control the number of wild rabbits, with the same devastating results. From there it spread over Europe. The first reported case in the U.K. was in Kent in 1953. The disease is rarely seen in Ireland at the present time.

There are two forms of the disease but both are equally horrific for the rabbit and death is usually inevitable, although some rabbits do survive and they build up an immunity to further outbreaks.

The symptoms are:
The chronic form – swelling of the eyelids with a pus-like conjunctivitis, being so bad that the eyes close over and blindness follows. Other swellings appear on the body, the base of the ears and around the genitals. It is rabbits with this form of the disease that have a slightly better chance of survival with treatment of antibiotics and constant nursing.
The acute form – is a respiratory form. It shows signs of all the above with the addition of pasturella and/or pneumonia, death is imminent.

Myxomatosis is an absolutely horrific disease that causes immense pain and discomfort to the rabbit, so please consider having your rabbit vaccinated today.

* High risk areas are where there is a large population of wild rabbits close by, or areas that are troubled with mosquitoes or other biting insects, or for rabbits that come into close contact with other rabbits at shows for example.

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD)

The first records of VHD are in a rabbitory in China in 1984, from there it spread rapidly all over the continent. In 1988 it was reported in Mexico where it was traced back to contaminated frozen meat from China. The first report in the U.K. was in 1992.

VHD is a calicivirus that is highly contagious., it is spread both by direct and indirect contact. It is not believed to communicate between rabbits and hares, but a similar disease does occur in hares.

There are three forms of this disease, all leading to death in as little as three days.
Hyperacute – most animals will die suddenly with no obvious signs of illness.
Acute – this is the most common form and is most responsible for an outbreak. Symptoms take many inconsistent forms – foamy bloody discharge from the nose, anorexia, fever, lethargy, increased breathing, body posture is arched and the head is held back, blue mucous membranes and haemorrhaging around the eyes. The rabbit will groan and scream just before death.
Subacute – these rabbits will have contracted the disease in the later stages of an outbreak. Some will survive and build up an immunity to further infection. Some will seem to have got over it only to die a few weeks later.

VHD usually affects only rabbits over the age of six weeks. The virus is present in saliva and nasal secretions but can be spread mechanically by birds, rodents, insects, clothing and contaminated food or water. Good husbandry is essential as poor hygiene, nutritional deficiency, stress and vermin all play a part in the rabbit contracting the disease.

Dried virus can survive for several months, accommodation should be scrubbed thoroughly with 10% solution of formalin followed by 10% sodium hydroxide (undiluted bleach).

VHD vaccinations can be given from the age of 10 weeks and annually thereafter but can be given at six monthly intervals in high risk areas*.

*High risk areas are where there is a large population of wild rabbits or in an area troubled with vermin and insects or for rabbits that come into close contact with other rabbits, at shows for example.

Julie Thorn, Cats & Co, Cashel, Cloonloo, via Boyle, Co. Sligo.
Tel: 0863269774

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