Rabbit vaccinations

Two Dutch rabbits exploring at an RSPCA animal centre © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary

Rabbits need vaccinations to prevent/protect against myxomatosis and Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhagic Disease (R(V)HD) which cause intense suffering to rabbits.


We strongly recommend vaccinating all rabbits
.

• Single vaccines against myxomatosis and RHD cannot be given simultaneously. Myxomatosis boosters are needed every six months. Myxomatosis vaccinations from six weeks. RHD vaccinations at eight weeks.
• Combined vaccines offer annual protection against both diseases. Rabbits can be vaccinated from five weeks.
• Get veterinary advice about the most suitable vaccination course and best ages to vaccinate.


Prevent and Protect

  • Give regular boosters throughout life, see your vet.
     
  • Controlling insects may reduce infection risk. Deter flies/mosquitoes e.g. insect-proof screens. Ensure your home and all pets are treated for fleas as advised by your vet. Fleas from cats infect rabbits.
     
  • Regularly clean/disinfect rabbits’ enclosure/areas rabbit’s access, using rabbit-safe disinfectant. Change bedding/litter regularly. Never use housing/bedding from rabbits infected/suspected to have/have had RHD/myxomatosis.
     
  • Prevent contact with wild/affected domestic rabbits or access to areas where they’ve been.


Myxomatosis

What is it?

  • Virus spread by fleas/mites/biting flies e.g. mosquitoes. 
  • Widespread in British wild rabbits. 
  • Early symptoms - puffy swellings around face/ears/eyes which can cause blindness, spreading around the anus/genitals. 
  • High fever. Eating/drinking becomes increasingly difficult. 
  • Death within 10-14 days. 
  • Occasionally myxomatosis is more prolonged - multiple lumps appear.


How is it spread?

  • Insects
  • Contact between infected rabbits 
  • Persists in the environment (e.g. hutches).


Treatment and prognosis

  • No specific treatment, recovery is rare. 
  • Euthanasia is often the best option. 
  • Vaccinated rabbits can catch milder forms, often recovering with intensive veterinary care.


Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhagic Disease (R(V)HD)

What is it?

  • Prevalent in Britain’s wild rabbits. 
  • Extremely serious causing high fever/internal bleeding/liver disease. 
  • Almost always fatal. 
  • Pet rabbits are often found dead with bloodstained fluid at mouth/nose, or there may be no visible signs (cause of death only confirmed by post-mortem).
  • Doesn’t affect rabbits under six weeks but causes severe disease in older rabbits.


How is it spread?

  • Rabbit-rabbit contact
  • Persists in the environment (e.g. carriers/clothing/shoes).


Treatment and prognosis

  • There is no effective treatment. Vaccination is essential.


See: Rabbit Awareness Week.