Does my rabbit need vaccinations?

Rabbits need vaccinations to protect against myxomatosis, Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhagic Disease (R(V)HD) and a strain of R(V)HD - R(V)HD2 - all of which are often fatal and cause intense suffering to rabbits. Let's look at each of them in turn.

Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis is a virus spread by blood-sucking insects such as fleas, mites or mosquitoes, and it's widespread in British wild rabbits. It can also be spread by contact between infected rabbits, and via contaminated objects or the environment, such as bedding, hutches, grass, feed bowls, carriers, clothing, shoes and so on.

Symptoms

It can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear. Early symptoms include puffy swellings around the face, ears and or eyes, which can cause blindness. The swellings can also affect the anus and or genitals. This often progresses to a high fever, and eating and drinking becomes increasingly difficult. Occasionally myxomatosis is more prolonged and multiple lumps appear.

Outcome

Unfortunately, the disease is often fatal, usually killing the rabbit within 10-14 days. There's no specific treatment, and unfortunately, recovery is rare. This means that putting the rabbit to sleep is often the kindest option when they become infected.

Regular vaccines are therefore essential. Although the vaccine does not prevent transmission in all cases, vaccinated rabbits experience milder forms of the disease and recovery rates are good if you get them to the vet quickly.

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

Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhagic Disease is widespread in Britain's wild rabbits. It's extremely serious, causing high fever, internal bleeding and liver disease. The disease doesn't affect rabbits under six weeks, but causes severe disease in older rabbits. Like myxomatosis, it spreads by rabbit-to-rabbit contact, through contaminated objects or environments, and via insects. Unfortunately, the disease is almost always fatal.

Pet rabbits with this disease are often found dead with blood-stained fluid at their mouth and nose, or there may be no visible signs, with the cause of death only confirmed by post-mortem. There's no effective treatment, so vaccination is essential.

Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (R(V)HD2)

R(V)HD2 was first detected in France in 2010 and has been in the UK since 2013, with confirmed cases seen across the country. R(V)HD2 has a lower mortality rate than R(V)HD, but often the only sign seen is sudden death.

It spreads in the same way as R(V)HD1, but rabbits of all ages can be affected. There's no specific treatment, and although some rabbits can recover from infection, it's fatal in many cases. Vaccination is therefore essential.

Vaccinate all your rabbits to stop deadly diseases

Unfortunately, as there are no effective treatments for these deadly diseases, vaccinations really are essential. There are different vaccines you can get for your rabbits, including:

  • Combined vaccines - these offer annual protection against both myxomatosis and R(V)HD. Rabbits can be vaccinated with this from when they're five weeks old, but you'll need a single separate vaccine to protect against R(V)HD2. Rabbits can be vaccinated with this from 10 weeks old.
  • A vaccine that protects against all three - an annual vaccine is now available that protects against myxomatosis, R(V)HD1 and R(V)HD2 in one dose and can be given from five weeks old. This new vaccine may not be suitable if your rabbit has previously been vaccinated against myxomatosis but not R(V)HD2. 

Get advice from your vet about the most suitable vaccination course and best ages to vaccinate.

Preventing diseases in rabbits

Keep your rabbit healthy and happy by remembering the following tips:

  • Give regular boosters throughout your rabbit's life; see your vet to arrange this.
  • Controlling insects may reduce infection risk. Deter flies and mosquitoes, for example by using insect-proof screens. Ensure your home and all pets are treated for fleas as advised by your vet. Fleas from cats and dogs can infect rabbits.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect your rabbits' enclosure and any areas they access, using a rabbit-safe disinfectant. Change bedding and litter regularly. Never use housing or bedding from any rabbits who could have had these infections.
  • Prevent contact with affected domestic rabbits and all wild rabbits. Don't allow your rabbits to go into any areas where they've been.
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