What is Myxomatosis?
This viral disease afflicts rabbits and it severely impacted the wild rabbit population when it first arrived in Britain 50 years ago. Pet rabbits are vulnerable to the disease which mutates from year to year and immunity in wild populations fluctuates.
Is My Pet at Risk?
Myxomatosis is a threat to all pet rabbits but your rabbit is at greater risk if it mostly lives outside. Pets which are infested by rabbit fleas are at high risk. This means that owners who have cats or dogs which hunt rabbits must be vigilante as rabbit fleas can be carried into the house on the noses of other pets.
All rabbits should be vaccinated against mixamatosis and kept away from possible sources of transmission.
How the Disease is Spread
Myxomatosis is usually spread by fleas, mosquitos and Cheyletiella fur mites but can also be transmitted from rabbit to rabbit.
The Symptoms of Myxamatosis
This is a horrific disease which causes great suffering. Treatment rarely has any effect and it often takes rabbits two weeks to die. For this reason, euthanasia is usually the best option. The rabbit will first suffer from runny eyes and swollen genitals. The conjunctivitis becomes severe and results in blindness. Swellings form on the head and body of the rabbit and there is discharge from the nose. There are also two atypical forms of myxomatosis. One of these causes pneumonia, the other, Nodular myxomatosis, mainly affects the rabbit’s skin and carries a better prognosis.
When a vaccinated rabbit develops the disease, the illness is often much less severe and is therefore treatable. The vaccine also protects rabbits against VHD and should be administered once a year.
Even if you have or are intending to have your rabbit vaccinated, it is wise to do all you can to protect your pet from sources of infection. Buy your hay from farms which are free of myxomatoisis. Fit insect screens to outdoor runs and hutches and eliminate standing water from your garden as this attracts mosquitos. Try to ensure that your pet does not come into contact with wild rabbits and take your pet to the vet if you suspect that they might be afflicted by mites.
There is no worthwhile treatment for the full blown disease but if it is contracted by a vaccinated rabbit then treatment is possible. The outcome will depend on how severely affected the rabbit is. The rabbit will need dedicated nursing and to remain in a warm environment. Their eyes and genitalia must be bathed and fluid may be injected. Antibiotics are administered to prevent secondary infections.
As unvaccinated rabbits will almost certainly die if they contract mixamatoisis, it is essential that you get your pet vaccinated every year. They may still become infected but the disease should then be treatable. The vaccination can prevent a great deal of suffering and so is a worthwhile investment.