The arrival of Spring (at long last) and Easter often makes us think of our pet rabbits too. One important aspect of their care is to ensure they are fully and correctly vaccinated. Generally Spring brings higher levels of myxomatosis in the warmer weather as it is mainly spread by biting flies and fleas. In cold weather these insects are inactive, so disease outbreaks are much less common.
Without a long cold spell again this winter the rabbit fleas will come in large numbers this year (as will the flies) so the myxi threat has to be regarded as high this year. Myxomatosis is a killer- it causes swelling of the membranes in the body- mouth, ears, nose, genitals as well as internal membranes. Death is almost inevitable with generalised disease due to suffocation and/ or organ failure.
Some rabbits that either have a degree of immunity or that encounter a mild strain of virus may develop the skin form- large solid lumps on (usually) the nose and face. These normally do well with the lumps falling off after 4-8 months.
There is no treatment, therefore prevention is the aim. Fortunately a new vaccine launched a few years ago affords much better protection than the previous one. As well as being more protective against a wider range of strains, it also lasts a full year rather than six months as before. Better still, it can be given under the skin as per vaccines in dogs and cats rather than the fiddly and painful injections that used to be given into the base of the ear..
Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 weeks old and are fully protected approximately 8-10 days after this.
The vaccine also protects against the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD-1) virus and appears to be very effective against this. Though it is not a current problem in this area (though the first outbreak many years ago was near Winchester!) it is a worthwhile bonus as part of vaccinating against myxomatosis.
A newer threat, though, is the RHD-2 virus. As implied by the name this is closely related to the RHD-1 virus though it does follow a slower course of illness. Nonetheless, it does appear to be usually fatal causing liver damage and internal bleeding. It is unclear if the normal RHD-1 vaccine provides some or any protection against RHD-2 though it is certainly obvious that it is not completely protective. However, there is a protective vaccine available in Germany and following advice from the Rabbit Welfare Association we have been looking at importing this vaccine. Sadly it appears the manufacturers have been overwhelmed with orders so the vaccine is not currently available, but we will keep a look-out and be in touch with our registered rabbit patients (and their owners!) as soon as it is. When we have it, rabbits will need two doses of vaccine to start with followed by annual boosters- these will need to be given two weeks away from the myxomatosis vaccine.
Fortunately, we do not appear to have this virus in our area at present, though we did see some cases in breeding units a couple of years ago.
The other essential part of a vaccine visit is the health check where we can look out for some of the other problems that often affect rabbits- especially the teeth and ears! It is also a good opportunity to discuss diet, companionship and any other concerns you may have. Ideally this should be done at least twice a year and at Anton Vets we are very happy to offer free six month checks with our nurses in between vaccinations.