Most dog and cat owners realise the importance of vaccinating against infectious diseases however, rabbits are often forgotten. Rabbits are very good at hiding signs of illness and so it is even more important to prevent disease in them.
Sadly, there is evidence that myxomatosis is circulating in the rabbit population of Hawick again. Myxomatosis is a severe viral disease which decimated the wild rabbit population when it was introduced 50 years ago. It is usually fatal and there may be swelling and ulceration of the eyes, nose and genitals, blindness and respiratory problems. It is spread by fleas and biting insects and also by direct contact with infected rabbits or their secretions.
The second viral threat to rabbits is Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. There are two main strains. RVHD1 is a very swift, fatal disease. It causes massive internal bleeding and some rabbits will bleed from their nose or other orifices before death, others die so quickly there are no outward signs of disease. A new strain (RVHD2) is also often fatal but some rabbits have recovered. It is less easy to recognise as there is no obvious bleeding so rabbits may simply be found dead or ill with no obvious cause. Both strains are spread either by direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly via their urine of faeces. The viruses can survive for months in the environment and can be brought home on footwear, by birds and insect or possibly even in the hay.
Vaccination is the most effective measure you can take to protect your pet rabbit. Fortunately, we have a very good Myxomatosis vaccine in the UK and thanks to the hard work of the Rabbit Welfare Association we also have access to a vaccine which appears to effective protection from both strains of RVHD. Please come in a chat to one of the vets to discuss protecting your rabbit or for advice in the case of illness or sudden death. Further information can also be found at www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk