The first thing that must be said is that you must vaccinate your rabbit. If you are a responsible & caring rabbit owner then you wouldn’t think twice about having them vaccinated.
It still amazes me how many people do not have their rabbits vaccinated whether it’s due to ignorance, cost, “it’s just a rabbit” syndrome or simply just can’t be bothered. It’s such a shame people put so many rabbits at risk.
There are 3 diseases that your rabbit needs vaccinating against.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. (VHD1). Also known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease1. (RHD1).
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease2. (VHD2). Also known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease2. (RHD2).
Myxomatosis is a virus that is transmitted by biting insects that have fed on an infected rabbit. These could be mosquitos, mites, lice, & rabbit fleas. These biting insects can be carried on another animal like the family cat or dog or wild rabbits.
They can also come from the environment especially if they have been outside in the garden or backyard.
- Swollen eyelids eventually resulting in blindness.
- Lumps around the genitals & head.
- Loss of appetite.
A painful death usually occurs within 12 days. In some cases there is a chance of recovery, although this is quite rare. This involves a lot of intensive care over a long period of time, medication & if the rabbit survives will be left with some ugly scars. Most rabbits are euthanized.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease1. (VHD1)
VHD1 is a highly contagious disease & can cause sudden death with no prior symptoms. It is transmitted by carriers of VHD such as infected insects, birds, flies & other animals particularly rodents which can host the virus after being exposed to it.
The disease can be spread by direct contact such as an infected rabbit, from nose to nose contact & faecal matter. It can also be spread by indirect contact such as shoes, clothing, objects & people. It does not affect humans we can just spread it.
Incubation period is 1-3 days & death often follows. This disease affects the internal organs making them haemorrage with the resulting blood loss impossible to control. The virus is a particularly stable one which allows it to remain active at room temperature for over 100 days & freezing does not kill the virus.
- Loss of appetite.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Staggering movements.
- Bloodstained discharge from the nose or mouth.
A painful death usually occurs within 36 hours so you have very little time. On the rare occasion a rabbit survives it will be a carrier of the disease. Therefore, it should be isolated from any other rabbits & animals. It is thought the rabbit will remain infectious
for up to a month but you need to speak to your vet for management of the surviving rabbit.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease2 (VHD2).
VHD2 is a new variant of VHD1. It was first seen in 2013 in the UK but further analysis shows that it has probably been here since 2010. The disease is transmitted the same way as VHD1. Once again insects, birds, scavengers etc that have fed on infected rabbits are carriers easily spreading the disease. The disease also spreads by direct contact of nose to nose. The indirect contact can cause spread, again by humans on their shoes, clothes etc. Bedding, food/water bowls, hay etc. can also carry the disease.
The differences between VHD1 & VHD2:
Most baby rabbits have immunity to VHD1 up to the age of 4 weeks with the VHD2 no age immunity occurs.
VHD2 seems to affect hares whereas VHD1 does not.
With VHD2 death occurs later & over a longer period of time than VHD1. There is a suggestion of a lower mortality rate with VHD2 than VHD1.
Symptoms of VHD2 develop after 3-9 days whereas it’s 3-4 days with VHD1.
There is still a lot to learn about this disease & new information will hopefully be coming in the next year. The suggested symptoms so far seems to be:
- Weight loss.
At the moment there is no test to diagnose VHD2. It is only done at post mortem.
Death usually occurs in the majority of rabbits. General supportive care can be given such as keeping the rabbit warm, syringe feeding & fluid therapy but most are usually euthanized.
These highly contagious & infectious diseases are best prevented by vaccination otherwise you are putting your rabbit at risk of suffering a needless painful death. You must
vaccinate your rabbit whether it is an indoor or outdoor rabbit as other animals including the family cat or dog could carry the infected insect & even your plants could bring the virus into the home if they have been exposed to it. You can vaccinate your rabbit from 6 weeks of age onwards & from then you should have annual boosters done. It is best to vaccinate your rabbits around Feb to Mar so they can have protection for the high season.
It can take up to 14 days for your rabbit to build up it’s immunity. As with any vaccine they are never 100% guaranteed but if your rabbit does contract the disease after vaccination it will have a milder form of the disease & have a much greater chance of survival.
Note: The old way of vaccination used to be the vaccination for myxo was a dual vaccination so it also protected against VHD1. The vaccine for VHD2 was not included so you needed a separate vaccine for this disease. Altogether your rabbit would have to have 2 vaccines a year to cover 3 diseases.
Now, there is a new vaccine that vaccinates against all 3 diseases, so you only need one vaccine now, which makes vaccinating easier & cheaper.
I must point out though that your rabbit must have had the VHD2 vaccine in a previous year before they can go on to the new vaccine, this is what I was told before mine had the new vaccine. If your bunny hasn’t you need to speak to your vet as I would assume your bunny would have to be vaccinated the old way first & then the following year with the new vaccine but do double check this information with your vet.