Rabbits are now the third most popular mammalian pet, after cats and dogs. As a result of their increasing popularity more research has been done on their health issues. There are three diseases which are seen frequently in rabbits, two of which are caused by viruses which can be vaccinated against:
- VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease.)
Myxomatosis (Myxo) The virus which causes myxo is a type of pox virus which grows in the skin of rabbits. It is spread by blood sucking insects, in Ireland, the flea is known to be a carrier of myxo. Myxo can live in the blood of these insects for many months. When the insect bites the rabbit it leaves behind a small amount of the virus in the skin as it sucks the blood. Within a few days the virus passes into the blood of the rabbit. Sometimes it can be as much as two weeks, from the introduction of the virus, before any outward signs are seen that the rabbit is unwell. The symptoms are severely inflamed eyes with a discharge and as the disease progresses swollen face, discharge from the nose and difficulty in breathing. Some rabbits can survive for weeks or even months after becoming infected but in general a severe infection of myxo will result in death within two weeks.
VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) was first reported in Ireland in 1992, it has now spread throughout the country and several thousand of rabbits have died from it. This is a particularly nasty virus which is easily spread. VHD can be transported by people, it is known to survive on clothing for at least three months. It can also be spread between rabbits, via contaminated hutches, bedding or food. The symptoms are loss of appetite, nose bleeds, internal bleeding in the lungs, gut and urinary tract. Death, in about 50% of cases, occurs very quickly sometimes without the owner ever knowing there was anything wrong.
Vaccination of your rabbit against these two infectious diseases is carried out when the rabbit is over 6 weeks old. The vaccine protects your own pet and prevents it from being a carrier of disease and spreading infection. Immunity to these diseases does not last indefinitely so regular updates are vital to maintain this.
Once your rabbit has had its vaccinations you will be given a vaccination certificate which will have your pet's details on it, the dates the vaccines were given and when the next one is due. This certificate is important, especially if you are going on holiday and you require someone to look after your pet. Some boarding kennels and catteries cater for rabbits as well as dogs and cats. Many of these places will not accept your rabbit unless you can show this certificate and it is up to date.