The Importance of Rabbit Vaccinations


For rabbits to live long, happy and healthy lives it is important for them to receive their annual boosters – just like  cats and dogs! Rabbits should be vaccinated against Myxomatosis and two strains of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD).  

Myxomatosis is a highly contagious viral disease, which in non-vaccinated European rabbits, is nearly always fatal. It decimated the wild rabbit population when it was introduced in Britain 50 years ago.   

Biting insects such as fleas, mites and mosquitoes are responsible for spreading the illness and depending on the strain of the virus, it can take up to 14 days for an infected rabbit to show symptoms. A rabbit’s eyes, nose and genitals are usually the first parts of the body to be affected. There is typically swelling, redness and ulcers which form as well as sinus discharge, blindness and respiratory problems. (1)

Vaccinated buns are not completely immune to Myxomatosis; however, the disease is usually milder – a single skin lesion for example. If taken to a rabbit savvy vet and if the animal is in good health, most make a full recovery.  

With RVHD there are two strains known as RVHD1 and RVHD2 and just like the Myxomatosis vaccination, bunnies from as young as five weeks can be given a booster to help protect them from these diseases.  

RHVD2 is a relatively new strain (having been in the UK since 2014) and, again, is highly contagious, with more and more pet rabbits being affected in the UK (estimated that 1.3 million rabbits are at risk).  

Both viral haemorrhagic diseases show few to no symptoms and can lead to a rabbit dying very quickly and suddenly – usually within a day or two of contracting the disease. If there are symptoms present they tend to include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and spasms. The disease is spread easily between rabbits sharing the same environment and can linger on surfaces, hay and down to the clothes you're wearing so even indoor rabbits can contract the virus when you have been outside in any environment and it's been passed onto you.  

There is currently no cure, so it is imperative for your rabbit’s safety and welfare that annual vaccinations are a priority as a pet owner.  

Like most drugs, vaccines can have side effects – although this has been rarely shown in rabbits administered with the Myxomatosis and RVHD vaccinations. Some pet owners have reported skin irritation around the site of injection and withdrawn and quiet behaviour for a day or two after, but ultimately, it is still the recommended course of treatment to protect them.  

In June 2020 RHVD2 was confirmed to have reached Northern Ireland affecting both wild rabbit and hare populations. With outbreaks of both viral diseases occurring throughout the UK we urge you to consider annual rabbit vaccinations.  

Let’s keep our bunnies safe and happy! Contact your vet now for more information.  

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