Myxomatosis (a virus typically spread by blood-sucking insects) and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) are two of the most widely vaccinated against rabbit diseases – but there are still some misconceptions about the practice. For example, with the emergence of RVHD2 (a new kind of haemorrhagic disease that was thought to be resistant to existing vaccinations when it first emerged) some owners mistakenly believed that vaccinations were no longer necessary. They reasoned that if some jabs weren’t doing the job, others might be ineffective too. Our veterinary expert explains why that’s definitely not the case, and debunks some other common myths.
MYTH: Once a baby bunny is vaccinated, it’s immune to common diseases for life
‘Not true,’ says Catherine. ‘Rabbits can be vaccinated from five weeks old, and then need a booster every year for the rest of their lives.’ These vaccinations protect against the most common rabbit diseases: myxomatosis (myxi), RVHD and RVHD2. ‘On the other hand, some people have suggested that six-monthly boosters can be beneficial,’ Catherine adds. ‘But research has shown that vaccines are effective for a full year, so in the vast majority of cases it’s best to stick to this timeline.’
MYTH: Vaccinations can damage a rabbit’s health
While a jab is very unlikely to have a negative impact on your bunnies, it can make them feel a little poorly. ‘A vaccination can make a pet feel a bit “off-colour” for a day or two,’ Catherine explains. ‘But if you’re worried that your rabbit seems very unwell, check with your vet. Some rabbits can develop a mild case of myxomatosis after vaccination, although this can usually be treated successfully by your vet.’
Keep in mind that as a vaccine can take a week or two to become fully effective, there’s always a chance your rabbit was exposed to the disease before vaccination took place. ‘In some cases, it can look like a vaccination reaction, but is actually due to prior exposure,’ says Catherine.
MYTH: The same vaccine will protect a rabbit against RVHD and RVHD2
This is partly true, but it’s not the whole story. Most vets recommend two vaccines: one for myxomatosis and RVHD1, and a second for both RVHD1 and RVHD2. These vaccines should be given at least two weeks apart, so it will mean two separate trips to the vet. To make the experience less stressful for your pet, Catherine suggests getting them used to their travel carrier before each visit. If possible, try to book appointments for your paired rabbits at the same time, so that they can comfort each other if needed.
MYTH: RVHD is not a common disease in the UK
Although less common than myxomatosis, RVHD and RVHD2 are on the rise. These diseases cause internal or external bleeding, but the signs aren’t always obvious as your pet may just seem lethargic. ‘It can be hard to catch these conditions in time,’ says Catherine. ‘And if a rabbit dies without warning, and their owner doesn’t visit the vet, the reason for its death can go unknown. So, the incidences of RVHD in the UK could be a lot higher than we realise.’
MYTH: House rabbits don’t need to be vaccinated
‘This is definitely not true,’ says Catherine. ‘Myxi is spread by fleas and mosquitoes, which fly indoors as well as outside, and RVHD can be carried inside on hay and vegetables, or even on your clothes or shoes.’ Rabbit diseases exist in both urban and rural areas, especially if there’s a wild rabbit population nearby. ‘One of the most recent cases of RVHD I saw was a house bunny, so indoor pets certainly need to be vaccinated too,’ Catherine says.
MYTH: Myxomatosis vaccinations don’t always work
While a myxomatosis vaccination can’t guarantee absolute protection, vaccinated rabbits with myxi usually survive whereas the disease is likely to be fatal in unvaccinated ones.
MYTH: Rabbit vaccinations are more effective when they’re given in spring
Again, this is only partly true: ‘Myxomatosis is most common in late summer and autumn. So, it makes sense to vaccinate in spring or early summer for maximum immunity when the disease is at its peak,’ says Catherine. ‘But rabbits can be vaccinated safely and effectively at any time of year, so there’s no need to put it off. It’s also the perfect opportunity for a top-to-tail health check. I like to use vaccinations as an opportunity to share tips about diet, exercise, and general care.’