Everything you need to know about myxomatosis

If you are an owner of pet rabbits, you will need to be aware of the dangerous viral illness myxomatosis. Myxomatosis is a widespread disease among wild rabbits, but unvaccinated domestic pets can also catch it.

Myxomatosis is a horrible disease to witness in a loved family pet. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to reduce the risk of your rabbits contracting it.

What is myxomatosis?

Myxomatosis is a viral infection that is transmitted to rabbits by insects such as fleas, lice, ticks and mites. It is incredibly dangerous and, sadly, has high mortality rates, so it’s vital you do everything you can to reduce the risk of your rabbit becoming infected with myxomatosis. Thankfully, however, this is a well-known condition and there is plenty you can do to protect your pets.

What are the signs and symptoms of myxomatosis?

The disease can take several forms and in each case the symptoms are very different:

Peracute myxomatosis

This is one of the more common forms of myxomatosis, where the disease progresses at a rapid pace.

The symptoms can be very subtle and include swelling around the eyes and genitals, lethargy, reduced or lack of appetite, and a fever. Peracute myxomatosis is difficult to diagnose and even harder to treat.

Acute myxomatosis

The symptoms of this form of myxomatosis are far more pronounced and upsetting for rabbit owners.

Swellings, sores and abscesses develop around the head, face, lips, nose and eyes because of a build-up of fluid under the skin.

Chronic myxomatosis

This form of myxomatosis only occurs if a rabbit survives the acute disease.

A discharge from the ears and eyes can develop and the rabbit may have difficulty breathing due to a secondary pneumonia.

If a rabbit does survive the chronic stage of myxomatosis, they will be immune from contracting the infection for the rest of their life.

How do you treat myxomatosis?

Myxomatosis is a virus and there is currently no specific treatment for the disease. If your rabbit is well cared-for and undergoes intensive treatment – including antibiotics to stop secondary infections – then there is a small chance they may recover.

A vet will often recommend euthanising the rabbit on humane grounds to prevent further suffering.

How can you prevent myxomatosis?

The only way to prevent your rabbits contracting myxomatosis is to have them vaccinated against the disease. Vaccination can be given from five weeks and will need to be repeated each year to keep them protected. Most vets now advise a combination vaccine that covers Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD-1 and RHD-2) alongside myxomatosis. It usually costs around £50 - £60 and is well worth the small expense to keep your beloved pet safe.

You should also ensure your rabbits and all other pets in your household are regularly treated for fleas. The best treatments are spot-on treatments – pre-measured pipettes of liquid applied to the skin on the back of your pet’s neck. These can be purchased from your vet.

Remember that common flea treatments for cats and dogs must not be used on rabbits since they can be toxic. Consult your vet for products suitable for rabbits.

Other ways to prevent myxomatosis in rabbits include regularly cleaning and disinfecting your rabbits’ hutch and preventing your rabbits from coming into contact with wild rabbits or hares.

It is important to take out reliable rabbit insurance to cover the costs of veterinary care should your rabbits contract myxomatosis. Consult with your vet immediately if your rabbits show any symptoms of the disease.

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