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Myxomatosis in rabbits: how to spot symptoms and keep your bunny safe

There are no nice rabbit diseases, but Myxomatosis is a particularly nasty one that doesn’t show symptoms straight away and can have fatal consequences for your rabbit in as little as ten days after they contract it. Cases are rare in pet rabbits in the UK and this is mainly due to pet rabbits having the Myxomatosis vaccine. So what is Myxomatosis, what are the symptoms and how do you protect your rabbit from it? Let’s take a look.

What is Myxomatosis?

Myxomatosis in rabbits was first discovered in Uruguay in 1896, at which time it was relatively harmless but had the potential capacity to spread very quickly. In 1938, scientists in Australia began testing the virus for use as a population control agent to deal with an overwhelming population of wild rabbits and in 1950, it was used on a large scale in several countries, reaching the UK in 1953.

Myxomatosis is spread by parasites – fleas, ticks, mosquitoes – from rabbit to rabbit. There are no ‘safe areas’ in the UK, and cases are only rare because of a successful vaccination scheme available for pet rabbits.

Myxomatosis symptoms

Myxomatosis in rabbits doesn’t always manifest itself as soon as they become infected with it – which makes preventative vaccinations all the more important. When symptoms occur, your rabbit is likely to have had the disease for a number of days. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling, redness and ulcers – mainly around the eyes, nose and genitals
  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Blindness – a consequence of inflammation of the eyes
  • Breathing problems
  • Lack of appetite and neglecting food – watch out for uneaten food
  • Weakness, lethargy or a general state of depression

Will rabbit vaccinations help?

Vaccination against Myxomatosis is essential in order to keep your bunny safe. You should ensure that your rabbit stays up to date with their vaccinations at all times and with no exceptions.

Is there anything else I can do to prevent Myxomatosis?

Like with other preventative medications, rabbit vaccinations will dramatically reduce the risk, but can never be 100% effective. If your rabbit has been vaccinated, they could catch Myxomatosis but they would catch a very mild form of the disease. Providing they receive veterinary attention, the odds of survival for a vaccinated rabbit are very good.

Aside from vaccination, you can keep your rabbits safe by minimising their exposure to bacteria-ridden areas (dirty puddles) and parasites – keep their hutch or enclosure nice and clean, using mosquito nets at times of year where mosquitoes are common.

Need more info?

For more information about Myxomatosis in rabbits, have a chat with your local vet.

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.