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Vaccinating Your Rabbit

There are some nasty viruses out there that threaten pet rabbits, and these include myxomatosis, and both strains of viral haemorrhagic disease, 1 and 2. 

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Fortunately, your bunny can be safeguarded against life-threatening diseases with an annual vaccination - by getting an injection against these diseases every year, you know your rabbit is up-to-date with the very best protection.

Vaccinations are quick and simple, and before your bunny is vaccinated they will also receive a full health assessment. This is a vital opportunity for the vet to detect any visible health problems that may be developing, to discuss any concerns you may have about your pet, and to make sure you have all the information on the best care for your rabbit. 

Keeping your annual vaccination appointment every year is really important for both you, and your rabbit. If you would like any more information on vaccinating your rabbit, get in touch with your local Companion Care. 

31.5% of rabbits aren’t vaccinated (Source - MSD) 

When should I vaccinate my rabbit?

As a general rule, your rabbit can be vaccinated from five weeks old with the combined Myxomatosis-RHD1 vaccine and immunity takes three weeks to develop. Your bunny will then need an annual vaccination to maintain protection.  If you are not sure if your rabbit has been vaccinated at all, or you know they have not been vaccinated in the last year, getting your rabbit in for their vaccination appointment is a priority. 

RHD2 vaccines are given every 6 to 12 months and must be given at least 2 weeks apart from the annual Myxomatosis-RHD1 vaccine. Speak to your vet to discuss the best vaccination plan for your rabbit, which will depend on your rabbit’s individual circumstances.

What happens at a vaccination appointment?

A vaccination appointment is much more than a quick injection for your rabbit – it is you and your vet’s chance to really see how your rabbit has been doing. Your rabbit will be weighed, and have a thorough medical exam – this will include areas you cannot see at home, such as the back teeth. Your vet will probably ask you lots of questions about how your pet has been behaving, about any changes, and about specific topics such as their eating and drinking habits.  Your vet is trained to spot subtle changes, helping any developing issues be managed as soon as possible. Your vet will also listen to any concerns you may have, and help you manage these.

As well as the thorough exam, your vet will administer the vaccination.  This is given under the skin at the back of the neck, and is well tolerated by the vast majority of rabbits. Currently it is recommended that the RHD2 vaccination is given separately to the combined Myxomatosis-RHD1 vaccination, so you will need to make two vaccination appointments annually for your rabbit.

What is Myxomatosis?

Myxomatosis is a highly infectious and usually fatal virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes, fleas or by close contact with an infected rabbit. Myxomatosis kills many rabbits in the UK every year, and all rabbits are susceptible whether kept indoors or outdoors.

Signs of myxomatosis include: 

  • Red swollen eyes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

An unvaccinated rabbit surviving a myxomatosis infection is very unusual. There is no specific treatment for the virus, and sadly only supportive care such as fluids and antibiotics can be provided to help ease the pain and discomfort. As supportive care is so rarely successful in myxomatosis cases, euthanasia is usually recommended.

Whilst there is a very small chance that a vaccinated rabbit can still develop myxomatosis, the disease in this instance is far less severe and has a much higher chance of successful treatment.

What is RHD/RHD1?

(Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease)

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is also known as Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease and has several acronyms: RHD, RVHD, VHD and RHD1. This virus is extremely contagious and sadly once a rabbit is infected it is almost always fatal. 

Signs are often difficult to detect because RHD can kill a rabbit very quickly, which is why any sudden rabbit death should be regarded as suspicious. 

RHD causes bleeding to the internal organs of the rabbit so if signs are seen these can include:

  • A fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blood stained discharge from the nose or mouth
  • Seizures (fits)

The RHD virus is very resistant and can remain active in the environment for many months. It can be transmitted through both direct and indirect contact. Transmission is quick and does not require prolonged contact; an infected rabbit can pass the virus directly to another by nose to nose contact or via food bowls, bedding, urine and faeces. 

Humans, insects, birds and rodents can all also spread the virus to rabbits if they have been in contact with infected rabbits. 

What about RHD2?

Unlike RHD1 which has been present in the UK for decades, a new strain of this disease has been identified in the UK in recent years. This strain is referred to as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHD2).

RHD2 has some differences from the classic RHD1, and the existing RHD1 vaccine is not thought to be protective against RHD2. However, similarly to RHD1, the RHD2 virus is associated with severe internal bleeding, rapid death in many cases, and can remain active in the environment for a long time.

Luckily, there is a licensed RHD2 vaccine available in the UK. A vet can discuss the risks and benefits with you before deciding on an appropriate regime and vaccination plan for your rabbit, based on local disease conditions. The vaccine can be given annually or every 6 months depending on risk. High risk situations for RHD2 include rescue centres and breeders (unless they have a strict quarantine policy), rabbits which have greater contact with wild rabbits, and any geographical location where cases have been reported recently. All rabbits, however, should have at least a single annual vaccination to protect them against RHD2.

A combination vaccine is available to protect rabbits against two fatal infectious diseases, myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD). Myxomatosis is a highly infectious and usually fatal viral disease that causes swelling and inflammation of the mucous membranes and discharge around the eyes. RHD is another extremely contagious condition with a high mortality rate. Vaccination should be considered for any rabbit that spends time outside.

Another strain of RHD, RHD2, has also been spreading in the UK. There are RHD2 vaccines available and it is now recommended all rabbits are also vaccinated against RHD2 as this can also cause sudden death in rabbits. 

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