Myxomatosis & Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD)

First - a Little History
Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) are two Viral infections which you can help protect your rabbit against by means of regular Vaccination.

Myxomatosis is a man made virus and originated as far back as the late 1800s and originated in Uruguay. Eventually it crossed into the UK from France where it had been illegally introduced in the early 1950s. Despite every effort to stop the spread of the disease it spread rapidly within the Rabbit population.
It became a frequent sight to see rabbits suffering around the countryside as a result of
the Myxomatosis Virus in the early 1950s but the UK saw the Rabbit differently to that of many other world counterparts in that here, the Rabbit was kept as a Pet, hence the new law which came into force in 1954 which made it illegal for anyone to introduce an infected Rabbit with Myxomatosis to colonies of Rabbits for any reason including population control.

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is also a man made virus and originated in China who at the time exported large quantities of Rabbit Meat.
VHD is a highly infectious disease and came to the UK in the early 1990s, it has since spread rapidly amongst the Rabbit population.
VHD can survive for a long time within the environment and air temperature can also play a big factor.
VHD is no longer a notifiable disease to the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF now called DEFRA) however as with Myxomatosis it is
Against the Law to knowingly introduce the Virus into the habitat of the wild rabbit.

FAQs - Page 1.

1. Should I vaccinate my Rabbit?
Most definitely – you are showing a caring responsibility toward your pet rabbit to ensure your rabbit is as well protected as possible against Myxomatosis and VHD.

2. How will Myxomatosis and VHD affect my Rabbit?
a) You may have to take several things into account to establish if your rabbit will
live or die as a result of becoming infected with the Myxomatosis Virus. The Rabbit will start to show skin swellings around the body but in particular the eyelids (which may eventually close completely) ears and lips, some of which may become encrusted and scabby in appearance.
As the disease continues to take hold of the rabbit, secondary infections such as Pasteurella which can cause Pneumonia and Conjunctivitis of the eyes are highly likely and the Rabbit may stop eating due to the disease and be in a very poorly depressed condition. This condition can linger for a number of weeks and is distressing for both the rabbit and the owner.

b) It has been recorded that rabbits of less than 8-10 weeks of age will not have any effects from the VHD Virus (although this statistic does vary).
In older rabbits sudden death can sometimes be the only clue that your Rabbit has contracted VHD. A Rabbit who contracts VHD will suffer a most painful death which often includes nose bleeds, breathlessness and convulsions.
The difficulty with this particular Virus is that many Veterinary Practices do not get to hear about the Rabbits death as it can be so sudden, this makes it difficult to detect the number of actual rabbit deaths caused by VHD in any one year.
This in effect could mean that VHD may be present in your area but your Vet may not even know.

3. How can my rabbit contract Myxomatosis or VHD?
a) Myxomatosis is spread by Biting Insects of which the two most common are the Flea and the Mosquitoe.

b) VHD is more an airborne virus which can be spread by nasal secretions, but also by insects and birds, mice and even dogs who have hunted wild rabbits. VHD can also be spread by clothing and remains active for long periods of time.

Taking both of the above into consideration your beloved rabbit is going to be lucky not to come into contact with a given scenario which might put his life at risk – examples:- Visit to the Vets, coming into contact with other animals.
Being outside in the Garden. Boarding during holiday periods (It’s a safer option to check your Boarder insists on taking only Vaccinated Rabbits) and of course contact with wild rabbits.


4. My Rabbit is a House Rabbit – Do I still need to Vaccinate?
For both Vaccinations definitely yes. VHD is an airborne, just a walk through a field with wild rabbits about could result in the Virus being brought back into your home and Fleas and Mosquitoes are just as likely to make the occasional appearance in doors as well as out.

5. How often should my rabbit be vaccinated against Myxomatosis and VHD?
a) Myxomatosis should be given as a minimum once a year with booster injections following every year after. For extra protection it’s a good idea to have the Myxomatosis Vaccination every six months, particularly if your in an area of high risk, i.e – with lots of wild rabbits around or if your Vet has become aware of a recent outbreak.
If your vaccinating twice a year its best to give the Vaccination Spring and Autumn, if your vaccinating once a year then May/June time will help to give your Rabbit the best Protection during the Autumn months.

b) VHD Vaccinations are given every year with booster injections following every year afer.

6. How will my Vet administer the Vaccination and will it hurt my Rabbit?
a) Rabbit Savy Vets will normally administer the Myxomatosis Vaccination first and you will normally notice that they will administer part within the ear and part within the scruff area of the neck.

b) Vaccination for VHD should take place approximately 14 days following the Myxamotosis Vaccination and your Vet will administer the injection into the scruff area of your rabbit neck.

7. Will my Rabbit have any side effects from the Vaccination?
Certainly the benefits of protection far outweigh the minimal risk in vaccination of rabbits. Many Rescues who use this forum have all their rabbits vaccinated as a routine procedure and very seldom is there any serious reaction.
You may find that just as with people if you have a vaccination you just don’t quite feel quite right for a few days and this can be just the same with Rabbits so you can expect your rabbit to perhaps be a little quite for a while following vaccination, although some just sale through it as if nothing has happened – they are all individuals after all.

Its always important to check that within a few hours your rabbit returns to eating, drinking and producing droppings as this is a good indication of your rabbits health.

You may find that where injection has been given that a small lump or scab may appear. This will not always happen through but if it does, don’t worry this is a good sign as it shows that the virus has actually caused a swelling in the skin and this should confer your rabbit will have a strong protection against this virus.
The lump or scab normally disappears within a short time but if your at all concerned please contact your Vet to double check all is well.
In VHD it has been noticed by Forum Members that Rabbits can develop a slight limp in one of their front paws which quickly disappears with 24/48 hours but again if your
in any doubt please contact your Vet and have your rabbit examined.

8. Are the Vaccinations for Mxyomatosis and VHD 100% effective?
Unfortunately there is no Vaccination which guarantees 100% effectiveness but should your rabbit be unfortunate enough to contract either virus then if vaccinated there is a greater hope of your rabbit responding to treatment, particularly with Myxomatosis.

9. How much will Rabbit Vaccinations cost?
The cost for vaccination vary but generally expect to pay between £15.00 - £25.00 per vaccination.

10. Rabbit Insurance
Its worth noting also that many Pet Insurance companies will not provide cover for your Rabbit unless your rabbit has regular vaccinations for both Myxomatosis and VHD so it well worth checking the small print in the Insurance Terms and Conditions.

************************

The following are mild illustrations of the diseases of Myxomatosis and VHD, the way to provide the best protection to your much loved rabbit is to have regular Vaccinations and keep booster injections up to date.

Illustration 1. – Rabbit with Myxomatosis



Illustration 2. – Rabbit with VHD



Written by Lany (bunnytales) June 2005.