Vaccinations for rabbits
Vaccinating your rabbits
What vaccines will my rabbit need?
In the UK, a combined vaccination is available against Myxomatosis and RHD-1. To protect rabbits against RHD-2, they usually need a separate vaccination. It's usually recommended the vaccines are given two weeks apart. Your vet will discuss the best option for your rabbit.
When should I vaccinate my rabbit?
Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5-weeks-old, but if they’re older it’s still important to get them vaccinated.
Your rabbits will need regular booster vaccinations throughout their life to maintain immunity. Speak to your vet about when your rabbits will need a booster.
What else can I do to prevent my rabbits becoming unwell?
- Some diseases can be spread by biting insects, like fleas. If your rabbit lives alongside cats or dogs, or other pets then make sure you regularly treat your cat or dog for fleas.
- Look after your rabbits’ general health including providing the right environment, diet, companionship for them.
- Neuter your rabbits to prevent fighting and avoid potentially deadly diseases.
- If your pet shows any signs of being unwell, contact your vet straight away.
What do vaccinations protect your rabbits from?
Our vets have put together information about each of the diseases vaccinations can protect against. Take a look at the information below to find out more about why vaccination is a vital part of caring for your rabbits.
What is myxomatosis and how is spread?
Myxomatosis is a devastating disease. It attacks the rabbit’s lungs, face and genitals and is almost always fatal.
It is common in wild rabbits and can be passed on through direct contact with a sick rabbit. It can also be passed on by biting insects, like mosquitos, fleas and mites. It can also live on hutches, food bowls and water bottles for some time.
Symptoms of myxomatosis
Symptoms usually begin with puffiness around the face, ears and genitals. The rabbit may become blind due to the swelling around their eyes. They might also struggle to eat and drink, and will develop a high fever. Rabbits will often die from this disease.
How is myxomatosis treated?
Sadly, if an unvaccinated rabbit catches myxomatosis it’s almost always fatal. The kindest thing to do is put them to sleep.
Vaccinated rabbits usually don’t get the fatal form of the disease. They can still develop much milder symptoms of the disease, but they have a good chance of getting better with lots of veterinary care.
- Vaccination is the best way of protecting rabbits from myxomatosis.
- Rabbits will need regular boosters throughout their life to keep them protected.
- Myxomatosis can be passed on by biting insects. Use insect-proof screens on your rabbits’ hutch to keep out flies and mosquitos. If you also have cats and dogs, make sure they’re regularly treated for fleas.
- Regularly clean rabbits’ hutches and enclosures and then disinfect them using rabbit-safe, virus-killing disinfectant.
- Never re-use hutches, food bowls or other items from rabbits that have had myxomatosis, and don’t let new rabbits into any areas infected rabbits may have been.
- Don’t let your rabbits mix with wild rabbits. Double-fence their hutches and runs to prevent outdoor rabbits being able to touch wild rabbits.
What is RHD and how is spread?
RHD – also known as ‘viral haemorrhagic disease’ (VHD) - is a highly infectious and often fatal disease that attacks a rabbit’s lungs and other organs. Two different strains of virus can cause the disease and these are known as RHD-1 and RHD-2.
RHD is common in wild rabbits and easily spread from infected rabbits through the air or direct contact. It can also live on hutches, food bowls, clothing and shoes for many months. RHD only affects rabbits but insects, other animals and humans can pick up the virus from a sick rabbit and accidentally pass it on to another rabbit.
RHD-1 has been found in the UK for a long time. RHD-2 is a newer strain from Europe, but it has now become very common here too. It’s important to get your rabbits vaccinated for each strain so they are protected against both. Ask your vet which vaccines your rabbit needs to be fully protected
Symptoms of RHD
The symptoms of RHD can be hard to spot in the early stages. They can include:
- unusual tiredness or lack of energy
- loss of appetite
- high fever
- blood at the nose, mouth or bottom.
The disease can progress very quickly and some rabbits die without showing any signs at all. If one of your rabbits dies suddenly, report it to your vet, especially if you notice blood around their mouth, nose or rear end. Getting immediate advice from your vet is important if you have other rabbits, as it’s likely they will already have been exposed to the virus.
How is RHD treated?
There is no cure for RHD. A few rabbits will fight off the virus without showing any symptoms. Sadly, it’s rare for a rabbit to survive the disease if they develop symptoms and most rabbits who are exposed die of the disease.
If a rabbit only has a very mild form of RHD, a vet might try to treat them by keeping them away from other rabbits and giving them intensive care. Rabbits that survive RHD are still contagious for an unknown amount of time and so should be kept separate from unvaccinated rabbits to stop them passing the disease on. If one of your rabbits has survived RHD, it’s best to get all your rabbits fully vaccinated before re-introducing them or allowing them to go anywhere an infected rabbit might have been.
The best way to protect your rabbits against RHD is with regular vaccinations. Speak to your vet about the best way to do this.
- Vaccination is the best protection – young rabbits can get their first jabs at five-weeks-old but may need more injections to be fully protected.
- Rabbits will need regular boosters throughout their life to keep them protected from RHD.
- Before they’re vaccinated:
- If you have house rabbits, keep them in an area of the house where no shoes are worn and always wash your hands before handling them. This will help stop you accidentally passing on RHD to them.
- Rabbits that live outdoors are more at risk from RHD. You can help protect them by keeping them in a secure area that can’t be reached by wild rabbits. Use insect-proof screening to keep out flies and bugs.
- New rabbits should be kept completely quarantined from rabbits you already own for at least two weeks after they have been vaccinated for both RHD-1 and RHD-2. If you’ve had a rabbit with suspected RHD, housing and other items should be destroyed or thoroughly cleaned then disinfected with a virus-killing disinfectant. Some areas such as carpets and soil or grass can be more difficult to disinfect. Keep new rabbits away from these areas and make sure they’re fully vaccinated before they come into contact with anywhere an infected rabbit might have been.