Vaccinations: protecting rabbits from illness
Vaccinations protect against a wide range of infectious diseases, many of which can be fatal for our pets.
Vaccinations protect your rabbit from:
Vaccinating your rabbit
Young rabbits are very vulnerable to serious illnesses, so it’s important to get them vaccinated early:
Rabbits can be vaccinated from 5-weeks-old. Your rabbit will need regular booster vaccinations throughout their life. Speak to your vet about when your rabbit needs a booster.
Some diseases can be spread by biting insects, like fleas. If you’re rabbit lives alongside cats or dogs, make sure your regularly treat your cat or dog for fleas.
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 rabbit.
What is myxomatosis and how is spread?
Myxomatosis is a devastating disease. It attacks the rabbit’s lungs, face and genitals. 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.
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 develop a milder form of the disease so have a chance of getting better with intensive 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 using rabbit-safe 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.
What is RHD and how is spread?
RHD – also known as ‘viral haemorrhagic disease’ (VHD) - is a serious virus that attacks the rabbit’s lungs and other organs. It is common in wild rabbits and easily spread through contact with infected rabbits. 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.
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 progresses very quickly and some rabbits die without showing any signs at all.
How is RHD treated?
There is no cure for RHD. Sadly, it’s very rare for a rabbit to survive the disease.
If a rabbit only has a mild form of RHD, a vet might try to treat them by keeping them away from other rabbits and giving fluid therapy and syringe feeding.
- Vaccination is essential – young rabbits can get their first jabs at five-weeks-old.
- Rabbits will need regular boosters throughout their life to keep them protected from RHD.
- If you have a house rabbit, 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.
- 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 for at least five days.
- If your rabbit dies suddenly, report it your vet, especially if you notice blood around the mouth, nose or rear end. Any other rabbits you own will already have been exposed to RHD but could survive – get advice from your vet.
- Rabbits that survive RHD are still contagious for a while and should be kept separate from other rabbits to stop them passing the disease on.
- Housing and other items should be destroyed or thoroughly disinfected - 10 minute soak in a 10% bleach solution should kill the virus. However, other areas such as carpets and outdoor areas 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.