- Vaccinating your rabbits is an important way of protecting them from serious (sometimes deadly) diseases.
- If you live in the UK, your rabbits should be vaccinated for:
- Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 1&2
- House rabbits need vaccinations too.
- Your rabbits will a booster every year to stay protected.
- Contact your vet to discuss what vaccinations your rabbits need.
What vaccinations do rabbits need?
All rabbits living in the UK (including house rabbits) should be regularly vaccinated against:
Vaccinations are important for all rabbits including indoor rabbits. This is because myxomatosis and RHD-1&2 not only spreads from rabbit to rabbit, but also via flying insects and on surfaces such as clothes and shoes. So even if your rabbits never meet others, it’s still very possible for them to pick up these serious and often fatal diseases.
How do rabbit vaccines work?
When your rabbits are vaccinated, a small amount of the disease (which is changed so it can’t cause illness) is injected into them. This allows the body to learn how to defend itself against the disease, so if they then come into contact with the real disease, they can fight it instead of becoming very ill.
Your rabbits can be vaccinated from 5 weeks old, and it takes three weeks for them to be fully protected once they have had their injection. Your rabbits will then need yearly vaccinations throughout their life to stay protected. It’s important to make sure your rabbit is protected for myxomatosis, RHD-1 and RHD-2.
If a vaccination is missed or delayed, your rabbits won't be fully protected.
What to expect at a vaccine appointment
It’s important that your rabbit is healthy when they have their vaccination, so they will be given a full health check, and you can discuss anything you are worried about.
If you have any questions or concerns about your rabbit, their vaccination appointment is a good opportunity to discuss them with your vet, for example if you think they might be gaining weight, or you’re not sure about the best diet for them.
Your rabbit’s vaccine will be an injection under the skin on the back of their neck. You might be asked to hold your rabbits still while the vaccine is given because the injection can be cold and sting a little. If you’re worried about holding your rabbits still, or your rabbits have reacted badly to an injection in the past, tell your vet so they can take steps to help everyone stay safe.
Protecting unvaccinated rabbits
If your rabbits are unvaccinated, their vaccines have lapsed, or they haven’t quite finished their primary vaccination course, they won’t have protection against rabbit haemorrhagic disease or myxomatosis. Keep them safe by following the guidance below:
Consider where they live. Consider moving your rabbits indoors until they are fully protected. However, you should only do this if you have enough space for them to exercise and can enable them to perform normal behaviours, such as digging. Your rabbits need an absolute minimum living area of 10ft x 6ft x 3ft high (3m x 2m x 1m) whether they live inside or outdoors, and also need places to hide, and access to plenty of grass/hay. Keeping your rabbit’s indoors won’t protect them completely, but is a little safer than being outdoors whilst they are unprotected.
Insect netting. If you are keeping your rabbits indoors, put mosquito screens over any open windows. If you can’t keep your rabbits indoors, cover their outdoor living space with mosquito netting to keep insects out.
Keep wild rabbits away. Make sure wild rabbits can’t get into your rabbits living space. Ideally, your rabbits should be separated from the outside world with two barriers (i.e. double fences). Any rabbit food picked from the garden should be washed.
Cleanliness. Make sure your rabbits and their living space is clean so not to attract insects. Check your rabbits over daily, if they get poo stuck to their bottom, gently clean it off with lukewarm water and cotton wool. Clean their living space regularly, using water or a rabbit-safe disinfectant such as ‘Virkon S’ or ‘Anigene HLD4V’. Put your rabbits in a different enclosure until their space is clean and dry.
Any drug, including vaccinations, can cause side effects, but fortunately, they are rare, and most rabbits don’t experience any at all. In the unlikely event that your rabbits do experience any side effects, they are likely to be mild and pass within 24-48 hours.
Serious side effects and allergic reactions are extremely rare. Always speak to your vet if your rabbit has previously had side effects after a vaccine, or you are worried about vaccinating them. It’s important to remember that the risks of side effects are very small compared to the risk of staying unprotected against potentially deadly diseases.
Can vaccinated rabbits get myxomatosis? Although vaccinations provide excellent protection, none can guarantee 100% cover. So yes, theoretically, a vaccinated rabbit can still catch myxomatosis, but it is significantly less likely. In addition to this, vaccinated rabbits tend to be less affected and have a better chance of recovery.
Can my rabbits be vaccinated if they are poorly? It’s always safest to give a vaccination when your rabbits are fit and healthy. It’s important to contact your vet for advice if your rabbits are showing any signs of illness before their vaccination appointment.
What vaccines are required by law? There's no legal requirement to give your rabbits vaccines in the UK, but core vaccines are strongly recommended for all rabbits to keep them safe and healthy.
How long does vaccine protection last? The length of protection from a vaccination will depend on the disease it’s protecting against, the type of vaccine used and your rabbit’s immune system. On average most rabbit vaccinations last around a year which is why an yearly booster vaccination is recommended. However, if you’ve kept your rabbits up to date throughout their lives they often have an extra 2-3 months of protection once their booster is due. If you’re unsure if your rabbit is still protected by their vaccines, speak to your vet to discuss their specific situation.
Can my rabbits have vaccinations is they’re on medications? Most medications won’t affect your rabbit’s vaccinations. However, some drugs do affect them, so it’s always best to discuss any medications your rabbits are on, before they are given their injection.
Are vaccines dangerous? All vaccines used by vets in the UK are licensed, meaning they have to go through rigorous tests and safety checks before they are approved for use. These licenses are also constantly under review by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to make sure they are safe for your rabbits. As with any medication, there is always the possibility of side effects, but they are rare, and the benefits of protection from a vaccine far outweigh the risks.
Published: July 2020
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Written by vets and vet nurses. This advice is for UK pets only.
Illustrations by Samantha Elmhurst