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The Importance of Vaccinating your Rabbit

The Importance of Vaccinating your Rabbit

Most pet rabbits enjoy time outside on the grass. This means they are exposed to rabbits in the wild. Sadly, many of these wild rabbits will carry diseases, and some may show no symptoms as they have become immune to them. These diseases can spread using multiple different methods – typically either by air or by direct contact. Whilst there is a myriad of diseases that rabbits living in the UK may catch, there are two of particular importance, that we strongly advise you to protect your pets against. How? By vaccinating them!

Preventing your rabbit from getting ill is extremely important. Rabbits do not deal with stress or illness very well. As a result, prevention is much better (and much cheaper!) than cure, even when a cure is possible.

What is a vaccine?

There are many different vaccine types but the purpose of them all is the same. The aim of a vaccine is to stimulate the rabbit’s body to respond to a small amount of a disease or disease-like substance (the vaccine). The immune system responds by producing more white blood cells which can recognise, destroy and alert other cells of the body, ensuring the disease-causing microorganism is completely destroyed. Once the body has done this once, it is able to create memory cells which means that if they are attacked by the actual disease, the rabbit is able to fight the disease much more quickly, in most cases defeating the invader before any clinical signs are actually shown.

What should I vaccinate against?

We recommend vaccinating in order to protect your rabbits from three important diseases: Myxomatosis and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, also known as Rabbit Calcivirus or Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. Unfortunately, this last comes in 2 “types”, or strains – RHD1 and RHD2, and there is as yet no vaccine that is protective against both.

Vaccinating against these three diseases are vital to increasing the welfare for your rabbit and they also help to form a preventative healthcare plan improving the quality of life for your furry friend.

The low recovery rates and lack of treatment available for these conditions means vaccinating is of huge importance.

Myxomatosis is a highly infectious disease which usually results in a fatality. It causes swelling of the mucous membranes (gums, nose, eyes, anus and genitals). You may also see swelling and lumps under the skin. It is caused by a virus and there are no effective treatments; in rabbits with no immunity at all, the mortality rate is almost 100%.

Rabbits catch this disease from biting insects such as fleas, ticks, mites, lice and mosquitoes. It is almost impossible to stop the interaction of these insects with your rabbit. You can, however, ensure your rabbit is kept inside during these insects peak seasons when their population sizes will increase; and during dawn and dusk when they are more active and likely to bite. Vaccinating is the only effective method of prevention and protection. If you suspect your rabbit has myxomatosis, seek help rapidly as the virus can kill and will stay in the environment for a long time and may cause infection to other rabbits.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is also a fatal disease. RHD1 and 2 cause death in the vast majority (perhaps as many as 90-100%) of infected rabbits. The viruses spread from rabbit to rabbit, or from the environment to the rabbit. It is spread by bodily fluids such as saliva, urine, defecation but the virus can stay in the environment for a long time afterwards. This means even if you let your rabbit outside supervised, they may still pick up the virus from the grass. Rabbits kept indoors throughout the whole year can also be infected as the virus can be carried on human’s shoes.

Infected rabbits may appear depressed, lethargic and bleed from their nose, mouth and anus. The most common symptom is sudden death which is why it is so vital to vaccinate in the first place.

Is vaccination safe?

The Myxomatosis vaccine is an attenuated modified live virus. These vaccines work well as they are able to stimulate an immune response from your rabbit to produce protection as they have time to learn how to fight the infection but the modification of the virus means the virus can not actually cause the disease it is protecting the rabbit from. Vaccinations are very routine in practice and only very rarely do we see adverse side effects, usually local swelling at the injection site. However we are more than happy to discuss potential side effects in the clinic. This vaccine is very effective.

The main vaccine for Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is very effective against one strain however less effective against the new second strain of the disease. This is why we recommend 2 separate vaccinataions – one against RHD1, and the other against RHD2.

To decrease the risk of this disease, you can cover your rabbit’s cage or pen to protect them from any contact with rodents, birds or wild rabbits or move them inside. These measures do not stop the disease, but they can reduce the risk of getting the disease and therefore should be done as well as having the vaccine not instead of having the vaccine.

If you want to know more, just pop in and have a chat with us!