Unfortunately we have seen our first two cases in 2020 of Myxomatosis this week.
Myxomatosis is a viral disease that affects rabbits. Unfortunately it is a very serious, often fatal disease. It was first reported in wild rabbits in the UK in the 1950s and still remains a common disease found in the population today. Because of the prevalence of Myxomatosis in the wild population and its method of transmission it can easily be transmitted to our pet bunnies.
Myxomatosis can be transmitted between rabbits via direct contact or by blood sucking insects such as fleas, ticks, mites and mosquitoes. It is prevalent throughout the whole of the UK so there is no area that is more or less at risk. Depending on the strain of the virus symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear but onset can be much more rapid.
One of the first signs of a Myxomatosis infection is a change in behaviour and eating habits. This this is closely followed by the trademark puffy, fluid filled swellings around the head and face. “Sleepy eyes” are another classic sign, along with swollen lips, tiny swellings on the inside of the ear and puffy swellings around the anus and genitals. Within a few days, these swellings can become so severe that they can cause blindness. Eating and drinking becomes progressively more difficult and death usually follows within 12 days.
There is no cure for Myxomatosis and once infected only supportive care can be given to the rabbit. In mild cases the rabbit may survive but in most cases the prognosis is poor especially in unvaccinated animals, therefore prevention is key. The best way to reduce the risk of Myxomatosis is an annual vaccination against the disease. In vaccinated rabbits the chance of recovery is much higher but it is still a serious condition so vaccination should be a part of a full prevention protocol. It is important to also reduce the chance of infection by controlling the risk that insect parasites pose.Myxomatosis is commonly spread via blood-sucking insects and in this respect flea control is especially vital. Keep wild rabbits away from pets and use flea control methods such as spot-ons and sprays. Mosquito and fly control is more difficult but insect repellent strips and nets can be used. Dry and clean bedding will also discourage flies.Finally a daily check of your bunny to make sure they themselves are clean is especially vital as faeces attached to your bunnies fur can also attract flies which increases the Myxomatosis risk as well as other common rabbit conditions.
If you find a wild rabbit which you suspect of having Myxomatosis it is important to take it into the closest vet to prevent onward infection. Ensure you wear gloves and wash your hands when handling a rabbit with suspected Myxomatosis. The virus can remain in the environment for a period of time so ensure you never re- use items such as bowls, water bottles and hutches that have been used for a rabbit with Myxomatosis.
Your pet can be vaccinated from 8 weeks of age with an inoculation that will provide immunity against both RHD and Myxomatosis with an annual booster required.
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