What is myxomatosis?
Myxomatosis is a very serious viral infection that affects rabbits – it has a mortality rate of 95-99%. It is highly contagious and is spread by biting insects such as fleas, mosquitoes or mites, as well as through direct contacted with an infected rabbit. The disease was deliberately introduced into some countries to help control the rabbit population. It reached the UK in the 1950s and had a huge impact on the rabbit population at the time.
The virus attacks multiple organs including the eyes, skin, genitals, lungs and liver and can also increase the chances of the rabbit catching other diseases.
What are the symptoms of myxomatosis?
With some strains of the disease there can be incubation period of up to 14 days. During this time there may just be subtle changes in the rabbit’s behaviour. Once they start to develop, the classic symptoms of myxomatosis are:
- Discharge from the nose and eyes
- Swelling around the eyes, face, ears and genitals
- Eyes closed due to inflammation resulting in blindness (wild rabbits often don’t run away when approached)
- Skin lumps, ulcers and scabs on the body
- Reduced food/water intake
- Breathing problems
In rabbits that have been vaccinated, mild symptoms may still be apparent, such as skin lumps and scabs on the face.
Myxomatosis can be rapidly fatal in unvaccinated rabbits, so if you have any concerns then please contact your vet straight away.
How is it diagnosed?
Your vet is likely to be highly suspicious of myxomatosis based on the clinical history and physical examination.
How is it treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for myxomatosis, so the only treatment that can be given is symptomatic and supportive.
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What is the prognosis?
Sadly, myxomatosis is usually fatal in wild and unvaccinated pet rabbits, although it can take a number of days for them to die, so euthanasia is often the kindest thing. Vaccinated rabbits may still be infected, but in these cases the infection is usually mild and they would normally make a full recovery, although they may require supportive treatment.
Can myxomatosis be prevented?
Yes – thankfully a vaccine is available against myxomatosis. While a vaccinated rabbit may still be infected by myxomatosis, the infection is generally mild and they would usually make a full recovery. An annual booster must be given to maintain their level of protection.
You can also help to reduce the risk of myxomatosis in your rabbit by following the steps below:
- Reduce any areas of standing water in your garden to reduce the number of mosquitos.
- Use mosquito netting over your rabbit’s enclosure.
- Use flea protection for your rabbit.
- Try to prevent contact with wild rabbits by rabbit-proofing your garden if possible.
- Ensure any new rabbits you introduce are vaccinated against myxomatosis, and wait for 3 weeks after vaccination before they meet your existing rabbit.