Rabbit Vaccination Update (Aug 2016)
By Vicki Temple BVMS, MRCVS
Are your rabbits protected against the two most fatal viruses found in the UK?
Myxomatosis (also known as myxo/ myxi) - This virus is spread by both direct contact with wild rabbits AND biting insects; most commonly fleas but also mosquitos. This means you don’t have to have wild rabbits on your garden for your pet to be at risk. The virus causes characteristic puffy eyes, swollen bottom and genitals and leads to septicaemia. Vaccinated rabbits have a good chance of recovery but unvaccinated pet rabbits tend to be even more severely affected than wild rabbits, usually leading to death or euthanasia. Myxomatosis is commonly seen in our practice area.
Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (also known as rabbit haemorrhagic disease, VHD, RVHD or RHD)
This virus is also very easily spread again not just with contact with infected rabbits but through the droppings of birds that have fed on dead rabbits, through insects and it can even be carried by your boots and shoes if you have been for a walk where infected rabbits have been. This virus is rapidly fatal – rabbits are often found dead or die within 12 hours of becoming ill. 9 out of 10 rabbits that catch this virus will die. Viral haemorrhagic disease is less common that myxomatosis in our area but wild rabbits are quite frequently affected. The numbers may be higher than we think because a rabbit that dies suddenly may not be brought in to the vets.
You may have read online that there is a ‘new’ strain of RVHD referred to as RVHD2. This has been present in Europe for some time and in the UK since 2010. It is not as severe as the more common RVHD but it still has an average death rate of 2 out of 10 rabbits and vets around the country are seeing it more often. The disease lasts longer than RVHD so more rabbits are seen with clinical signs such as weight loss and jaundice (yellowing of the mucous membranes [i.e. gums and conjunctiva] due to liver problems).
Rabbits can be protected against Myxomatosis and RVHD with a yearly vaccine which can be given from 5 weeks of age and provides immunity from 3 weeks after their injection. A top up is recommended (even if that means giving the vaccine earlier than usual) if your rabbit has not been vaccinated in the last 6 months and there is a known outbreak of myxomatosis in your area.
So what about RVHD2?
Because this is relatively new in the UK, there isn’t a vaccine which has been brought out to cover this strain. The Nobivac Myxo-RHD that we use will provide some protection but probably not full protection against the new strain. Due to the hard work of the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, we can now import a vaccine which will cover against the new strain. It will need to be given every 12 months (or every 6 months in rescue centres and rabbits with poor immune system) and can be used alongside the current vaccine so they are still protected against myxomatosis. Like a lot of products we use in rabbits, because it is not licensed in the UK (i.e. gone through testing in this country), you would need to sign a form to allow us to use this in your pet. This does not mean it is not safe because it has been tested well and is used in Europe. We will order it in according to demand so if you would like your rabbit to be vaccinated with this new vaccine, please contact Vicky Edgar at the Cockermouth surgery on 01900 826666 and we can let you know when the vaccine is available for your rabbit.