Hello again, I was just musing about how winter is now in its final throes and that spring is just around the corner. This then led to thoughts of Easter (and chocolate) and of course, the Easter Bunny; which got me thinking about one of our most popular pets, the beautiful Rabbit in its many varieties.

Rabbits make superb pets, but they do need a lot of care just as with any other animal; simply popping them in an outdoor hutch and run is not doing them justice. This routine care starts at around 8 weeks of age when you need to bring them to the Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre team for their first vaccinations.

These first vaccinations will provide your young rabbit with protection against a couple of very nasty diseases, but it does take about 3 weeks for this immunity to develop. The main diseases that affect rabbits are Myxomatosis and Rabbit (Viral) Haemorrhagic Disease or R(V)HD, as I shall abbreviate it to.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the film “Watership Down” and the scenes of Myxomatosis in one of the characters, and I’m sure you’ve seen affected rabbits just sitting zombie-like in the road as you drive around. It isn’t a nice disease at all, and it attacks the rabbit’s lungs, face and genitals; first symptoms are usually swelling in these areas, possible blindness, difficulty eating and drinking, and high fever.

Our wild population of rabbits see outbreaks of this disease very frequently, making it very common in them. It can easily be passed from wild bunnies to your pet either through direct contact or through insect bites from fleas, mites, flies, and (not common in the UK) Mosquitoes. Annoyingly, it can survive on hutches, food bowls and water bottles for quite some time too, so good hygiene practices are essential.

Unvaccinated rabbits unfortunately are not likely to survive Myxomatosis, it proves fatal 99% of the time; however, vaccinated bunnies develop a milder form of the disease, which if treated early can respond to intensive veterinary care.

The second disease we vaccinate against, R(V)HD, has been around in the UK for decades; a new strain R(V)HD2, has been identified in the last few years. This new strain is similar to the original virus, but is dissimilar enough that the R(V)HD vaccine won’t protect against it, so there are two separate vaccines. The R(V)HD vaccine is given at the same time as the Myxomatosis one, and the R(V)HD2 vaccine is given about 2 weeks afterwards. After vaccination there aren’t any significant side-effects; your bunny might be quieter than usual for 24/48 hours, and there might be swelling at the injection site.

R(V)HD attacks a rabbit’s lungs and other organs, and is again common in the wild population and spread easily. As with Myxomatosis, this virus can live for months on hutches, water bottles and food bowls, but it can also survive on clothes and shoes too; this means that transmission of this virus is very easy. Early symptoms can be difficult to detect, especially tiredness or lack of energy and loss of appetite; other symptoms such as high fever, spasms, and bloody noses, mouths, or bottoms are easier to notice.

R(V)HD worsens quickly, and is incurable in unvaccinated rabbits. If a rabbit only has a mild form of the disease we treat them by fluid therapy and syringe feeding, hopefully this keeps them strong enough to recover. Vaccination really is the only option to help protect your rabbit. If you have any concerns at all about your rabbit then please bring them in to us here at SLVC and we can give them a thorough check up for you. Always be vigilant if you see wild rabbits around your pet, and observe them for any changes in condition and behaviour; again we are always here for you, even if it only involves a phone call initially.

So, what can you do at home to minimise the risk for your bunny? Firstly, invest in an insect-proof screen for your rabbit hutch to help keep flies and Mozzies away, and treat other pets such as cats and dogs for fleas. Cleaning and disinfecting hutches and runs regularly with rabbit-safe products is another effective measure you can take; we always stress the importance of good hygiene anyway, but it’s certainly a good idea with hutched pets. If possible, prevent contact with wild or affected rabbits, or access to areas where they’ve been; keeping your pet housed in an indoor hutch at night is something to consider if you can.

Many boarding establishments and insurance policies require rabbits to have up-to-date vaccinations, so do check the small print and policies carefully. For those that breed rabbits or show them, I would heartily recommend a robust vaccination programme anyway.

Until next time; stay safe, stay well, and be happy. Spring is coming! 🙂