Myxomatosis is a virus infection of rabbits, which has been in the UK since 1953. It is spread by blood-sucking insects. In the wild rabbit population, the rabbit flea is usually the carrier. In pet rabbits, the rabbit flea may be the source (perhaps carried home to your garden by dogs or cats), but other biting insects (eg midges) are also important carriers. Because of this, late summer and autumn are the disease is seen mostly in late summer and autumn.
All pet and wild rabbits in UK are susceptible; occasionally our native wild brown hare is also affected. There is no evidence that some breeds are more susceptible than others.
Symptoms of myxomatosis include puffy swellings around the head, face, ears and anogenital areas. The eyelids swell so much as to cause blindness within a few days. Feeding and drinking become difficult, and many patients develop a secondary lung infection after about 8 days. Over 90% of infected wild rabbits die, but with careful nursing and veterinary treatment, the recovery rate for pet rabbits is a bit better than this. However, the illness can be very protracted, and some patients may take several weeks or months to recover, sometimes leaving problematic skin scarring.
Because of the importance of insects (mosquitos and fleas) in transmission of myxomatosis, steps to control these are important in avoiding the disease. Keep the hutch and bedding dry and clean so as not to attract mosquitoes. Consider using insect repellant strips and flea sprays etc. We have a very good and safe insecticide for use in the hutch available at the surgery. It is also important to treat your dogs and cats with a good flea treatment, as they can pick up fleas from wild rabbits and bring them home.
It is most important to vaccinate pet rabbits every year against myxomatosis. A single injection is given on each occasion. The optimum time for this is in the mid-late summer so that protection is maximum when the disease is most common. The patient will not be made poorly, but some rabbits will develop a small nodule where the injection was given.