Being docile and lovable a rabbit fits best in the definition of the pet. But a dread comes across to minds of rabbit owners with the name of deadly viral disease in rabbits known as myxomatosis. Myxomatosis in rabbits is increasing day by day. Unfortunately, the disease is one of the rabbit diseases with the highest fatality rate.
What is myxomatosis?
Myxomatosis or myxi is a severe and fatal disease in the European rabbits caused by a poxvirus named as myxoma virus. The disease is highly fatal and deadly with a fatality rate of 95 % to 100%. Unfortunately, until now, there is no known universal treatment available for myxomatosis in rabbits. The disease is transmitted by biting-insects mostly by mosquitos and fleas. Vaccination is available but it doesn’t ensure a hundred percent of protection. So, prevention is the key to avoid the disease.
History of Myxomatosis
Back in 1950, the myxoma virus was introduced to control the population of wild rabbits. The disease introduced, worked very well in the beginning but over time some rabbits developed the immunity against disease and stared again to grow their population. The disease is still present in wild rabbits and causing mortality. Hence, myxoma virus can transmit to other rabbits it imposes a high risk to pet rabbits. Unluckily, pet rabbits have no immunity against the fatal infection and it leads to death in almost all cases with un-vaccinated rabbits.
Signs and Symptoms of Myxomatosis
At the beginning of the infection, the rabbit shows symptoms as conjunctivitis or swelling of the conjunctiva (inner surface of the eyelid) and also swelling of genital organs. Then it can lead to fever following there can be an ocular charge of milky nature. During these signs and symptoms, the rabbit will lose appetite and becomes lazy and lethargic. The condition leads to laboured breathing and ultimately to death. It takes almost 10 to 15 days from the appearance of clinical signs and death.
How myxomatosis spreads?
There are two routes for the transmission of the virus from one rabbit to another. These include spread through insects and direct transmission.
Insects can carry the myxoma virus mechanically and cause the spread of disease. Mostly mosquitos and fleas are involved in the transmission of disease but other insects such as flies, mites etc can also cause the spread of the disease. So, the weather conditions that support insect breeding will also support the spread of disease.
The disease in rabbits can also spread by direct contact. The virus has observed in animal’s secretions and skin patches. The semen and genital secretions also harbour the deadly virus. Myxoma virus is stable in the environment and can live outside the host for 40 days.
Most often, diagnosis is made based on the signs and symptoms of the disease. Myxoma virus has different strains with the variable virulence degree. Some protocols are available for the identification of the virus. PCR techniques can be utilized to identify the virus by taking sample swabs from nasal and genital secretions.
Unfortunately, there is no available specific treatment for the disease. The virus is highly fatal and has a very high case fatality rate. Moreover, pet rabbits have almost zero immunity against the disease. Vaccinated rabbits can survive the disease if given proper medical care like fluid therapies and supportive medicines. The rabbit can suffer even more with the treatment by prolonging the condition, due to the reason your Vet may consider euthanasia to sleep your rabbit calmly.
Vaccine for myxi in rabbits is available in some countries. In the UK, vaccination should be done and repeated after every six months. In Australia, the vaccine for myxomatosis is banned due to fear that the vaccine can increase the population of wild rabbits.
The vaccine doesn’t provide with hundred per cent of protection but it has been observed that vaccinated rabbits have mild disease and can make a recovery with supportive care. Vaccination always plays a crucial role for pets’ health whether it’s a dog, cat or any other pet.
What should I do for my rabbit with myxomatosis?
If you are observing symptoms and signs of myxomatosis in your pet rabbit, visit your Veterinarian immediately.
My rabbit has myxomatosis, are my other pets (guinea pig, rats) at risk?
No, myxomatosis can affect rabbits only and your other pets can’t catch the disease.
Can rabbit owner catch myxomatosis?
No, myxomatosis is not a zoonotic disease and can not transfer from the pet to its owner. But, be careful, myxomatosis is a highly contagious disease that can affect other rabbits as well. So, if you have infected rabbit, quarantine it immediately and wash the rabbit hutch and other material with bleach or any disinfectant (do not allow other rabbits ingest the disinfectant).
How can I prevent the myxomatosis in rabbits?
Prevention is the best practice to avoid myxomatosis in rabbits as there is no treatment option available.
- Avoid mosquitos and flies by covering the rabbit hutch with insect-free net or cloth.
- Use flea repellents (you have to ask your veterinarian for this because many flea preventives can affect the health of rabbit, we recommend always use repellents particularly made for rabbits)
- In the disease-endemic area, keep your rabbits indoor with proper monitoring for symptoms.
- Wash the rabbit hutch with disinfectant carefully and don’t let rabbits ingest the disinfectant.
- Quarantine infected rabbits.
- If your rabbit dies with myxomatosis then wait at least four months before taking the new one to home.
- Vaccinate your rabbits against myxomatosis.
Hammad Ali is pursuing his carrier in veterinary medicine and loves to write about pets and animals. Being a veterinary professional and freelance writer, he spends most of his time with pet parents and top-notch veterinary professionals debating pet’s lifestyle. After thorough research, he provides practical science-based informative tips to his audience for making their pet lives cheerful. Besides that, you can also find him in a library or backyard with a cup of tea.