Rabbits have a mixed history in Australia. They are adorable pets but there is also a significant feral population that causes huge amounts of damage to our country. Myxomatosis, caused by the myxoma virus, was released in 1950 to control this feral population. It was the world’s first biological control of a pest mammal and was very successful. Over time many wild rabbits in Australia became resistant to infection and it is no longer as effective a control mechanism. Unfortunately pet rabbits have not undergone the same natural selection as wild rabbits and are still highly susceptible to myxomatosis and if they catch it they are very, very likely to die. It doesn’t matter how big, tough, healthy or strong your rabbit is, they have no defense against myxomatosis.
Infection is often seasonal. Warm wet weather, SUCH AS WE HAVE HAD RECENTLY can create ideal conditions by encouraging wild rabbit and mosquito breeding.
Infections spill over from the wild rabbits into pet rabbits, usually transmitted by mosquitoes but also potentially by fleas as well or by close contact with an infected rabbit.
The virus causes swelling and discharge from the eyes, nose and under the tail of infected rabbits. Most rabbits die within one to two weeks, however severe strains of the virus may cause them to die before the usual signs appear.
Very sadly, Inner South Veterinary Center has already seen one fatal case of myxomatosis this year.
So what can be done to protect our bunnies?
Vaccination would be ideal but is unavailable in Australia. Vaccinations are used overseas but are forbidden in Australia because concern exists that these viruses could potentially spread from vaccinated rabbits into the wild rabbits and interfere with biological control by myxomatosis.
At this stage there is no alternative to live virus vaccines for protecting rabbits against myxomatosis.
So what is left for our pet rabbits!
Prevention, prevention, prevention. All we can do is minimise the contact our pet rabbits could have with mosquitos, fleas or wild rabbits. This means:
- bringing bunnies indoors at dawn and dusk – peak mozzie times. Limit standing water such as in the bottom of pots as it acts as a reservoir for mosquito larva. Net outdoor hutches with fine netting to protect outdoor rabbits.
- use flea control on all pets in the home – cats, dogs, ferrets, guinea pigs, rabbits. REVOLUTION is safe to use in rabbits and guinea pigs but other products can be dangerous.
- Pet bunnies are unlikely to be fraternising with wild rabbits but remember – these relationships are not ok!
Calicivirus is another biological control mechanism used to reduce the wild rabbit population. This disease is just as deadly as myxomatosis but there is an excellent vaccination available. If your rabbit is not up to date, book them in for vaccination today! Vaccinations must be administered every six months.
Read more about Calicivirus in our blog about Rabbit Vaccinations.