Rabbit Diseases - Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis in rabbit
  • Myxomatosis is caused by the myxoma virus which is a kind of pox virus. There are different strains of the virus which vary in their virulence (basically the ability to cause disease).
  • Greatest risk factors are for those pet rabbits who lives outside, especially if they may have any contact with wild rabbits or hares. Pet rabbits affected by rabbit fleas are also at very high risk.
  • Although the disease depends on the strain of myxoma virus, it is usually severe and almost always fatal.

    • Transmission:
    • Blood-sucking insects, including mosquitoes, fleas, lice, ticks, and mites, are the main method of spread.
    • Direct transmission is possible, usually by the aerosol route. Those rabbits infected via this route usually develop nasal & eye discharges as part of the disease process.
    • Transmission is also possible via infected hutches or enclosures.
    • An owner may spread the virus from one rabbit to another.

    • The diagnosis of myxomatosis is made through observing the clinical signs, biopsies of the lesions, and virus isolation.
    • In many cases, because the rabbit dies suddenly, the diagnosis is made post-mortem (after death).

      Myxomatosis(swelling of genitalia) Symptoms:
    • The initial signs of myxomatosis are similar to that of conjunctivitis.
    • The rabbit's eyes, mouth and nose become moist and swollen.
    • The genitalia area also becomes swollen. This appearance rapidly becomes more marked and is accompanied by a milky ocular discharge.
    • The rabbit becomes listless and loses its appetite.
    • It may have a fever that frequently reaches 42°C.
    • A characteristic sign at this stage is drooping and swollen ears.
    • Approximately 2 weeks after the clinical signs appear breathing may become laboured, and the rabbit can go into a coma leading to death.
    • In acute outbreaks, some rabbits may die within 48 hours after signs appear.

    • If you suspect your rabbit to have myxomatosis contact your veterinarian immediately.
    • If a rabbit is affected by the aggressive form of myxomatosis, its chances of survival are close to zero. It is then recommended to humanely put the affected animal to sleep.
    • If treatment is chosen, intensive care over a longer period of time is needed. It is important to keep the sick rabbit in a warm environment.
    • Eyes and ears must be regularly cleaned. As much fluids and food should be given to the rabbit as possible, even if the rabbit is drinking good amounts of water by itself.
    • Skin tumors can be removed surgically.
    • Unfortunately, secondary complications often appear. The most common one are respiratory disease and pneumonia, due to secondary infection by Pasteurella sp. or Staphylococcus sp.
    • Rabbit that suffer a chronic form of myxomatosis recover by themselves.
    • Antibiotics can be given to avoid respiratory complications.
    • Your vet may also recommend that you remove and destroy all bedding or housing materials after infection has been confirmed.

      Rabbit suffering from myxomatosis Prevention:
    • It is the rabbit owner's responsibility to try and prevent pet rabbit contracting myxomatosis.
    • The best way to prevent myxomatosis is to control external parasites such as mosquitoes, fleas, and mites.
    • Rabbits should be kept indoors, if possible, especially during the peak insect seasons of the year, and at dawn and dusk, when many insects, such as mosquitoes, are more active.
    • An easy way to prevent infestation is to use one of several topical insecticides designed especially for rabbits.
    • Rabbits can be vaccinated against Myxomatosis from six weeks of age onwards. The vaccine may not completely prevent myxomatosis, but does reduce the severity of the disease, and vaccinated rabbits generally recover.
    • Don't take rabbits to fairs, shows, or any other places where rabbits are brought together when an outbreak is underway.
    • Quarantine sick rabbits and take steps to prevent direct transmission via your clothes, food dishes, and other supplies. Place mosquito netting over infected rabbits' cages.
    • Quarantine rabbits that have been exposed to the virus for 14 days.
    • Carefully planned prevention is the best way to ensure your rabbit is protected from this highly contagious, virulent disease.