Myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) are two formidable dangers for rabbits. There is no treatment for these diseases, so vaccination is the only way to protect your pet. At what age and how often should I vaccinate? What type of vaccines should I give my little lagomorph?
Why vaccinate your rabbit?
Thanks to vaccination, domestic rabbits can be effectively protected against two diseases that are quite common in France, very contagious and particularly serious, even deadly: myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic disease (VHD). Although there is no effective treatment for these diseases, vaccines can reduce mortality by about 95% and considerably reduce the severity of symptoms. The annual vaccination is also a good opportunity to establish a complete health check-up of your pet with the veterinarian.
Vaccination against which diseases?
Even if your rabbit lives indoors and never leaves your home, it is likely to catch myxomatosis from biting insects and VHD from vegetables, hay or grass from outside. Here is an update on these two diseases.
Myxomatosis is inoculated by insect bites, ticks, fleas and certain mosquitoes and can be transmitted from one rabbit to another. Death occurs rapidly: within a week after contamination, or even within 48 hours for the most virulent forms. Appeared in France in the fifties, this very resistant virus manifests itself notably by the appearance of very visible symptoms:
Inflammation, swelling of the eyelids and conjunctivitis in the eyes;
Skin nodule (myxoma) on the face, eyes, ears and/or nose;
Swelling of the head and genitals;
Loss of appetite;
Fatigue, prostration of the rabbit.
The viral hemorrhagic disease
The viral hemorrhagic disease is transmitted directly between rabbits, but also by contact with humans, food, water or feces of contaminated animals. Contagion is possible by buying hay soiled with wild rabbit droppings, by bringing in fodder from outside, but also through contaminated materials/objects (clothes, hands, shoes…). In a lagomorph living indoors, the risk of contamination is lower but not zero, especially since the appearance of a new variant even more resistant (VHD2) in 2010. Leading to a fulgurating hepatitis (liver damage), VHD is not treatable and a certain death occurs within 24 to 48 hours after infection. After an incubation period of one to three days, symptoms are sudden and violent:
Hemorrhages (nasal, anal and oral), which give the disease its name, are observed in only 10% of affected rabbits. The animal can also die without having developed any symptoms. In this case, only an autopsy can confirm the cause.
What type of vaccination for your rabbit?
In 2012, a vaccine combining myxomatosis and VHD1 appeared on the market. This non-adjuvanted product limits the risk of side effects and allows for only one injection for two diseases. However, to ensure immunization against VHD2, another injection was required several weeks apart. Very recently, a new injectable product has been developed to reduce mortality and clinical signs due to myxomatosis and haemorrhagic disease of rabbits caused by classical strains of VHD1 virus and VHD type 2 virus.
When to vaccinate your rabbit ?
It is recommended to vaccinate your rabbit from the age of 5 weeks and then a booster shot should be given once a year, every 12 months (8 months in high-risk environments such as farms). After injection, the vaccine is not yet active, so it is necessary to wait 3 weeks to guarantee the immunization of the rabbit. During this period, the animal must be confined indoors and dewormed. Be careful, vaccination requires medical know-how: an inappropriate gesture can cause serious or even fatal consequences for the lagomorph. Only a veterinarian should inject the vaccines and note his intervention on the animal’s health record to foresee the recall dates.
Vaccination: what are the side effects in rabbits?
If the vaccine without adjuvant appeared limits the side effects, some rabbits may develop some reactions that usually disappear after a few days.
A small, benign, non-painful swelling at the injection site;
Loss of appetite.
Rabbit vaccination: are there any precautions to take?
As with any vaccine, those administered to animals temporarily weaken the immune system, which can lead to the development of another disease. This is why it is strongly recommended not to vaccinate a rabbit:
Weakened or sick;
Recently treated with corticosteroids;
Before or before undergoing surgery;