Myxomatosis is a viral infection in rabbits that is caused by the myxoma virus. The virus is usually spread by mosquitoes and fleas. This disease is known to be infectious and fatal. Both domesticated and wild rabbits can get infected with myxomatosis.
Signs and Symptoms of Myxomatosis
Myxomatosis is occasionally misdiagnosed as pasteurellosis (a bacterial infection that can sometimes be transferred to humans through scratches or bites, which is treatable with antibiotics). This is because both infections share the same symptoms.
- Sudden illness
- Loss of appetite
The disease can be fatal and if left treated, the rabbit can die within fourteen days from the time the symptoms manifested. In extreme cases, the rabbit can die within forty-eight hours of acquiring the infection. Other signs and symptoms include:
- The face may become swollen.
- Ears and other body parts that are usually upright are starting to become droopy.
- Thick yellowish pus may come out from the nose.
- Swollen genitals and/or anal area.
A rabbit can only draw breath through its nose; therefore, the swelling and the thick liquid discharge will cause breathing difficulties.
Depending on the strain of the virus and the immunity, some random nodules and lumps known as myxomas may appear in the rabbit’s body. Usually seen in wild rabbits, these lumps may help the rabbit become immune to the virus.
Causes of Myxomatosis
Although this virus is usually spread by mosquitoes and fleas, other bloodsucking/biting insects such as lice, flies, and mites can also transmit the disease to rabbits. Other possible causes of myxomatosis in rabbits include:
- Transmission of the virus via air
- Direct rabbit to rabbit contact
- Indirect contact through food dishes, etc.
Treatment for Myxomatosis
Currently, there is no exact treatment for the disease, but supportive care can be provided to ease the symptoms. Rabbits with myxomatosis are given fluids, pain medication, and antibiotics, which will aid and prevent further infections.
Since domesticated rabbits or pet rabbits are most receptive to acquiring the virus, the vets would often recommend euthanasia. In rare instances, palliative care can help a healthy rabbit recover.
Susceptibility to Myxomatosis
90% of the domestic rabbit population is susceptible to myxomatosis. The wild rabbit population’s exposure to myxoma has made them resistant with only 40% susceptible to the infection.
The best way to protect your rabbits from getting infected with myxomatosis is by making sure that your beloved rabbit is not exposed to insects, bugs, or parasites that carry the disease. With that said, there are other measures that can help prevent the infection from spreading.
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- Get your rabbit vaccinated
In the UK, you can get your rabbit vaccinated for myxomatosis. Although this method will not entirely put an end to the viral infection, it can reduce the potency of the virus. Vaccinated rabbits are more likely to recover from the infection. It is recommended that rabbits that are six weeks old be given the vaccine annually. With the vaccine, their immunity will develop within fourteen days. However, in areas where myxomatosis happens frequently, a rabbit has to be vaccinated every six months. This vaccine has been available since 2012 along with the vaccine for hemorrhagic disease in rabbits.
- Try to avoid mosquitoes and/or other bloodsucking insects as much as possible
If you can, stay away from areas that are infested with mosquitoes. It is also best to keep your rabbits indoors.
- Use flea control
Insects will always find a way to get indoors, but they can be eliminated by using a flea control remedy such as selamectin, which is suitable for rabbits. Do consult your vet about this as you are going to need a prescription as some repellents can be dangerous to your rabbit’s health.
- Avoid direct contact between rabbits
When there is a myxomatosis outbreak, avoid attending shows, fairs, and other gatherings that involve rabbits interacting with other rabbits.
- Quarantine exposed and sick rabbits.
Quarantine rabbits that were exposed to infected rabbits for at least fourteen days. Check to see if they are displaying signs of myxomatosis.
Interested in rabbits? Read more about these furry, adorable creatures here!