What is myxomatosis?

The disease myxomatosis is a kind of pox virus that affects rabbits. This virus was introduced to Australia from South America in the 1950s as a way of killing the wild rabbit population.

What are the signs of myxomatosis?

The first sign is puffy swelling around the head and face. ‘Sleepy eyes’ are a classic sign along with swollen lips, swellings on the inside of the ear and puffy swelling around the bottom and genitals. Within a day or so, these swellings can become so severe they cause blindness.

What breeds of rabbit are affected?

All breeds of rabbit are affected. While wild rabbits in Australia have developed a partial genetic resistance to the disease from a long history of exposure, domestic rabbits are highly susceptible.

How does the disease spread?

Myxomatosis is mainly spread by blood-sucking insects like mosquitos. Rabbit fleas, which are commonly found on wild rabbits, also spread the disease.

Once a rabbit has myxomatosis, it can also transmit the virus to other rabbits via direct contact.  Secretions from the eyes and nose contain high levels of the virus.

What is the incubation period of myxomatosis?

The incubation period varies from one animal to another, but can be as short as three days and as long as 21 days. The incubation period is the time from the point of introduction of the virus into the animal to the first time that clinical signs of illness are seen.

Do all affected rabbits die?

In Australia, approximately 99% of domestic rabbits infected with myxomatosis die. Some may die within 48 hours of getting sick from shock and fluid on the lungs.

Is there anything that can be done for a rabbit with myxomatosis?

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for myxomatosis. Given that virtually all infected rabbits will die, the kindest thing to do for a sick rabbit is for a vet to put them to sleep humanely so they don’t suffer.

How can the disease be controlled?

The only way to protect your pet bunny from myxomatosis is to make sure they cannot be bitten by mosquitos and fleas that carry the virus.

Keep your rabbits inside from dusk until dawn, or cover the cage with mosquito-proof wire mesh. Isolate your pets from wild rabbits so they can’t catch rabbit fleas.

Isn’t there a vaccine?

A vaccination against myxomatosis is available in the UK and Europe. This vaccine has not been released in Australia for fear that the immunity will be transmitted to wild rabbits.

Can my other pets catch myxomatosis?

Only rabbits can catch myxomatosis. People, dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, ferrets, and other pets are not at risk.

If you have seen any of the signs of myxomatosis in your pet rabbit, contact your nearest Greencross Vets immediately.

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