Protect your Rabbit from Myxomatosis

Diseased Pet Rabbit

Myxomatosis is an ever-increasing risk to pet rabbits. The disease is now seen all year round and recent outbreaks of the disease show that it is becoming more prevalent than ever.

What is Myxomatosis and what are the symptoms?

Myxomatosis (also known as Myxi for short) is a viral disease affecting rabbits. Both wild and domestic rabbits are susceptible to the disease and deaths in pets are reported every year. The Myxomatosis virus regularly mutates from year to year.

The most common form of Myxomatosis is seen in rabbits that haven’t been vaccinated. Treatment for confirmed cases is usually not very effective and so euthanasia is recommended as the kindest option.

Myxomatosis starts with runny eyes and swollen genitals. It rapidly progresses to a severe conjunctivitis, which causes blindness followed by swelling of the head and genital region, plus lumps on the body. Thick pus discharges from the nose and swollen eyes. There are also two typical forms of Myxomatosis: one causes pneumonia and a snuffles-like illness; the other mainly affects skin and carries a better prognosis.

If a vaccinated rabbit develops Myxomatosis, the disease is usually much less severe. Some rabbits develop just a few odd skin lesions and remain otherwise well; others become quite poorly and suffer from swellings and conjunctivitis more like classical Myxomatosis. Vaccination turns a fatal illness into one that is treatable.

How is it spread?

Myxomatosis is usually spread by biting insects (fleas, mosquitoes) carrying the virus. However, direct rabbit-to-rabbit spread can also happen.

Pet rabbits could contract Myxomatosis in a variety of ways:

  • Bites from mosquitoes
  • Bites from fleas carrying the Myxomatosis virus (fleas can survive for many months in hay)
  • Myxomatosis can also be spread by Cheyletiella fur mites

Is my rabbit at risk?

Myxomatosis poses a threat to all pet rabbits – but the highest risk group are rabbits living outside. This risk is even greater if they are exposed to the wild rabbit population.

Pet rabbits affected by rabbit fleas are also at very high risk – rabbit owners who also have a dog or cat that hunts wild rabbits (or foxes that visit the garden and nose around rabbit hutches) must be very careful, incase rabbit fleas are brought back to the pet bunny.

The Myxomatosis vaccination

Vaccination is a vital part of a package of measures you can take to protect your rabbit.
The Myxomatosis vaccine is made from a harmless virus called Shope Fibroma. Antibodies made in response to Shope Fibroma Virus also protect against Myxomatosis.

Vaccination can start from as young as 6 weeks of age, but only healthy rabbits should be vaccinated and the vaccine can’t be administered to pregnant animals.

Vaccination is recommended to be given every 12 months now.

Other ways to help prevent Myxomatosis in vaccinated rabbits

Even if your rabbit is vaccinated, you must also take steps to prevent biting insects getting to your rabbit.

  • Try to buy hay from farms free of Myxomatosis
  • Fit insect screens to outdoor hutches and runs
  • Eliminate standing water from your garden (and preferably the neighbours’ as well!) where mosquitoes could breed.
  • Be especially careful if you have a dog or cat that hunts wild rabbits, as they could bring rabbit fleas home on their noses!
  • Make sure that rabbits living outdoors cannot make contact with wild rabbits or hares.
  • If your rabbit has any signs of Cheyletiella fur mites (e.g. “dandruff” on the back of the neck, take him to the vet for treatment.)


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Fat Cat

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