Written by: Alison Laurie, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness
Now that the weather is finally warming up, there are a few serious conditions that we need to be aware of to keep your pet Rabbit healthy over the spring /summer months.
Here is some advice on how to reduce the risks of disease, what disease symptoms to look out for and when to seek Veterinary treatment to help keep your Rabbit safe and healthy over the summer ahead.
This potentially fatal disease is sadly now well established in the UK. The wild Rabbit population acts as a strong and continual reservoir for this virus to thrive and spread and go on to infect the pet Rabbit population. Symptoms are severe and range from inflamed, swollen eyelids and genitals, a white profuse discharge from the eyes, lethargy and inappetance, progressing rapidly to more severe swellings and crusting around the head, eyes, ears and face. Affected Rabbits do deteriorate very quickly and normally do not survive this horrific disease.
Myxomatosis is spread via vectors, generally biting insects e.g. fleas and mosquitoes. The vector then transmits the virus from an infected wild Rabbit to a healthy pet Rabbit and then from infected pet Rabbit to another if there is more than one Rabbit in the household. It is impossible to provide a healthy environment for pet Rabbits that is completely free from the potential vectors; however, there are ways to significantly reduce the risk of this aggressive disease.
The control of biting insects is very important as a preventative to reduce the spread of infection, and so regular, ongoing adequate flea control in pet Rabbits is vital. A Spot on preventative flea treatment can be applied monthly onto the skin over the back of the neck area.
It is really important though that you ask for your Vets advice on appropriate safe flea treatments for your Rabbit, as some of the flea treatment products used for dogs and cats can be poisonous to Rabbits.
Vaccination against Myxomatosis is by far the best way to prevent this dreadful disease. The Myxo vaccine is also now combined with the RHD1 vaccine which protects Rabbits against the RHD1 strain of viral haemorrhagic diarrhoea. This combined vaccine requires to be boosted annually in order for it to provide adequate protection lifelong.
RHD /Viral Haemorrhagic Disease
RHD or Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is caused by the RHD virus. This virus is highly contagious and can be fatal to un-vaccinated rabbits. Both outdoor AND indoor rabbits are equally at risk. RHD is highly infectious and contagious and there are two strains. It can be spread by direct and indirect contact with infected rabbits and by biting insects. There is a vaccine protection available within the annual Myxo /RHD combined vaccine protecting against Myxomatosis and the RHD1 strain given annually.
The second strain: RHD2 strain of the virus can now be protected against by a new separate vaccination which is given every 6 months. It is important to consider this additional protection as this new strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease can produce a wide range of clinical signs varying from simple gut stasis (an immotile gut) to rapid death, so vaccine protection is advised. It is recommended that an interval of 14 days should be left between the normal annual combined Myxo/RHD vaccination and the new RHD2 vaccine.
Flies, usually greenbottles, are attracted to rabbits that have dirty bottoms due to faecal matting and clumping or urine staining in this area. The flies are attracted to the faeces and urine, the flies then lay eggs which can hatch within 12 hours to maggots. Maggots can then do an enormous amount of severe tissue damage to the flesh under the rabbits’ skin.
Fly strike is a really serious problem and is potentially fatal in rabbits. Maggots can spread very quickly and often severe damage has been done before symptoms are noticed. For some affected rabbits the Fly strike is too advanced to treat and for these cases, sadly, euthanasia is the only humane option. For others that are less severely affected treatment may be offered, however this treatment is generally intensive and costly involving days of hospitalisation, nursing care and medications. Clearly prevention and the early detection of Fly strike is vital to avoid a tragic outcome for your pet.
To avoid Fly strike we advise that you check your Rabbits bottom for any faecal clumping or urine staining around that area at least once a day particularly in the summer months. Faecal matting or clumping can be due to an inappropriate diet, to gut stasis (inactive gut motility), to diarrhoea which may be secondary to other disease processes or to dental disease, obesity or old age. It is important that if you note that your Rabbit does tend to have faecal matting as a consistent problem, that you do arrange for an appointment with your Vet for a thorough check up , including a dental examination, to try and establish the underlying cause of this, as this problem will predispose your pet Rabbit to Fly strike. Also if there is any evidence of urine staining or scalding around the bottom area then again a Vet check is advised as this also indicates a likely health problem.
Fly Repellent Treatments
Fly repellent treatments are available as liquid applications that you apply with a sponge applicator over your Rabbits back. The treatments each last for 10 weeks, so usually two applications are advised to be applied over the spring / summer months. Also you can provide fly papers in and mosquito netting around the hutch area.
Flies do tend to be attracted to warm, damp, dirty environments. So do ensure that your Rabbit's hutch is aired and regularly cleaned and that you provide fresh, clean bedding with a good quality clean hay kept off the hutch floor in a hay net or holder and do provide fresh food and remove any uneaten old food daily and always provided fresh daily drinking water.
For good professional advice on Rabbit care, husbandry and preventative healthcare treatments and vaccinations do contact your Vet for an initial health check-up consultation and for advice on appropriate treatments for your Rabbit.