Cats and dogs still top the charts as the most popular pets in the UK, however rabbits aren’t all that far behind, with more than 1.5 million rabbits being kept as companions. And just like cats and dogs, there are diseases that rabbits should be vaccinated against in order to provide them with the best chance of a long, healthy life. Making that annual trip to the vets is vitally important for rabbits, but the benefits aren’t limited to protection from infectious diseases!
The health check
In order to be successful, vaccinations need to be given to a healthy rabbit; one whose immune system is working effectively. Vaccinations work by kick-starting an immune reaction in response to an inert version of the disease against which the protection is intended. The clever part is that the body will recognise the organism in the event of being exposed to the actual disease thereafter, mounting a similar response and overcoming the disease. A rabbit’s immune system must be in balance and it’s the vet’s job to ensure this is the case by assessing the rabbit’s health status.
But the health check at vaccination appointments is so much more. Our vets will check a rabbit from nose to tail and pick up on any early signs of health issues that could cause problems later down the line. Classic examples are checking the length and shape of a rabbit’s teeth, looking for signs of parasites and assessing body condition.
It is an opportunity for your vet to advise you on the correct diet for your rabbit, how to keep them free of conditions such as fly strike and what their exercise, housing and companion requirements are. Rabbits have very specific needs which change year on year as they grow older. It is your time to quiz us with any questions you might have also, and report anything unusual or concerning you might have noticed about your rabbits. Therefore checking in with the vet on an annual basis can help you plan your rabbit’s health and well-being needs for the year ahead.
It goes without saying that the vaccination element of these consultations is really important too. There a number of diseases that can cause grave suffering to a rabbit and which commonly result in fatality. The two important ones are myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) strains 1 and 2.
Myxomatosis causes swelling to the eyes, ears and genitals as well causing fever. It is likely that your rabbit will be lethargic and unwilling to eat if they contract this disease, you’ve probably seen wild rabbits with myxomatosis in a sorry state, some blind and seemingly frozen with confusion due to the swelling over their head. Viral haemorrhagic disease will sometimes show itself with bleeding from the nose, mouth and rear-end, lethargy and inappetence. However, it can cause such rapid deterioration that a rabbit dies with no symptoms at all, which can be quite shocking for an owner. Both are cruel and unpleasant diseases best prevented.
So if your rabbits aren’t mixing with wild rabbits or other domestic rabbits, how do they contract these diseases? It is a question that we are commonly asked. Whilst we think that a rabbit’s environment is reasonably well controlled, determined by the owner, there are a number of things that are simply beyond that control. Take myxomatosis for example, it is spread by mobile insects such as fleas, flies and mosquitoes, all of which are near impossible to keep from a rabbit’s environment. A fly has only to make contact with an infected rabbit, and in turn make contact with your bunny, to effectively spread the infection.
VHD is highly infectious and can also be spread by flying insects as well as infected objects such as shoes and even humans who have been in contact with other infected rabbits or rabbit faeces. So even a walk in the countryside could be a risk factor for introducing this unpleasant disease to your rabbits at home.