Myxomatosis is a viral disease that’s very dangerous to your pet rabbit. If your rabbit develops it, you must consider that it’s fatal 99% of the time. It’s wise to be educated about it so that in case it strikes your pet, you are prepared to deal with it.
Myxomatosis in rabbits—sometimes referred to as myxi is akin to the smallpox virus that once affected humans. While smallpox was eradicated by 1977, myxi and other animal poxes still decimate their various categories of victims. It’s heartbreaking to know that over fifty years ago, authorities introduced the virus in Australia as a way to decrease the vast numbers of wild rabbits. It seemed like a good way to keep rabbits from devouring agricultural crops and reducing soil erosion, but the disease got out of hand and infected the domestic rabbit population.
It not only spreads from rabbit to rabbit but also through the bites of fleas, mosquitoes, and Cheyletiella fur mites. There have even been documented cases of wind-borne infection.
The onset of illness occurs suddenly. An infected rabbit develops a high fever and shows signs of conjunctivitis, meaning the eyes are red and runny. Areas of the rabbit’s body that contain mucous membranes become swollen, including the nose, mouth, genital, and anal areas. Because the tissues in the ears are affected, the ears will droop. Rabbits often develop infections secondary to the virus, especially along the affected membranes. You might notice the thick white or yellow discharge of pus from his nose or other openings.
Fatality occurs in anywhere between two days to two weeks.
As soon as your rabbit develops symptoms, you should take him to a vet. There are several disorders with similar symptoms, so possibly your rabbit will be diagnosed with something less deadly. Vent disease, which is a form of syphilis in rabbits, as well as hutch burn, caused when the floor of a rabbit’s dwelling is not clean from waste products, cause some of the same symptoms. Any eye or ear infection can initially look like myxomatosis. Immediate treatment is important so that you will know what condition you’re dealing with.
If, in fact, your rabbit is diagnosed with myxomatosis, there will not be much relief that can be offered, even by the vet. Possibly the vet will offer comfort measures, such as the administration of fluids, intravenously or subcutaneously (injections of fluid beneath the skin), along with antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. Keep the animal warm and bathe his eyes and other infected tissues. In most cases the vet will recommend euthanising the pet, and while it’s difficult to accept such a recommendation, it’s better not to let the animal suffer.
There are rare cases when a rabbit survives the initial bout of symptoms. If he contracts a weakened strain of myxi or has a natural immunity to the virus, you might notice that the symptoms of respiratory infection are not as obvious as the lumps that form on the rabbit’s body, especially near the mucous membranes. The lumps are actually noncancerous tumors and nodules, and if your pet exhibits these symptoms he may show an ability to fight off the disease. If your vet recommends euthanasia, do not prolong the animal’s suffering by holding out hope that he will reach this stage.
There is an interesting case which touches on a small ray of hope for Rabbits with Myxomatosis.
A Letter from a vet who may have discovered treatment
“I am a vet in Australia. I am writing to tell you of an interesting success I have had in treating my bunnies that caught myxi.
I had three bunnies and a 12 month old hare that I reared. One bunny I euthanised after 13 days with Myxi symptoms, the hare died. The second bunny that had symptoms, Littlebunny, I was nursing and dosing 3-4 times daily with a witches brew of vits (vitamins), antioxidants, immune stimulants, etc. and giving sub q fluids and antibiotics. He lost significant weight and was having to mouth breathe (making it too risky to orally medicate anymore) by three weeks into the disease. He was a mass of lesions distorting eyes and nares (nasal passages), and his body and genitals were covered in lesions. At this time my third bunny, Bigbunny, had symptoms for 4 days – swollen reddened eyes with a number of lesions on lid margins and ears.
At this point I thought of trying the Vetrepharm product, Equimune IV, a acterial cell wall fraction immune-stimulant registered in Australia for treatment of Equine Respiratory Tract Infections of viral origin, but used off-label here for things like FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus), demodex (a genus of tiny parasitic mites that live in or near hair follicles of mammals), parvo (Parvovirus, all strains will affect dogs, wolves and foxes; but only some will affect cats) , prostate cancer, bladder tumours, and other debilitating conditions in small animals.
I gave my bunnies 0.25ml IV into lateral ear vein once weekly. Littlebunny was pretty debilitated at the start of this treatment but while not showing any improvement, he remained in good spirits, continued to eat and did not lose any more weight. I did continue his Baytril s/c in courses of 10 days broken by 5-7days. He required no other time consuming nursing apart from cleaning and medicating eyes bid (twice a day). Today he is 10-11 weeks with the disease and in the last 10 days the lesions have been shrinking and falling off eyelids. He has gained a little weight and despite still being a bit snuffly, I think is on the mend. I believe without Equimune I would have had to euthanise him before end of 4th week.
Bigbunny is the big excitement- there was no progression of symptoms from the commencement of treatment with Equimune. His eye lesions may have reddened a little some days but for the most settled down and certainly there was no spread. He never skipped a beat and was a happy unaffected fat bunny throughout – maybe a few sniffly days but pretty much a walk in the park. By 4-5th week his eye lesions were resolving and he was a normal bunny.
Neither of my bunnies have been vaccinated for myxi – the vax (vaccine) not avail in Australia. It is no scientific trial by any means but it would appear that caught early with Equimune, Bigbunny didn’t develop full blown symptoms. And I know Littlebunny would not be alive without those weekly injections.
The Vetrepharm rep tells me injections at 10 day intervals would have been sufficient and probably only 4 injections necessary. I guess I will still continue the injections for Littlebunny until all lesions and respiratory signs are gone.
Vetrepharm is a Canadian company – you can find it on the web and get info on their products: Regressin-V, Immunoboost, Equimune IV. We only have the Equimune in Australia I think.
The rep tells me they have cured Bladder tumours in dogs infusing it by urinary catheter, cured prostate cancer in dogs, cured a doberman with a malignant melanoma in the chest, cured a cat with FIV. I have had good results in a pup with parvo.
I think the website :www.bioniche.com will give distributor info in UK.
I think it is worth trying and considering there was no intensive nursing necessary – just good housing and food, it is a cheap treatment, especially if my bunnies are now with good immunity to meet future challenge as good or better than being vaxd (vaccinated).
In my funny way of thinking- if this success (Bigbunny’s experience) is repeatable it might be better to take bunnies to a myxi party and treat with equimune than annual vaxs – like my mother did with us as kids to get things like chickenpox and measles. I only have 2 bunnies and pet bunnies are prohibited in my State so I can’t call for other bunnies with myxi to do a proper trial. And I would never deliberately infect bunnies with myxi for experiment anyway. I might be able to get a vet in another state to call for bunnies with myxi to test this treatment.”
Vetrepharm is a Canadian company and you can find out more information about their products:
Regressin-V, Immunoboost, Equimune IV. We only have the Equimune IV
If your rabbit has myxomatosis, ask your vet to Give This a TRY! And please leave comments at the bottom of the page regarding your experiences.
The best way to keep your animal safe from myxomatosis is to prevent the likelihood that he will contract it.
Consider an indoor hutch for your rabbit. Outdoor hutches do not protect your pet from weather or predators. You also have to consider that an outdoor hutch cannot keep out mosquitoes or fleas that spread the disease, unless you use fly wire.
If you must keep your pet housed outdoors, be certain to institute these protective steps:
Drain any pools of standing water on your property or near the hutch.
Install insect screens to the openings of the hutch.
Ask your vet to recommend a spray or powder that will help repel mosquitoes.
Have your pet checked regularly for infestation by mites.
Outdoor housing is not an option if you have a dog that hunts wild rabbits; it’s an open invitation to infection.
Likewise, do not house your pet outdoors if there is an active wild rabbit population in the vicinity.
Danger of infection increases at times of monsoon or rains that attract and harbor mosquito colonies. You may not keep pet rabbits in Queensland.
This video covers the effects of myxomatosis in Rabbits and some general tips…
Availability of Vaccine
Sadly, vaccinations are not available in many places, including Australia as well as the United States.
The very irritating statement by the Australian chief veterinary officer can be found Here.
Basically it all comes back to the “Estimated 206 million dollars in annual loses” – That is why Myxomatosis virus still exists and there is no vaccine available in Australia.
In the United Kingdom, myxomatosis vaccinations are administered.
However, they are manufactured with modified live viruses, which is the reason why some other countries will not approve them. The chance is too great that a vaccinated rabbit will spread infection to others. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) maintains that the availability of a vaccine depends on its development by the pharmaceutical companies that are working on this. Fertility control vaccines have been considered but are not yet viable options.
It’s also worth noting that the myxi virus has the ability to mutate—to change itself when rabbits begin to develop immunity.
The dissemination of the myxomatosis and rabbit hemorrhagic viruses to eradicate wild rabbit populations continues today. Government authorities believe the economic and ecological benefits outweigh the risks to the domestic rabbit population.
Why not allow pet rabbit owners to purchase a vaccine for myxomatosis?
Even if pet owners have to register their rabbits like cats & dogs so they can get a vaccine?
Alternatively, ban pet rabbits Australia Wide.
Seeing what this disease does first hand is heart breaking – for pet rabbit owners not to mention the millions of rabbits in the wild tortured by this painful disease.
GuineaPigCare.com.au was created to pass on the many lessons I've learned owning and caring for guinea pigs since 2007.If it helps just a few guinea pigs in the world live a happier and healthier life, then the site has done it's job.Wishing all animals in the world... The true respect they deserve.Cheers, Adrian @ GuineaPigCare.com.au