Not forgetting our small furry friends…..

This month we thought we should provide some information about our small furry friends – rabbits! The population of pet rabbits was estimated at 1 million in 2015, being the third most common house hold pet.

Just like cats and dogs we recommend vaccinations for your rabbit. Alongside other preventative health regimes including frequent health checks with your local vet to check their weight, teeth and have a general discussion about your rabbits’ health.

The basic vaccinations provide protection (which like all vaccines is never 100% but it helps to reduce the symptoms and severity of the disease) against Myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD 1). More recently a second strain of the viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD 2) has emerged. RVHD1 is a disease which can cause massive internal bleeding with few signs of outward disease. Often owners think they have died of a heart attack or heat stroke. We often are unable to diagnose these cases as they die so suddenly.

Transmission of RVHD occurs by direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly with their urine or faeces. The virus can survive for months within the environment. The virus could enter your gardens by many ways including:

  • Hay which you feed your rabbit, which was grown in a field with wild rabbits who had the disease.
  • Birds or insect can transport the virus on their feet onto the grass your rabbit grazes
  • The virus maybe blow on the wind
  • The virus maybe brought in by you on your shoes or hands.

Therefore we always recommend ensuring you wash your hands both before and after handling your small furry pets including rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters.

RVHD 2 strain can also be fatal but can have a slower disease progression which may causes your rabbit to become ill without sudden death. The problem is the vaccination against RVHD 1 cannot provide protection for rabbits against the RVHD 2. In the last 18 months this disease has become widespread across the UK.

If your rabbit is already vaccinated with the usual vaccination consider having a discussion with your local vet about the vaccine to provide cover against RVHD 2 strain. If your rabbit shows any signs of being unwell, non-specific illness please contact your local vet as soon as possible. RVHD is a difficult disease to diagnose and often there is a very narrow window for us to provide supportive treatment especially if the rabbit becomes infected with RVHD 2.

Article by Aimee Barker MA VetMB MRCVS