A common question in the pet world is whether rabbits need to be vaccinated.
Rabbits do not need vaccines unless you live in Europe or Australia. In these locations, Myxomatosis and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease is common and spread easily between rabbits. Though available in Europe and Australia, these vaccines are illegal in the United States.
Find out why the vaccines for those sicknesses are legal in Europe and Australia but not the United States below!
Why Only Europe and Australia?
Vaccinations for the myxomatosis disease and the RVHD (Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) are required for all pet rabbits in Europe and Australia as these sicknesses are very common in wild rabbits. There was a point in time when myxomatosis was introduced to wild rabbits in France and Australia to control the growing population of rabbits.
The vaccines are mandatory for all domestic rabbits because these diseases are highly contagious. Any rabbit can contract these diseases after direct contact with a wild rabbit or other domestic rabbits for a short period of time. They may also get either of these diseases through mosquito bites.
In the United States, there has been an outbreak of myxomatosis and RVHD2 only in the Southwest. However, vaccines are not required for rabbits in the US because there is not much need for them. Also, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Center for Veterinary Biologics has not approved of the vaccines as of yet. In fact, importing any rabbit vaccines from Europe or Australia is illegal because it is a live vaccine instead of a killed one.
But even if you were to get the vaccine from somewhere in Europe, the vaccines in Europe and Australia are for a different strain of myxomatosis and RVHD2 than the one currently in the United States. Giving your rabbit a vaccine intended for the myxomatosis afflicting rabbits in Europe will not protect them against the disease in the US.
If you are located in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, or California, (these states have had cases of RVHD2 in the year 2020) reach out to your veterinarian to know if there are any cases of myxomatosis or RVHD2 in your area. You may eligible for the vaccines against these diseases. For the vaccines to be imported, a USDA-accredited vet must contact the State veterinarian with the documented case of myxomatosis or RVHD2 to receive the vaccines.
What Are Rabbits Being Vaccinated For?
There are two, sometimes three, diseases that rabbits are being vaccinated for. Unfortunately, if rabbits contract any of these diseases, there is nothing that can be done to cure them as there is no treatment yet.
This is a fatal virus that is transmitted through blood-sucking insects and direct contact with other animals that have the disease. Sadly, there is no treatment for this virus, and is fatal in most, if not all, rabbits. Recovery is extremely rare.
• Swelling around face, eyes, and ears
• Swelling around genitals and anus
• High fever
• Difficulty eating and drinking
Signs of the disease can take up to 14 days to manifest and is fatal.
Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease
Like myxomatosis, this disease was introduced to wild rabbits in Europe to help control the growing population. There have been more cases in wild rabbits in the United States recently. However, because it is most likely a different strain than the Europen disease, there is no legal vaccine available in the US.
This disease is spread through bloodsucking insects such as mosquitos and other infected rabbits. This is a very serious disease that is most often fatal. There is no current treatment, so vaccination is extremely important if you live in Europe.
• Loss of appetite
• Difficulty breathing
• Bleeding from mouth, nose, or rectum
• High fever
Unfortunately, some pet rabbits die without seeing any symptoms. The cause of death will be determined to be RVHD after the rabbit has died. Usually, if the rabbit was suffering from RVHD, there would be blood staining their nose and mouth.
Although there is not much known about this disease, rest assured that it does not affect rabbits under 6 weeks of age. Your little kits will be safe from this disease until they can get vaccinated.
That said, this disease typically is manifested in older rabbits. Be sure to keep up with the vaccinations to protect your older rabbits.
Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2
After first being detected in France, this disease spread quickly and replaced the first RVHD. It is now the prevalent strain of RVHD in Europe and Australia.
Symptoms of RVHD2 are the same as RVHD, but with two differences. First, RVHD2 is a sudden killer and often one of the only signs of the disease is sudden death. The disease will kill rabbits by killing the tissues in the liver and/or spleen. They may not show any other signs of the disease besides death.
Second, this disease affects all rabbits, not just the old ones. Your little kits are not safe from RVHD2 and will need to get vaccinated as soon as they can. Baby rabbits can get vaccinated 5 weeks after birth.
Though some rabbits have recovered from the virus, in most cases, it is fatal. If you are located in Europe, the vaccination for RVHD2 is a mandatory requirement for all domestic rabbits.
Because there is no cure or treatment for any of these diseases, there is little you can do. The most important thing to do is call your veterinarian if you have seen any or all of the symptoms listed. They will then direct you on what you should do.
DO NOT take your rabbit into a clinic if you believe your rabbit has any of these diseases unless directed by your vet. These diseases are highly contagious. If you enter a clinic that has other rabbits, the disease will spread quickly to other rabbits.
The best way you can help your rabbit is supportive care in isolation. Please keep your rabbit in isolation to prevent the spread of the disease. Doing so will protect other rabbits from getting the fatal virus.
Give your rabbit plenty of tender love and care during this difficult time. Remove any stress-inducing factors. Because rabbits become stressed easily, it would ideal if your rabbit could focus on resting and being comfortable instead of stressing about loud noises or intrusive pets.
If your rabbit suddenly dies, you will still want to contact your veterinarian to determine if it was one of these diseases that killed them. Cases of these diseases are tracked in Europe, Australia, and the United States to determine if new vaccines need to be developed and what kind of diseases are being spread throughout the country.
How Often Should You Vaccinate Your Rabbit?
Once rabbits reach 5 weeks of age, they are eligible for being vaccinated. However, that does not mean that once they are vaccinated they do not need any more shots. Rabbits will need to get a vaccination shot every year to protect against myxomatosis, RVHD, and RVHD2. The good news, though, is that the vaccine for RVHD will also protect against RVHD2. So, fewer shots!
The best time to be vaccinated is in the spring. With the diseases making a come back in summer and autumn, it makes sense to be vaccinated before the diseases make another appearance. But that does not mean you cannot get the vaccine any other time of the year. Please vaccinate your little rabbit every year.
How to Protect Against Diseases
There are many things you can do to protect your rabbit from diseases and many of these suggestions will not require a lot of change.
- Keep your rabbit indoors. Limiting the contact your rabbit has with bloodsucking insects will greatly decrease your rabbit’s chances of becoming infected.
- Wash your hands thoroughly. If you’ve been in contact with other rabbits or in pet stores where there are other animals, wash your hands before handling your rabbit.
- Know where your hay is coming from. Do not get hay that has been grown or stored outside in an outbreak area. Any contact with the disease will easily spread to your rabbit.
- Limit contact with other rabbits. Though your rabbit may like company, don’t let them spend time with other rabbits if there has been an outbreak in your area. Any of these diseases are highly contagious.
- Groom your rabbit at home. Learn how to trim their nails and groom them at home so that you are not taking them into a clinic where they are more likely to catch the disease.
- Do not feed your rabbit anything from outside. This includes your garden. Any plants, grasses, or vegetables outside may have the disease on them that can be transmitted to your rabbit.
- Wash any greens or vegetables you give your rabbit. First, knowing where your veggies are coming from is a great idea. Second, wash all veggies that come into your house thoroughly.
- Disinfect everything. Anything that your rabbit may possibly come in contact with needs to be safely disinfected to prevent the spread of the disease. This includes the shoes that you use out of the house and any toys that your rabbit plays with. Clean everything with a rabbit-safe disinfectant.
- Quarantine any new rabbit. For at least two weeks, quarantine any new rabbit to prevent any dormant disease from spreading to other rabbits.
- Notify wildlife officials if you find a dead, wild rabbit. DO NOT touch the dead rabbit. Officials will want to examine the rabbit to determine if the rabbit died from one of the above diseases to keep track of the cases.
- Treat for fleas monthly. Not just your rabbit, but any other pets too. Look at this article to know how to safely treat your rabbit for fleas: “Can a Rabbit Wear a Flea Collar?“
- Ask the Vet: “Is Newspaper Safe for a Rabbit Cage?” and Ask the Vet: “What if My Rabbit Ate Chocolate?” – Vets can give you the best advice concerning these topics, so it’s best to ask them for their input in these important day-to-day life decisions.
- Are Puppy Pads Safe for Rabbits? – Puppy pads are commonly used for rabbits to relieve themselves on, but are they a health hazard? When your rabbit is left unattended, they could become dangerous. Read this article to see what’s best for your furry friend.