Roger Salmon column: Vaccinate pet rabbits early

Roger Salmon
Roger Salmon

It is essential that owners and pet shop owners plan early for vaccination against myxomatosis and RHD as well as improving people’s knowledge about rabbit ownership.

Vets have found that owners who buy rabbits from pet shops are often misinformed about general rabbit welfare. Owners are often advised not to buy two in case they end up fighting. Rabbits are social creatures and research has shown that they like company.

Owners are also advised to feed them muesli and actively recommended against feeding hay, grass or vegetables to rabbits until they are three months old, whereas rabbits should start eating grass and hay from the start of weaning. What’s more, owners are sometimes not even informed about the importance of vaccination.

Despite the widespread occurrence of these fatal diseases it is estimated that as little as 15 % of the 1.6million pet rabbits in the UK are protected by vaccination. There is now an annual single injection that protects against both infections and this can be done as early as five weeks old.

A recent case experienced by a vet illustrated how a missed vaccination sadly ended with the death of a baby rabbit. A pet owner bought three rabbits from a pet shop and three weeks later reported that the rabbit had developed swollen eyes with a creamy discharge but seemed otherwise bright and eating well. On examination by a vet there was a suspicion that it might be myxomatosis and the rabbit was started on eye drops and antibiotics.

A few days later the rabbit was worse in herself, wheezing and had skin lesions typical of the disease. Myxomatosis was confirmed and the rabbit was put to sleep when she was 10 weeks old as there is usually no cure for myxomatosis. The pet shop had advised the owner to wait till 12 weeks of age before vaccinating which is a great shame as the rabbit could have been vaccinated at five weeks.

The other two rabbits where unaffected which is amazing as the disease is highly infectious and they were subsequently vaccinated. Remember that these diseases can attack any rabbit no matter how secluded you keep them.