During the summer months, pet rabbits may be affected by maggot infestation. Different terms are used for this but fly strike is the most common.
Healthy rabbits are generally not affected by fly strike. There are three main problems that lead to the condition. First, a wound to which the flies are attracted and on which they lay their eggs is an obvious site where maggots can cause damage. More commonly, a rabbit that cannot take and eat its soft faeces caecotrophs (either due to arthritis or obesity) will quickly have matted and soiled fur around its anus. This, from the fly’s point of view, is an ideal opportunity to lay eggs. When the maggots hatch they spread from the area (commonly up the abdomen) and may cause a tremendous amount of damage as they eat through the tissues while the rabbit is still living. Thirdly, damp bedding is an ideal environment for egg-laying and maggot growth and development; these may then migrate onto the rabbit. This is a fatal condition if not treated.
The key factors in preventing fly strike are to ensure that bedding is clean and dry, and that daily cleaning of toilet areas is carried out; the whole accommodation should be completely emptied and disinfected 1-2 times weekly. Checks of your rabbit should be carried out twice daily, if you find any wounds or ulcerated areas of skin then please seek veterinary attention. A rabbit owner should also make sure that their rabbit is able to keep it bottom clean, if the rabbit keeps soiling itself, then there is usually a health reason as to why e.g. obesity or arthritis. If a rabbit is unable to keep itself clean, then please seek veterinary advice.
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We recommend vaccinating your rabbit against Myxomatosis and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (Strains 1 and 2). To cover against all these your rabbit will need two vaccines. Both diseases are highly contagious between the rabbit population however easily prevented.
Myxomatosis is a virus carried by biting insects and mosquitos and can be passed on without direct contact. The symptoms include puffy eyelids, conjunctivitis within the first 7 days and swelling will extend around the eyes, ears and genital regions after 7 days.In severe cases the rabbit may die from the virus.
Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD) is a highly infectious disease that can affect domestic and wild rabbits. RVHD 1, the classic RVHD, has been present in rabbits for decades and vaccinated again. A new strain of RVHD (RVHD2) was first noted in France in 2010. In the last 12 months, it has become an increasing concern regarding this new strain of RVHD in the UK with confirmed cases.
This new strain is less aggressive than RVHD 1 and symptoms may appear from 3 to 9 days post exposure. Symptoms can include high temperature, lethargy, sudden bleeding from areas (nose/mouth), reduced appetite and possible seizures. Even though this strain is less aggressive if not treated can cause death in severe cases.
Myxomatosis and RVHD 1 are prevented by the administration of a combined vaccination. It takes 3 weeks post vaccination for the rabbit to build immunity to the viruses. This vaccination will provide the rabbit with 1 year immunity to the viruses.
RVHD 2 is prevented by the administration of a separate vaccination. There must be a 2 week gap between the two vaccinations and will provide immunity to the RVHD 2 strain for 1 year.
Obesity can be a contributing factor in the case of other conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and pododermatiitis.
It can also be dangerous in cases of anorexia as they will metabolise fat which can be lead to hepatic lipidosis.
Rabbits should have a diet of high fibre pellets, add lib grass, hay and greens to prevent obesity and to lose weight.
There are two strains of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease – strains 1 and 2. Vaccines protecting against Strain 1 have been used in the UK for many years. The first case of RHD2 was noted in December 2014, and there is now a vaccination available for this strain in addition.
The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected rabbit via its oral, nasal or conjunctival secretions, as well as urine and faeces. It may also be transmitted via contaminated objects such as enclosures, ground, cloth and infected hay or other foods. Fleas and mosquitos are also another factor that can contribute to spread of the disease.
High risk rabbits may include show rabbits, shelter rabbits or those recently adopted. Low risk rabbits will be indoor rabbits who have no contact with other rabbits (wild or domestic).
This disease has a high mortality rate, and with most cases it is fatal in unvaccinated rabbits. The disease is also highly contagious and just one infected rabbit will rapidly spread this virus to others in the area.
The RHD2 strain is less aggressive than RHD1, with rabbits becoming ill over several days rather than sudden onset. Symptoms, although rare, can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and spasms.
Unfortunately there is no treatment for this disease, and this coupled with its sudden onset means it is unlikely we will see a good outcome.
Fortunately this disease can be prevented. Through routine yearly vaccination, both strains of RHD can be prevented for your rabbit. However, although vaccination is a big preventative measure against this disease, there are other factors that should be considered to minimise further risk. This includes reducing the risk of infection from other animals by preventing contact with wild rabbits, birds or rodents. If you have any questions regarding this disease, please contact the practice for further advice.