Myxomatosis is back. It never really went away, but we are seeing an increase in the number of wild rabbits with the disease.
Myxomatosis a particularly nasty viral disease and it can take an infected rabbit several weeks to die.
All the more disappointing, then, to think that it was deliberately introduced into the rabbit population in the 1950s as a way of controlling numbers.
At that time it’s thought that 99% of the UK rabbit population was eradicated.
The disease can also affect domestic rabbits because it spreads so easily through fleas, ticks, mites and midges.
When the virus takes hold, the eyes and nose of the rabbit start to swell and become ulcerated until the poor animal becomes completely blind and has difficulty breathing. It’s a protracted, painful way to die and it causes great suffering.
There is no cure for myxomatosis and so prevention is the only way to guard against a pet rabbit becoming infected. A pet rabbit should be given annual vaccinations for both myxomatosis and another fatal disease called HRD.
What should you do if you find a wild rabbit with myxomatosis?
In order to prevent further suffering, the rabbit will need to be humanely euthanised by a veterinarian.
Please take the infected rabbit to your nearest veterinary practice in a box or carrier, and wear gloves if you can.
Do not take the rabbit into the waiting room because you may inadvertently spread the disease – simply advise the reception staff that you have the rabbit outside.
They will then make appropriate arrangements.
You will not be charged for taking an injured or diseased wild animal to a veterinarian.
Fortunately, myxomatosis does not affect humans, dogs or cats, and although hares can fall ill with the disease their symptoms are generally only mild.
However, the virus can live on surfaces and in the environment for several months, and therefore can be transmitted on human clothing.
On to happier matters.
We have been successfully hand-rearing a number of baby wild rabbits (kittens) over the past few weeks.
A couple were caught by cats and brought home, uninjured, as gifts for their respective owners; but the majority have been brought to us by building contractors who have unintentionally dug up rabbit warrens.
The kittens are fed with specialist baby rabbit milk several times a day until they are weaned, usually at about four weeks old.
We try to minimise human contact because ultimately the kittens will be released back into the wild and they need to retain their ‘predator/prey’ instincts.
We also have domestic rabbits in our small animals unit, in particular a newly bonded pair called Millie and Franklyn who are now looking for their new home.
Millie, who is seven, came to us with her previous partner, Roger, several months ago – but he sadly died.
She is a pretty brown and white short haired rabbit, who has won the affection of a new man in her life, namely Franklyn. He’s only four, and is a grey dwarf rabbit.
Millie came to us because her previous owner didn’t have time to look after rabbits, and Franklyn’s previous owner developed allergies.
These are the most common reasons why rabbits are gifted in to us, and a reminder that these amazing creatures are not the easiest of pets to own.
They are time-consuming, they need careful husbandry (for example, they are very prone to fly-strike around their rear end at this time of year, and need a physical check-up daily), and they can live 10 to 12 years.
We ensure our rabbits are neutered and spayed before they are adopted, and they are fully vaccinated; and we would urge anyone thinking of buying a rabbit to ‘adopt not shop’.