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What vaccinations should my rabbit have?

Question: I have just bought a dwarf lop rabbit. He is 3 months old now and the pet store advised me to vaccinate him. Please could you give me some details of what needs to be done.

Answer: The vaccination of rabbits is very important. There are two diseases for which vaccines are available. These are myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD).

Myxomatosis, which you may have heard of, is very common in wild rabbits, and causes the most distressing symptoms. The rabbit’s eyelids swell up and they become blind and weak and stagger around, often on the roads where they are killed. Foxes can also easily kill them, and if they are not taken as prey, most will die a slow death. The disease is spread by rabbit fleas, which can be carried by various additional hosts such as cats, dogs and hedgehogs, and so can easily reach a domestic rabbit in a hutch or garden. As there is no successful treatment, it is much better and kinder to vaccinate them against the disease. It is suggested that rabbits should be revaccinated annually in May/June just prior to the myxomatosis season, which occurs in late summer, autumn and early winter months. Where there is a high risk of myxomatosis, such as in properties adjacent to fields occupied by wild rabbits, then revaccination every six months is advisable.

VHD is not so common, but we do see cases, most frequently in the autumn. A flu-like virus resulting in rapid and usually fatal haemorrhages causes it. Very often the first sign you see is a dead rabbit with or without evidence of blood loss. Rabbits can pick it up in lots of ways, from contact with infected rabbits to indirect vectors such as birds, insects, people and equipment. The problem with VHD is that the virus itself is incredibly tough. It lasts a long time in the environment, is difficult to inactivate with disinfectants and remarkably easy to catch. In the UK the wild rabbit population acts as a reservoir and helps to spread the virus.

I would strongly advise you to take your little lop to your local vet to have him vaccinated as soon as possible; he is old enough now. Once he is vaccinated you can relax, but annual (or six-monthly) booster vaccinations against each disease will be required.