Myxomatosis is caused by the myxoma virus. It is spread between rabbits and biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. It was introduced to Australia in 1950 to reduce pest rabbit numbers, reducing the population by 95%. Since then resistance to the virus has increased and less deadly strains have emerged.
Symptoms of myxomatosis
Myxomatosis is a particularly nasty virus, killing most rabbits within 10-14 days. Depending on the strain, your rabbit may take 14 days to show symptoms,. these include:
- Swelling, redness, ulcers and discharge around the eyes, nose and genitals.
- Blindness caused by eye inflammation.
- Respiratory problems.
- Appetite loss.
- More deadly strains of the myxoma virus can cause death before symptoms appear.
Protect your rabbit from myxomatosis
There is a vaccine to prevent myxomatosis, but it is not available in Australia. With a fatality rate of 96-100%, treatment is not usually recommended. You can protect your rabbit from myxomatosis by:
- Putting mosquito netting around your rabbit’s hutch.
- Keeping your rabbit indoors.
- Managing insects in your rabbit’s environment.
- Only allowing your rabbit outside when biting insects are less numerous.
- Using vet approved flea treatments.
What to do if your rabbit is infected with myxomatosis
Treatment is rarely successful and the disease is very painful, so your vet will likely advise euthanasia if you rabbit is infected.
Thoroughly disinfect your rabbit hutch and all items with bleach, rinsing it off so that it cannot be ingested by other rabbits. RSPCA Victoria recommends waiting at least four months before bringing a new rabbit home as the virus is able to survive for some time.