Myxomatosis in Rabbits

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Myxomatosis in Rabbits

Myxomatosis is a viral disease in pet and wild rabbits. In the US, this contagious disease is mainly located on the West Coast. Cottontail rabbits are the normal host of the virus and it rarely causes disease in them. This Myxoma virus, a type of pox virus, was intentionally introduced to wild rabbits in Europe and Australia to help reduce rabbit populations, and, sadly, the virus has continued to spread to the pet rabbits also. The myxoma virus has many strains. The US West Coast strain is the most deadly, killing 99% of infected rabbits.

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How can my rabbit contract myxomatosis?

This virus can spread by direct contact with infected rabbits or contact with food, bedding, housing, and water bottles/bowls of an infected rabbit.

Myxomatosis can also spread via bites of blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes, fleas, flies, lice, and mites.

What symptoms will my rabbit show if they contract myxomatosis?

Clinical symptoms typically develop within 14 days of exposure and can include:

  • Discharge from the eyes and/or nose
  • Droopy ears
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal breathing/ struggling to breath
  • Fever, often over 103F
  • Purple spots on the skin
  • Lumps or bumps on the skin
  • Swollen eyelids, nose, lips, face, ears, rectum, and genitals
  • Red eyelids and eyes
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Death, even acute death with no significant symptoms noted

What tests can my vet run to diagnose myxomatosis?

Many times a presumptive diagnosis can be made based on clinical symptoms and your geographic location.

Biopsy samples of tissues or swabs of the eyes and nose can be sent to the lab to confirm the virus is present.

My rabbit has been diagnosed with myxomatosis. Can it be treated?

There is no cure for myxomatosis in rabbits and it is often fatal to pet rabbits. Euthanasia is often discussed and recommended in sick rabbits due to a very poor prognosis for recovery.

If treatment is elected, it is based on supportive care for the rabbit. This includes assisted feedings, intravenous fluids to maintain hydration, antibiotics to treat secondary infections, pain medications, and keeping the rabbit isolated from other rabbits since this is a contagious disease.

Sadly, the fatality rate in the US is 99%, so it is very rare for a pet rabbit to survive a myxomatosis infection.

How can I prevent my rabbit from contracting myxomatosis?

  • Since this virus is mainly spread from wild rabbits to pet rabbits, keeping your pet rabbit indoors will reduce exposure.
  • Use insect screens on outdoor enclosures to reduce insect vector spread.
  • Isolate new rabbits for 2 to 4 weeks to monitor for illness before introducing them to your current pet rabbits.
  • If you had a pet rabbit with myxomatosis, clean the enclosure, food bowls, water bottles/bowl, etc. with a 10% bleach solution.
  • Vaccines are available in the United Kingdom, but not in the US yet.

Read more:

Do rabbits need vaccines?

Skin Diseases in Rabbits

Rabbit Housing Tips

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Published: 6/4/2021
Last updated: 8/9/2021

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