Rabbit diseases

Flystrike

Flystrike is a serious, painful condition that is caused by flies laying their eggs on your rabbit, usually on any dirty fur around their bottom, although other warm, wet areas can be affected. The eggs hatch into maggots which burrow under the skin and feed on the flesh.

Flystrike tends to occur in the spring and summer (when flies are most active) and is more likely to occur if your rabbit:

  • is living in a dirty space;
  • has diarrhoea;
  • has wounds;
  • or can’t clean themself properly.

Using a specialist fly repellent in the summer months and keeping your rabbit and their living environment clean will be a big help in reducing the risk of flystrike.

Symptoms of flystrike include:

  • Patches of wet fur and fur loss around their bottom.
  • Being quieter than usual.
  • Eating less.
  • A bad smell.
  • Open wounds that contain fly eggs or maggots.

If your rabbit has flystrike, they will need emergency treatment from your Vet. Treatment is likely to include:

  • Pain relief.
  • An anaesthetic so your Vet can remove the maggots from your rabbit.
  • Medication to kill any remaining maggots.
  • A fluid drip.
  • Antibiotics (to treat any related infections).

Contact your Vet immediately for an emergency appointment if you notice any symptoms of flystrike. Flystrike can very quickly cause death, so the sooner your rabbit is seen by a Vet, the better their chance of survival.

Prevent flystrike in your rabbits by:

  • Keeping them clean – it’s important to keep your rabbits and their living space clean and to check them every day to make sure they don’t have a dirty bottom.
  • Using a specialist fly repellent in the warmer months – speak to your Vet about which product to use, and how regularly to apply it.
  • Keeping them fit and healthy so that they can clean themselves properly.  

Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis is a severe disease that affects rabbits.  It’s caused by a virus that attacks the eyes, skin, lungs, liver and genitals.  Sadly, there is no cure for myxomatosis and it’s often fatal.  Myxomatosis spreads via wild rabbits, mosquitos and fleas – the best way to prevent it is by vaccination.

Symptoms of myxomatosis include:

  • Swelling around the eyes, face, ears and genitals.
  • Weepy eyes.
  • A runny nose.
  • Skin lumps, ulcers and scabs.
  • Low energy (lethargy).
  • Difficulty eating or drinking.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Hot to touch (high temperature/fever).

Rabbits that have been vaccinated against myxomatosis can still catch the disease but often have much milder signs and a much higher chance of survival.  Unfortunately, unvaccinated rabbits have a much worse outlook and nearly always die if they catch it. To prevent suffering, euthanasia is often the kindest option for an unvaccinated rabbit with myxomatosis.

To avoid myxomatosis:

  • Book an annual vaccine for your rabbit.
  • Avoid attracting insects to your rabbit’s living space by keeping them clean. This will also reduce the risk of flystrike.
  • Speak to your Vet for advice on the best flea protection for your rabbits, and make sure any other pets in your household are also up to date.
  • Keep your pet rabbits away from wild rabbits by rabbit proofing your garden or double fencing their living space.
  • Any new rabbits should be vaccinated at least three weeks before they meet your existing rabbits.
  • The myxomatosis virus can live for a long time on surfaces such as food bowls, water bottles and a hutch so never re-use items from a rabbit that has had myxomatosis.

Contact your Vet for an emergency appointment if you suspect your rabbit has myxomatosis, or if they are showing any of the symptoms. You know your rabbit best. If they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned it’s always best to contact your Vet.

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD)

RHD is a virus that targets rabbits, attacks their internal organs (such as the liver), and causes internal bleeding. RHD often develops so quickly that infected rabbits die before their owner notices any symptoms. 

Symptoms of RHD often include:

  • Blood around the nose, mouth or bottom
  • Low energy (lethargy)
  • Eating less
  • High temperature

Book an urgent appointment with your Vet if your rabbit has any of the symptoms listed above. You know your rabbit best. If they don’t have the symptoms listed above but you are still concerned, it’s always best to contact your Vet.

There are two types of RHD and sadly, there is no cure for either and the chances of survival are slim. If symptoms are severe, euthanasia is often the kindest option.

Fortunately, there are effective vaccines to prevent RHD which can be administered annually by your Vet.  Please make sure you check with your Vet that the vaccine being given covers both types of RHD.  There are other ways you can also help prevent your bunnies contracting RHD:

  • Avoid attracting insects by keeping your rabbits and their living environment clean. This will also reduce the risk of flystrike.
  • Fleas can spread RHD, so make sure all your animals are treated regularly for fleas.
  • Keep your pet rabbits away from wild rabbits by rabbit proofing your garden or double fencing their living space.
  • Any new rabbits should be vaccinated and kept away from your existing rabbits for at least three weeks.

If you have lost one of your rabbits due to RHD, their enclosure and all other items should be thrown away. RHD can survive in the environment (on bowls, water bottles, walls, grass etc.) for months, so you must seek advice from your Vet about how to disinfect properly. Only fully vaccinated rabbits should be allowed into their area in the future.

Neutering

Neutering is essential in rabbits and allows them to live in pairs or groups without the risk of hormone-related fighting or unwanted pregnancy. Neutering also helps protect your rabbit against some health-related diseases such as uterine cancers.

Day-to-day care for rabbits:

  • Check your rabbits every day for any signs of illness or injury including a dirty bottom
  • Clean their shelter/ enclosure for any dirty or wet bedding and remove old water
  • Replenish hay, replace water and offer healthy fresh foods
  • Brush them regularly to keep their coats healthy – most rabbits will groom themselves but sometimes they need a brush to keep their coats healthy. Some long-haired breeds need grooming every day, especially when they are moulting
  • Most importantly, enjoy spending time with your rabbits!

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