There are several highly infectious and potentially fatal diseases that affect rabbits. Fortunately, rabbits can be vaccinated against two of these – Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic Disease. All rabbits, even those kept indoors, should be vaccinated against these diseases because they can still become infected.
Myxomatosis is a disease caused by the myxoma virus. It only affects rabbits, but both wild and pet rabbits are susceptible. The virus causes severe swelling of the eyelids, lips and genitals.
Wild rabbits suffering from this condition usually fall victim to predators such as foxes, or are hit by cars. Pet rabbits can occasionally recover from the condition with very intensive nursing, but in most cases the disease is fatal.
The myxoma virus is transmitted between animals by biting insects, including fleas and mosquitoes. Cats often pick up fleas and will bring these into the garden or inside the house. Therefore, even if your rabbit lives indoors or if you live in the town far from places where wild rabbits live, your pet rabbit could still be at risk.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD or HVD)
This is a particularly nasty viral disease which reached the UK in 1992, and, like myxomatosis, only affects rabbits. It is caused by a highly contagious virus which can be transmitted directly between individual rabbits, or spread on contaminated equipment, clothing and footwear.
Insects, rodents and birds may also be able to carry the virus and infect isolated rabbits (such as pet rabbits).
VHD is nearly always fatal. It causes massive bleeding (haemorrhage) from the internal organs, and animals die as a result of the overwhelming blood loss, often very suddenly.