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Rabbit advice: vaccinating your pet

Protect your rabbit against some of the most dangerous diseases

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There are some nasty viruses out there that threaten pet rabbits, for example Myxomatosis, Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHD2), but fortunately your bunny can be protected against them. All you need to do is get your rabbit vaccinated and then make sure the protection is topped up with an annual booster vaccination.

Vaccinations are quick and simple and before your bunny is vaccinated they will also receive a full health assessment which is a vital opportunity to for the vet to detect any problems that may be present early and for you to discuss any concerns about your pet.

The right time

Vaccination is one of our most common duties at Vets4Pets, so if you’re wondering whether your rabbit is ready, just get in touch.

As a general rule, your rabbit can be vaccinated from five weeks old with the combined Myxomatosis-RHD vaccine and immunity takes three weeks to develop. Your bunny will then need an annual booster jab to maintain protection. 

RHD2 vaccines are given every 6 to 12 months and must be given 2 weeks apart from the annual Myxomatosis-RHD vaccine. Speak to your vet to discuss the best vaccination plan for your rabbit which will depend on your rabbit’s individual circumstances.

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Myxomatosis





Myxomatosis is a highly infectious and usually fatal virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes, fleas or by close contact with an infected rabbit. It kills many rabbits in the UK every year and all rabbits are susceptible whether kept indoors or outdoors.

Signs of myxomatosis include: 

  • red swollen eyes
  • conjunctivitis
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy

Survival of Myxomatosis in a rabbit that has not been vaccinated is very unusual. There is no specific treatment only supportive care such as fluids and antibiotics can be provided to help ease the pain and discomfort. However, treatments is rarely successful and euthanasia is therefore usually recommended, 

Whilst there is a very small chance that a vaccinated rabbit can still develop myxomatosis the disease in this instance is far less severe and actually treatable. 

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD or RHD1)







Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease is also known as Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease and has several acronyms: RHD, RVHD, VHD, RHD1. This virus is extremely contagious and sadly once a rabbit is infected it is almost always fatal. 

Signs are often difficult to detect because RHD can kill a rabbit very quickly which is why any sudden rabbit death should be regarded as suspicious. 

RHD causes bleeding to the internal organs of the rabbit so if signs are seen these can include:

  • a fever
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy
  • difficulty breathing
  • blood stained discharge from the nose or mouth
  • seizures 

The RHD virus is very resistant and can remain active in the environment for many months. It can be transmitted through both direct and indirect contact. Transmission is quick and does not require prolonged contact, an infected rabbit can pass the virus directly to another by nose to nose contact or via food bowls, bedding, urine and faeces. 

Humans, insects, birds and rodents can all spread the virus to rabbits if they have been in contact with infected rabbits. 

What about RHD2?





Unlike RHD which has been present in the UK for decades, a new strain of this disease has been identified in the UK in recent years. This strain is referred to as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHD2).

RHD2 has some differences from the classic RHD and the existing RHD vaccine is not thought to be protective against RHD2. However, similarly to RHD, the RHD2 virus is associated with severe internal bleeding, rapid death and can remain active in the environment for a long time.

Luckily, there is a licensed RHD2 vaccine available in the UK now. The vaccine is manufactured in France and even though it is more readily available now that it has become licensed it does still occasionally go out of stock. 

For more information, we recommend speaking to your local Vets4Pets. A vet can discuss the risks and benefits with you before deciding on an appropriate regime and vaccination plan for your rabbit based on local disease conditions.

High risk situations for RHD2 include rescue centres and breeders, unless they have a strict quarantine policy, those rabbits which have greater contact with wild rabbits and any geographical location where cases have been reported recently.

We believe RHD1 and Myxomatosis remain the most significant nationwide health threats in rabbits and so protection against these ‘core’ diseases remains a priority.

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