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Myxomatosis in Pet Rabbits

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Cause:

Myxomatosis is caused by the myxoma virus, a kind of pox virus. There are different strains of the virus which vary in their virulence (basically the ability to cause disease). The susceptibility of different rabbit species (e.g. domestic rabbits, vs hares, vs cottontails etc.) to the virus varies as well.

How is Myxomatosis Spread?:

The virus is spread by biting insects (e.g. fleas, mosquitoes, mites, lice, and flies) as well as by direct contact (between rabbits), indirect contact (via items that such as food dishes or clothes that carry the virus from rabbit to rabbit), and by aerosols.

Signs of Myxomatosis:

Myxomatosis can take several courses. Rabbits may suddenly become very ill with conjunctivitis (red, runny eyes), a high fever, loss of appetite and lethargy, and may die within 48 hours. Sometimes the illness lasts longer, and the mucous membranes and other tissues become swollen, including the eyes, nose, mouth, ears (which become droopy) and the genital and anal areas. The entire face may become very swollen, and thick pus may be discharged from the nose and the rabbit may have difficulty breathing. Most rabbits die within 14 days.
In more chronic cases (and depending on the strain of virus and immunity of the rabbit) lumps and nodules (myxomas) may develop over the body. Rabbits with this form may survive, and become immune to myxomatosis virus. This seems to be a less likely course of disease in domestic rabbits, however, with most suffering from the acute forms with eventual death.

Treatment:

There is no specific treatment for myxomatosis so only supportive care (fluids, antibiotics to prevent secondary infections, etc.) can be offered. However, because domestic rabbits tend to be very susceptible to the virus and tend to suffer a long and painful death, euthanasia is often recommended to prevent suffering.

Prevention:

  • Keep your rabbit indoors and away from insects(especially at dawn and dusk).
  • Control insects that may spread disease (e.g. screens, no standing water in yard, an appropriate flea control program).
  • Don't take rabbits to fairs, shows, or any other places where rabbits are brought together when an outbreak is underway.
  • Quarantine sick rabbits and take steps to prevent direct transmission via your clothes, food dishes, and other supplies. Place mosquito netting over infected rabbits' cages.
  • Quarantine rabbits that have been exposed to the virus for 14 days.

Vaccination:

A vaccination is available in the U.K., but not in the U.S. The vaccine may not completely prevent myxomatosis, but does reduce the severity of the disease, and vaccinated rabbits generall recover. The vaccine can be given to rabbits once they are six weeks old (immunity develops within 14 days), and repeated yearly, or every six months where myxomatosis is common. (The myxomatosis vaccine should not be given within 2 weeks of a VHD vaccination).

Note:

The term myxomatosis is sometimes shortened to myxi.

Myxomatosis is pronounced mix-oh-mah-TOE-sis (and audio link to its pronunciation can be found in the dictionary entry at Answers.com).

Sources:

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