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Why should rabbits be vaccinated?

The two main diseases which affect rabbits are myxomatosis and the viral haemorrhagic disease. Vaccinating in order to prevent serious infection from these is considered the responsible thing to do in the UK. Separate vaccines are given separately for each. Vaccination against these diseases is given in the form of a weakened or dead strain of the responsible virus and is injected into the rabbit. As a result, the animal’s immune system responds by producing the necessary reaction to destroy these pathogens. This means that the rabbit is then immune to the disease for a period of time as its body recognises and remembers how to fight it off, thus preventing or reducing illness. Vaccination can therefore actually be lifesaving and is considered a type of preventative medicine. Survival occurs because the body has “learnt” how to destroy the pathogen.


By vaccinating their rabbits, owners are also ensuring that they are protecting other rabbits in the area. Some viruses can be transmitted by surviving on human clothes and footwear and if a rabbit is infected then it is the owners who may actually transfer the disease when handling other rabbits. Therefore, vaccination reduces the spread of certain diseases. Many diseases, including myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease, do not have cures and so vaccinating beforehand is usually the preferable option.


When buying or acquiring a new rabbit, it is important for the new owners to be aware of if and when the animal had been vaccinated and against which diseases. Vaccinations can significantly reduce any stress which may be caused as a result of the animal contracting and sometimes dying from a particular disease. Rabbits are companion animals and so this vaccination also means that having more than one rabbit is safe, thus allowing them to lead happier lives.


When should rabbits be vaccinated?

The youngest age for a rabbit to be vaccinated is at six weeks of age depending on the vaccine given. The mother’s milk provides the necessary defences for the kitten before this age. It is very important to note that the myxomatosis and the viral hemorrhagic disease vaccines should not be given at the same time but a minimum of two weeks apart. Pregnant does should not be vaccinated.


Boosters are given periodically depending on the vaccine and the risk of infection in the area. This allows for long term immunity against the disease. When the animal is registered at the vet reminders are usually sent by post. Most boarding properties require vaccination certificates or the animal is not allowed to enter. This is also true for certain shows or event.


Which vaccines are most commonly used?

Myxomatosis and the viral haemorrhagic disease are commonly vaccinated against in the UK. These are highly contagious and fatal. It is for this reason that veterinarians advise vaccination to prevent the spread of such devastating diseases.


A brief overview of the two main diseases is as follows:



Extremely contagious, domestic rabbit owners fear this almost certainly fatal disease for all unvaccinated rabbits. Direct contact spreads myxomatosis as well as contaminated surfaces. Small organisms such as fleas and mosquitoes also act as a source of infection. Symptoms include large swellings around the head and genitals. Vaccination is highly recommended in the UK to prevent the spread of this dangerous disease.


Viral Haemorrhagic disease (VHD)    

Viral haemorrhagic disease is a highly contagious disease and is transmitted via direct contact with infected rabbits or contaminated surfaces. Some rabbits are asymptomatic but those which do present any symptoms show signs of lethargy, loss of appetite, a high temperature and there is almost always sudden death in unvaccinated rabbits over six weeks old. Vaccines are available and strongly encouraged in the UK.


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