With the human Covid vaccination being rolled out, we thought this would be a great time to talk about vaccination for our pets, too! So we’ve assembled a panel of vets from practice, academia and industry, to ask their opinions… What vaccines does a rabbit in the UK really need?
Is pet vaccination really important in a modern, fairly hygienic, western country?
Laura Waring BVetMed MRCVS: Infectious diseases can spread rapidly and cause very serious illness, vaccination is always a key part of keeping your pet safe and well.
Rachel Nixon BA VetMB CertAVP MRCVS: The simple answer is yes. Unfortunately, every year many pets are infected with and die from conditions that we are able to vaccinate against. Thankfully infections are less common than in the past.
David Harris BVSc PGCert VetEd FHEA MRCVS: Of course, rabbits are the third most common (mammal) pet in the UK – but I think that far fewer bunnies get vaccinated than dogs and cats. And that’s a real shame – because unlike dogs at least, there’s a huge population of wild rabbits out there, carrying and spreading serious and life-threatening diseases. Many of them can also be transmitted by insect vectors in the UK, which isn’t something we worry about quite as much in dogs and cats unless you’re in a high-tick area.
Rachel: I would recommend vaccinating all rabbits even if they are kept indoors, as myxomatosis can be spread by fleas/mosquitoes which can get indoors, and RHD-1 and -2 can be spread on foods such as hay and vegetables and on owner’s clothing and shoes.
What vaccines do you recommend for rabbits?
Laura: For rabbits I recommend vaccination against myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Both of these infections are encountered in wild rabbits and can also be spread by biting insects such as fleas or between pet rabbits.
Lawrence Dodi BVSc MSc MRCVS: There are two main diseases I encourage all rabbit owners to vaccinate their bunnies against. They are myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD). The infections we vaccinate rabbits for are typically fatal.
Rachel: I would recommend that all rabbits are vaccinated against Myxomatosis and the two types of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD types 1 and 2). These infections are almost always fatal in rabbits.
Lawrence: I have never managed to successfully treat a rabbit that has caught one of these diseases.
David: I have had one survivor of myxomatosis… however, I must also admit that it’s a bit of a cheat. This was a bunny that had been vaccinated but her vaccines had lapsed. So she probably had some protection left over. Even so, it was a massive job – two or three weeks of intensive care nursing, as I recall.
Rebecca Martin BVSc CertSAM MRCVS: As a veterinarian that is highly allergic to rabbits, unfortunately I am rarely able to see rabbits without erupting in sneezes and itchiness! However, vaccines are very important for rabbits too. It is vitally important that they are protected against myxomatosis and the 2 strains of viral haemorrhagic disease.
Lawrence: Both of which we have vaccines for and it is important to have both. There are now vaccines available that have all 3 components (myxomatosis, RHD1 & RHD2) in one injection.
Laura: Although house rabbits are at a much-reduced risk, I would have a discussion with the owner about any other risk factors for the rabbit. Risks could include other pets in the household with access to the outdoors or spending some time in the garden during the summer months.
Rebecca: Fortunately, one vaccine now can cover for all three diseases and can be given to rabbits from as young as 5 weeks of age. Fatal diseases, these can affect both indoor and outdoor bunnies and so vaccination is strongly advised.
David: I’d absolutely agree. The amount of suffering these diseases cause is incredible, and unlike so many other infections, all three (RHD1, RHD2 and Myxo) are essentially a death sentence. There is no cure, and only a tiny percentage of bunnies will survive
There are lots of people who are worried about possible side effects from vaccination. Is there anything you’d like to say to them?
Laura: Of course, it is natural to be concerned about the potential for side effects from any medication or vaccination, however the risk of disease is much much more of a concern. I have seen first-hand the devastation a parvovirus outbreak can bring or the suffering of a cat with calicivirus or rabbit with myxomatosis.
I know that vaccination is a safe and effective way of preventing illness, suffering and in many cases early death. Administering vaccinations is a large part of my day to day work and I have lost count of the number of pets I have vaccinated. Among the many thousands of vaccinations I have personally given I have only had a tiny handful of minor side effects reported to me (such as lethargy or diarrhoea) and one more serious reaction which required treatment (and recovered very well).
David: I’d put it like this. It’s pretty-much certain death if they get infected with the “wild” viruses, and I’ve almost never seen a vaccine reaction in a rabbit more than a slight swelling. To my mind, it’s a really simple decision.
Lawrence: Be safe and vaccinate your rabbit.