Myxomatosis in rabbits


What is myxomatosis?

Myxomatosis is an extremely aggressive and contagious disease of rabbits caused by the Myxoma virus. It arrived in Britain in 1953 and has caused the death of millions of wild rabbits. Wild populations have since developed resistance to the disease however there are still several deadly strains in existence which can affect both wild and domesticated rabbits equally.


How is myxomatosis spread?

The disease can be transmitted through contact with another infected animal. In the 1950s, myxomatosis was deliberately introduced to healthy burrows in an attempt to control the population. This was banned in 1954 and now Myxomatosis is most commonly spread by biting insects, usually fleas or mosquitoes. As mosquitoes can fly and be carried long distances on the wind, even if a rabbit has no contact with other pet rabbits or wild rabbits, it will still be at risk. Even house rabbits can be bitten by flying insects.

Which rabbits are vulnerable to myxomatosis?

Any rabbit without sufficient immunity can contract myxomatosis.


What are the clinical signs of myxomatosis?

Myxomatosis causes an infected rabbit to become depressed, have a temperature and stop eating. It is characterised by swellings and sticky discharges around the eyes, nose and genital areas; other swellings are found on the skin. Secondary respiratory infections are common.

There is also a much less common dry form of the condition which presents with mild lethargy and lumpy lesions on the skin (this form of the disease can often be successfully treated).

How is myxomatosis diagnosed?

Rabbits are generally diagnosed based on clinical signs however, there are laboratory tests that can be performed on the rabbit’s blood and urine to isolate the virus.

How is myxomatosis treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for unvaccinated rabbits infected with myxomatosis and most rabbits are put to sleep to relieve suffering. In very mild cases, supportive therapy with intravenous fluids, antibiotics and nursing care can be trailed however they not always successful.


How can myxomatosis be prevented?

Your rabbit can be vaccinated against myxomatosis from five weeks of age. Other important factors for controlling spread include good hygiene, and avoiding areas populated by wild rabbits if you have a domestic rabbit at home.

Rabbit Health Information

Find out more

To assist owners in understanding more about a health conditions that are specific to rabbits we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through some of the more common health concerns seen and treated by our General Practice Vets.