This month our Small Animal editor, Harriet Woodhall brings us an article on a subject that many of us in practice and those aspiring to be there deal with on a daily basis: rabbit vaccination. This is a great topic to be up to speed on for veterinary interviews.
Harriet Woodhall (Vet News Small Animal Editor)
In the past couple of months the importance of animal vaccinations has been highlighted and was the main topic of focus for World Veterinary Day (27th April). As rabbits are becoming increasingly popular and now a significant part of a small animal practice’s patients, their need for vaccination is also great. According to a PDSA survey in 2011, 54% of rabbits were not vaccinated and 62% did not have regular boosters, emphasizing the need for awareness and effective vaccines.
At present, rabbits can be vaccinated against Myxomatosis and Viral Haemorrhagic disease in the form of two separate injections:
Myxomatosis was first introduced as a control for wild rabbit populations but is now a major threat for domesticated rabbits both indoor and outdoor. It is thought that the severe effect on domestic rabbits is partly due to them lacking genetic immunity that wild rabbits may have developed.
The classic signs of the Myxomatosis are swollen and runny ears, eyes and genitalia. It is spread by biting insects carrying the Myxoma virus such as flea and possibly mosquitoes but also by rabbit-to-rabbit contact. The disease can take 5 to 14 days to show and some rabbits may survive for months after infection. However, a general case often leads to a secondary lung infection and death in 12 days.
The current Myxomatosis vaccines can be given to rabbits over 6 weeks of age and it is recommended to have annual boosters.
Viral Haemorrhagic disease (VHD) is a highly contagious disease that is spread by direct and indirect (clothes) contact and also by fleas. It is also rapidly fatal, killing rabbits within 48 hours of exposure. Often there is not time for rabbits to show symptoms, but bleeding from the nose, mouth and rectum is sometimes seen.
The vaccine is normally given to 10-12 week old rabbits and must be given 14 days apart from the Myxomatosis vaccine, also with annual boosters.
Recent research has found a new recombinant vaccine against both Myxomatosis and VHD that is seemingly effective against both diseases and an improvement of many current vaccines. The vaccine is a live vector constructed from an attenuated (weakened) strain of the Myxoma virus and the capsid (shell of virus particle) protein gene of VHD that can be given in a single vaccination. This generates an immune response against both diseases but does not induce them. The research concluded that all rabbits remained healthy with no adverse effects, promising a step forward in rabbit disease prevention and awareness.