Rabbit Vaccinations – Are They Needed?

rabbit vaccine

Rabbit Vaccinations – Are They Needed?

While often thought of as ‘low-maintenance’ pets, rabbits generally are easy to look after, however, vaccinating them is one of those really important parts of their healthcare to make sure they stay healthy 

A virus belonging to the ‘calicivirus’ family is circulating around most cities and suburbs in Australia and can cause a disease called ‘Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease’. If contracted, it is a horrific syndrome where the bunnys’ blood fails to clot normally and they sustain strokes, bleed-outs from every part of their body and always die. 

The disease is spread by direct contact, however, it can survive in the environment for more than 6 months. 

This disease is often confused with myxomatosis – a ghastly disease to which there is no vaccine or treatment, unfortunately.  

Do Rabbits need vaccines?

 Vaccination to the Calicivirus causing RHD (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease) is a safe and effective way to eliminate this risk of death in our pet rabbits.  

 Other ways in addition to vaccination to protect your rabbit include: 

  • Keeping your rabbit indoors, especially during the warmer months 
  • Prevent access to wild rabbits 
  • Regularly clean cages, bowls and hutches with 10 per cent bleach or 10 per cent sodium hydroxide 
  • Control insects – if your rabbit is outdoors, cover your hutch with flyscreen. Don’t exercise your rabbit at dawn or dusk when insects are most active. 
  • Remove uneaten food daily. 
  • Limit contact between unfamiliar rabbits and clean yourself after handling unfamiliar rabbits 

Here is a great article from the Tasmanian government on how to protect your pet rabbits.

 What happens if my rabbit catches calicivirus? 

According to Government statistics, a rabbit infected with RHDV1 will develop the disease within one to three days. Greater than 75 per cent of infected rabbits will die from the disease. Infected rabbits end up with ‘cold-like’ symptoms, become lethargic and then die quickly from multiple organ failures. 

It should be noted that some rabbits die very quickly from the disease and can look relatively normal externally. They may also show very few visible changes to the internal organs. 

Generally, only rabbits older than 12 weeks are susceptible to the RHDV1 and RHDV1-K5. Rabbits younger than 12 weeks that are infected are less likely to die than older rabbits. Young rabbits that survive infection become immune adults. 

How did RHD start? 

rabbit attack

It’s a true but sad story:

In 1995 the Australian government started testing and researching a virus in labs on a remote island in South Australia. Unfortunately, the virus leaked out of the laboratory and started infecting rabbits on the mainland and Tasmania.

In 1996, after this lab leak, the Australian government deliberately released the strain of calicivirus in an attempt to kill feral rabbits and save farmers and their crop from the ‘pests’.

Initially, the calicivirus was very effective in wiping out populations throughout Australia, however, resistance started developing and fewer rabbits were dying from the RHD.

So again, the Australian government in March, 2017 released a new, stronger more dangerous strain of the virus called ‘K5’.

The K5 strain is still circulating in suburbia throughout Australia. Thankfully the current vaccines are still effective

Often facing a global shortage, the vaccine – ‘Cylap’, is almost always in stock with us due to the volume of rabbits we see at Southern Cross Vet.  Book here to ensure your pet rabbit is up to date.