There are two different diseases which rabbits should be vaccinated against, both of which are frequently fatal if caught by an unprotected rabbit. ALL rabbits are at risk from these infections, even indoor rabbits, so please make sure your bunny is protected.
The two diseases we vaccinate against are myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD, also known as viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) or rabbit calicivirus). The vaccine available is a combined vaccination which can be given from 5 weeks of age and provides good protection for 12 months. It needs to be given annually to ensure protection.
In recent years a new strain of RHD has appeared in the UK (RHD-2). The main licensed vaccination for pet rabbits in the UK (Nobivac Myxo-RHD) does not protect against this strain. There are two different vaccines available which protect against RHD-2 but they cannot be given at the same time as the Myxo-RHD vaccine.
Myxomatosis is a virus which is transmitted by biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. It was first found in the UK in 1953 and was deliberately spread around the country in order to control the wild rabbit population. Around 99% of wild rabbits were killed. There now seems to be some genetic resistance to the disease in wild rabbits but it is still frequently fatal and causes tremendous suffering, with thick white discharge from the eyes and nose, swelling of the nose, eyes and genitals, causing severe respiratory problems and blindness (in the story Watership Down), the rabbits refer to this disease as ‘the white blindness’.
Rabbit haemorrhagic disease is another virus which was first found in the UK in 1992. Is kills most rabbits who catch it, usually very rapidly. The virus can be spread by direct contact with an affected rabbit but it can also be transmitted by contaminated food or water, birds, insects or vermin, clothing, shoes or other pets who have come into contact with the virus from other pet rabbits or wild rabbits. Most rabbits will die so rapidly that their owner may be unaware that they were unwell. Before dying, they may have difficulty breathing or have bleeding from the nose or bottom. This virus can survive in the environment for a long time so if you suspect or know that your rabbit has died of this disease any new rabbits brought in will be at risk so make sure they are fully vaccinated and disinfect all housing extremely thoroughly, or dispose of and buy new. The newer strain is reported to be less catastrophic in some cases but still has a high mortality rate.