What Do We Vaccinate Rabbits For?


Unvaccinated rabbits are at risk of Calicivirus, which can cause lethargy, seizures, bleeding from nostrils or even sudden death…

We vaccinate rabbits for a disease called Calicivirus (also known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus, or RHDV). Clinical signs of Calicivirus include rabbits becoming lethargic, seizures, bleeding from nostrils or sudden death (particularly in young rabbits – kittens – up to 12 weeks of age). Recently, a new type of Calicivirus has appeared, called, RHDV2. It may present in the same ways to the original virus, but is more likely to show signs of lethargy or gut stasis (not eating or defecating) prior to death, rather than presenting as sudden death. It has been reported that some rabbits recover and develop immunity without showing any signs of disease. Even though they don’t get sick, these rabbits may spread infection to other rabbits they come into contact with for a month or more. There is no cure for this disease.

Because there is no cure, prevention and vaccination are particularly important. The virus is spread via insects such as mosquitos, as well as coming into contact with the urine, faeces or saliva of infected rabbits. Objects, other animals and people who have come into contact with infected rabbits are another potential source. The risk of infection can be reduced by keeping your pet away from unvaccinated rabbits or rabbits where you are unsure of their history. The virus can remain in the environment for months, even at moderate temperatures. Hot wash their bedding. Keeping your pet inside at dawn and dusk – high risk times for mosquitoes – and using Advantix to further discourage mosquitoes and flies also helps.

While all these prevention methods can help reduce risk, the most important part of prevention is vaccination. The current Calicivirus vaccination provides effective protection against the normal type of Calicivirus, and appears to provide some, but not complete, protection against the new version of the virus. Prior to the appearance of RHDV2, rabbit vaccinations were required once a year. Because of this new virus, rabbits should be vaccinated at 4 weeks of age, with repeat doses at 8 and 12 weeks. Adult rabbits should be vaccinated every 6 months. If adults have not been vaccinated previously, or if vaccination has lapsed, they should be vaccinated twice (a booster one month after the first vaccination), and then once every 6 months. This increased frequency of vaccination is designed to give our pets the best protection against Calicivirus we can provide.

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