What are Myxoma Virus?
The myxoma virus in rabbits originated in Australia where it was purposely released to reduce the huge wild rabbit population, which was looked upon as pests. Later, it was transferred to France and again purposely released to reduce the wild rabbit population there. From there the virus spread to the United Kingdom and beyond. Strains of the myxomatosis virus in the United States have been observed in California and Oregon where epidemics occur. However, it is not uncommon for periodic cases to develop.
More than 90 percent of the wild rabbits that contract myxomatosis die from it. Due to the severity of the virus, most rabbits do not survive. However, domesticated rabbits can possibly recover from the disease with intensive veterinary treatment.
Myxomatosis is an extremely serious disease that requires immediate veterinary attention. It is recommended that you contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your rabbit has been exposed to the myxomatosis disease or notice any of the symptoms listed below, as this virus can turn fatal very quickly.
The myxoma virus in rabbits is a member of the poxvirus species and causes the myxomatosis virus. This is a seriously debilitating condition which is potentially fatal and can affect domesticated and wild rabbits alike.
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Symptoms of Myxoma Virus in Rabbits
There are several strains of the myxomatosis virus. Many wild rabbits have become more resistant to the disease, while pet rabbits are still very susceptible to it. The incubation time can range anywhere from 1 – 21 days and the effects of the condition can progress rather quickly. Due to the rapid progression and extremely high morbidity and mortality rates (within 1 to 2 weeks after being infected with the virus) it is very important that you pay close attention to your rabbit and watch for any of the following:
- Anorexia or inappetence
- Conjunctivitis or puffy eyelids
- Hemorrhages of the skin
- Skin tumors
- Swelling under your rabbit’s skin around his ears, eyes, or genital area
Causes of Myxoma Virus in Rabbits
The myxomatosis virus is a threat to all rabbits. However, the risks vary depending on whether or not your rabbit lives inside or outside. It is typically spread by fleas, flies, fur mites, lice, mosquitoes, ticks, or direct contact with another rabbit that carries the virus. Even if your rabbit does not come in direct contact with another rabbit and doesn't get bitten by an insect affected with the virus, he can still acquire the virus from contaminated animal bedding, clothes, food, thistles, and thorns.
Diagnosis of Myxoma Virus in Rabbits
Your veterinarian will first conduct a thorough physical examination on your rabbit. He will ask you questions regarding the background history, symptoms your rabbit may be showing, as well as possible reasons that could have led to your rabbit's condition.
Your rabbit may already be showing obvious signs and symptoms, such as loss of appetite or fever, that will be of help to your veterinarian as he makes a diagnosis. However, if your rabbit developed the virus suddenly he may not have any bruise-like spots or lesions which are highly indicative of the condition.
To aid in the diagnostic process, your veterinarian will want to perform a series of tests, which may include blood tests, tissue samples, and urinalysis to help him render the correct diagnosis and proper treatment option.
Treatment of Myxoma Virus in Rabbits
There is no effective or specific treatment for rabbits that are affected with the myxomatosis virus; therapy may be offered as a supportive means to keep a rabbit comfortable as he recovers.
While therapy is considered for some rabbits, pets that have the full-blown virus may suffer extensively and don't have much chance for survival. There is also the risk of infecting other rabbits. In these cases, it may be suggested that the rabbit be euthanized.
However, if treatment is an option, your rabbit will need intensive hospital care for a long period of time. Upon release from the clinic, home care will be involved. For example, it will be very important to keep your sick rabbit in a warm environment. His eyes and ears will have to be cleaned regularly. It is also extremely important that your rabbit get as much food and water as possible. Regrettably, secondary problems can occur. The most common are pneumonia and respiratory infections.
Recovery of Myxoma Virus in Rabbits
Once your rabbit has undergone treatment and is on the road to recovery, you will need to monitor his condition very carefully to ensure the myxomatosis virus doesn't reappear. Your veterinarian can address these concerns and assist you in planning how to care for your rabbit.
Prevention against infection of the virus may be obtained by controlling parasites and vaccinating your rabbit as needed. While vaccinating is recommended, it's important to note that protection is never 100 percent from any disease, with factors being genetics, poor nutrition, stress, and underlying health problems.
It is very important to use other methods as well to lower the risk of your rabbit becoming infected with the myxomatosis disease. Avoid contact with wild rabbits, control external parasites, refrain from introducing new rabbits without first quarantining them until they have seen a veterinarian, and keep hutches and pens clean.
Prognosis is usually poor for rabbits who have been infected with myxomatosis virus and typically results in death. Therefore, we can't stress enough the importance of contacting your veterinarian immediately if your rabbit shows signs of illness.