• Myxomatosis is a highly contagious viral disease in rabbits that is usually fatal
  • Biting insects such as fleas, mites and mosquitoes spread the illness
  • Vaccination is the only way to protect your pet rabbit against myxomatosis
  • In some high-risk areas of the UK repeat vaccines are recommended every six months

What is myxomatosis?

Myxomatosis is a severe, usually fatal, viral disease. In some countries, it has been used as a way of reducing the number of wild rabbits. It first reached the UK in the 1950s and decimated the wild rabbit population at the time. The disease remains a risk today, to both wild and pet rabbits.

The acute form can kill a rabbit within 10 days and the chronic form within two weeks, although some rabbits do survive this.

How does myxomatosis spread?

Myxomatosis is spread easily between rabbits by blood-sucking insects, such as fleas, ticks, mites and mosquitoes. It spreads rapidly among wild rabbit populations and can easily be passed on to domestic rabbits in the vicinity by the parasites.

Myxomatosis is found throughout the UK and no area is safe from the disease.

What are the symptoms of myxomatosis?

Depending on the strain of the virus, it can take up to 14 days for an infected rabbit to begin to show symptoms. During the incubation period, a rabbit’s behaviour and eating habits may change. When the virus takes hold, the eyes, nose and genitals are usually the first parts of the body to be affected. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling, redness and/or ulcers
  • Nasal and eye discharge
  • Blindness caused by inflammation of the eyes
  • Respiratory problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy

How do I prevent my rabbit from getting myxomatosis?

It’s advisable to get your rabbit vaccinated; although, like all vaccines, it may not protect them completely. A vaccinated rabbit can still catch a mild form of myxomatosis but with veterinary care recovery rates are good.

Regular vaccinations against both myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease should be given to all pet rabbits. Making sure there are no areas of stagnant water in your garden, which attract disease vectors will also help, as will mosquito-proof guards on hutches.

How is myxomatosis treated?

There is no cure for myxomatosis. Only supportive care can be given, so prevention is key. 

What is the prognosis for a pet rabbit with myxomatosis?

For wild rabbits, and unvaccinated pet rabbits, the prognosis is extremely poor. It usually kills or leaves the rabbit in need euthanasia. If your rabbit catches myxomatosis in a mild form because they have been vaccinated, then there is a good chance that they will make a full recovery with supportive veterinary care.

What do I do if I find a wild rabbit which looks like it has myxomatosis?

You should try to confine any wild rabbit that looks like it has myxomatosis and take it to the nearest vet. Wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly after touching the rabbit. If you are unable to take the rabbit to the vet, report the animal to the RSPCA.

Can myxomatosis be passed onto other species of pet or humans?

No, myxomatosis can only affect rabbits.

— Page last updated 28/08/2018