Myxomatosis is caused by the myxoma virus, a poxvirus spread between rabbits by close contact and biting insects such as fleas and mosquitoes. The virus causes swelling and discharge from the eyes, nose and anogenital region of infected rabbits.
Myxomatosis was introduced to Australia in 1950 to reduce pest rabbit numbers. The virus initially reduced the wild rabbit population by 95% but since then resistance to the virus has increased and less deadly strains of the virus have emerged.
Pet rabbits do not possess any resistance to myxomatosis and mortality rates are between 96-100%.
Several years ago scientists identified vaccines that might be suitable for the use in Australia; however, these vaccines have not been developed beyond the experimental stage. As testing is required to safeguard human and animal health and the environment against potential risks, the development of vaccines is a long and complex process. Only vaccine manufactures can decide whether it is commercially viable for them to engage in this process to develop a vaccine.
Since there is no vaccines against myxomatosis registered for use in Australia, means other than vaccines must be taken to protect domestic rabbits. Rabbits should be protected from exposure to mosquitoes and fleas by keeping them indoors as much as possible and by the use of mosquito-proof hutches, flea control products such as powders or sprays and insectocutors or zappers outside the hutch.
Also, new rabbits introduced into a collection should be kept isolated from the resident rabbits for two weeks and treated for fleas.
Appropriate Rabbit Diet:
- A domestic rabbit’s diet should consist of 80% fresh grass & grass hay.
- Fresh leafy green vegetables.
- Treats such as carrots, fruits, sweet potatoes, capsicum and other non-leafy veggies should be limited to small portions (1 tablespoon) daily.
- Supply of fresh water daily.
- Pet rabbits do not require pellets or rabbit mixes in their diet.
- If pellets are used, feed them sparingly eg.: 1-2 tablespoons per day. Choose a pellet that contains high fibre and low protein.
- Rabbits should not be fed cereals, grains, grain mixes, seeds, oats, nuts, biscuits, sweets, sugars or chocolate.
- Provide your rabbit with toys to play with, cardboard boxes with holes cut in them for your rabbit to explore and jump onto. If your rabbit is caged during the day you should allow them at least 2 hours of daily exercise outside the hutch when you get home. Playing with your rabbit is important and the more time spent with them the better.