Updated November 29, 2020
UPDATE LATE 2017- Myxomatosis is once again rare in pet bunnies in Adelaide, but vigilance is essential. Please let us know if your rabbit becomes infected.
Myxomatosis is a serious and common disease of pet rabbits in Adelaide. We’ve put together this information for rabbit owners about preventing and treating myxomatosis.
Read more about the 2016 outbreak below.
What Is Myxomatosis?
Myxomatosis is a viral disease which causes:
- A ‘sleepy eyed’ appearance
- Fever, lethargy and sickness
- Not eating
- Swollen eyelids, ears and genitals
- Discharge from the eyes and nose
Eventually progressing to:
- Secondary bacterial infection
- Tumours called myxomas in many survivors
Important: do not confuse myxomatosis with rabbit calicivirus. You can read all about Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease and calicivirus here.
How Do Rabbits Catch Myxomatosis?
Myxo is mostly spread by biting insect vectors such as rabbit fleas and mosquitoes. In suburban areas, most rabbits will catch myxomatosis via mosquitoes or other blood sucking insects. It is also possible for myxomatosis to be spread directly from other affected rabbits.
Myxomatosis also clearly occurs in epidemic (‘epizootic’) events, probably responding to weather conditions that favour the insect vector. For example, the outbreak in Adelaide in October 2016 occurred in a warm spell following widespread flooding of agricultural areas and prolonged wet conditions.
How Do I Prevent Myxomatosis?
Here’s how to stop rabbits getting myxomatosis:
- Keep rabbits inside if possible, especially during outbreaks
- Use these parasite protections on your rabbit. Of the choices, neither is likely to exert a strong repellent effect. A product with a proven mosquito repellent effect that has been tested in rabbits is Advantix (the smallest size used in puppies); see the reference to its use in rabbits below. Please be warned: it’s use is off-label and cannot be guaranteed to be safe despite preliminary testing. Using off-label ivermectin may work but is not recommended. There is an excellent safe alternative in selamectin, however both require the flea to bite to kill it.
- Keep flyscreens well maintained on hutches
- Use insect repellents like DEET nearby (but not on) rabbit hutches
- Try fly zappers or mozzie coils
- Prevent mosquito breeding by removing stagnant water
- Avoid going to rabbit shows during outbreaks
- Quarantine all new arrivals for at least two weeks- if one rabbit gets myxo, separate all the rabbits until it is known who else is infected, wash hands between handlings and use separate food and water containers.
Is There A Myxomatosis Vaccine?
No. Although the vaccine is available overseas, it is illegal to use it in Australia. It is a case of conflict between the needs of farmers and the needs of rabbit owners.
Current vaccines use a modified live virus. The Department of Agriculture fear that this could spread into wild rabbits if it was used in Australia. If this happened it could also protect wild rabbits from myxomatosis.
Rabbits are indeed a significant cost to Australian agriculture, but using myxoma virus as rabbit control is cruel and needs to change.
Can Myxomatosis Be Treated?
Myxomatosis produces severe symptoms and causes significant suffering. Survival rates in pet bunnies are low. Therefore, it is often kindest to euthanase affected rabbits when they stop eating.
Some rabbits can do well with supportive care such as fluids, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. It’s also advisable for vets to hospitalise severe cases for intravenous fluids.
Owners must always put the welfare of their rabbit ahead of everything else. If a rabbit is not responding to treatment or becoming dehydrated, then euthanasia is the most humane choice.
Where Is Myxo In Adelaide?
Update 20 December 2016
We are still hearing of deaths throughout the city. It’s hard to tell if the outbreak is weakening so please keep up the protection.
Update 29 November 2016
Our veterinary association has advised waiting one more week before letting your bunnies out. Better safe than sorry! When out it’s still worth keeping up the mosquito protection too.
Update 22 November 2016
Finally some good news! We think the disease is now on the wane in Metropolitan Adelaide except in the south.
If you live in central or northern areas of Adelaide it should be safe to let your rabbits out again thing about 1 December
Let us know if you hear of any new cases we’re not aware of. If you live in the south it’s worth staying in touch with your local vet.
Currently (9/11/16), we are seeing and hearing of rabbits being affected in the:
- South: Myponga, Port Willunga, Aldinga Beach, Sellicks Hill, Noarlunga, Christie’s Beach, Reynella, Hallett Cove, Hackham, Huntfield Heights, Happy Valley, O’Halloran Hill & Unley
- Central: Gilberton
- North: Clearview, Para Hills, Paralowie, Modbury
- West: Allenby Gardens & Largs Bay
- Hills & Country: Blackwood, Mt Barker, Murray Bridge, Loxton, Whyalla & Barossa Valley
It’s fair to say that by this time any rabbit in Adelaide or country South Australia is at risk.
If you hear of any others, please call or leave a comment below.
How long will the outbreak last?
Based on experience of previous outbreaks, we advise rabbits be kept inside for at least one month. We will keep you updated on this page and via our Facebook.
Hansen, O., Mencke, N., Pfister, K., & Beck, W. (2006). Efficacy of a formulation containing imidacloprid and permethrin against naturally acquired ectoparasite infestations (Ctenocephalides felis, Cheyletiella parasitovorax, and Listrophorus gibbus) in rabbits. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF APPLIED RESEARCH IN VETERINARY MEDICINE, 4(4), 320.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.