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Pet rabbit calicivirus vaccination

 

Rabbits are, perhaps surprisingly given their status as one of Australia’s most damaging feral pests, a popular and affectionate family pet – did you know, for example, there are over 45 recognised breeds of rabbit?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the direct relationship of pet rabbits to the wild bunnies that infest our environment means they are equally susceptible to the impacts of biological controls such as myxomatosis and rabbit calicivirus.

CVH vets diagnosed the fatal rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease, caused by the rabbit calicivirus, in six pet rabbits in the first few months of 2016. The diagnosis was confirmed through laboratory testing. The disease is highly contagious and outbreaks in the wild population tend to show similar spikes of infection in unvaccinated pet rabbits.

Since first introduced in 1996, calicivirus has been continually released into the Australian environment in an effort to control the wild rabbit population. The virus causes internal bleeding in many organs, especially in the liver. Signs of the disease include bleeding from the eyes, nose or anus, followed by death in one to two days. Frequently, affected animals are found dead without external symptoms.

The virus is very efficient – it doesn’t need rabbit-to-rabbit contact and can be spread via clothes, hands, on shoes or car tyres, via infected insects, on the wind and in bird droppings. Even if your pet rabbit lives inside or has no opportunity to meet wild rabbits, protection by vaccination is essential (there are no vaccines available to prevent myxomatosis).

 

Vaccination schedule

The first vaccination is given at 10-12 weeks of age, followed by a booster every year. Annual booster vaccinations are strongly recommended to ensure protection.

Note that the calici vaccine can only be administered by vets – people have lost fingers after accidentally injecting the vaccine into their hand.