Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Health Alert for Pet Rabbits

Los Angeles County Veterinary Public Health has issued a medical alert for pet rabbits for the viral disease myxomatosis. Three cases have been confirmed in the San Gabriel Valley. The affected pet rabbits were allowed out of doors at times, where they were apparently bitten by mosquitos, black flies, or fleas which serve as vectors of this deadly disease. The natural reservoir is the native wild rabbit population, which is relatively resistant.

In July 2010, 3 fatal cases of myxomatosis (mix-oh-ma-tow-sis) in rabbits were reported in two homes in a neighborhood in the San Gabriel Valley. The rabbits died in the last two weeks of June. The pet rabbits lived mostly indoors but had access to the outdoors, where they could have been bitten by mosquitoes, fleas, or black flies. One case was confirmed after death by biopsy of swollen skin. All three rabbits showed typical symptoms (see description below). Blood tests on two rabbits showed low white blood cell counts, and increased liver enzyme and kidney values.

What is myxomatosis?
Myxomatosis is disease of rabbits caused by a virus. The onset of illness is rapid and death may occur within days or hours. Symptoms can include fever, loss of appetite, and swelling of the nose, eyelids, lips, ears, or genital area. Sudden death may occur.

Myxomatosis is found naturally in wild rabbits in California, especially along the coast. Wild rabbits are generally more resistant to the effects of the virus, but may become infected and spread the disease. In 1950, this virus was deliberately introduced into Australia in an attempt to rid the area of wild rabbits. Initially, 90% of infected rabbits died, but over several years, the mortality rate dropped to approximately 25%.

How is myxomatosis spread?
This virus can be spread from infected rabbits to other rabbits by the bites of any bloodsucking insect, including mosquitoes, fleas, black flies, and ticks. It may also spread through direct contact between rabbits or contact with surfaces contaminated by an infected rabbit.

Can people or other animals catch myxomatosis?
No. Myxomatosis causes illness only in rabbits.

How can I protect my rabbits from myxomatosis?
1. Protect your rabbits from fleas, mosquitoes, and flies. Some flea products are toxic to rabbits, so make sure you use only flea control products that are safe for rabbits. Keep your rabbit indoors, especially at dusk and dawn.
2. Stop mosquito breeding on your property. Check your property for stagnant water twice weekly (examples: drainage systems, flowerpots, old tires, gutters) and remove any that you find.
3. Isolate sick rabbits. if you have a sick rabbit, keep it in an area away from other rabbits. Wash your hands before and after handling the sick rabbit. Do not share rabbit equipment (bowls, cages, toys) until after you thoroughly clean and disinfect it.
4.Quarantine new rabbits. If you bring any new rabbits into your home, keep them in a cage far from your other rabbits, and use separate food and water bowls. Wash your hands well before and after handling the new rabbit.
5. Contact your veterinarian if you see any symptoms of myxomatosis in your rabbits.
6. Report myxotmatosis cases in Los Angeles County to Veterinary Public Health (213) 989-7060 or complete and fax in this form.


The bottom line: keep those pet bunnies INDOORS all the time. They can't handle our summer heat anyway (without burrowing into the ground), so they are much safer indoors.

There is NO treatment for myxomatosis. Avoiding exposure is the only way to avoid death. And it is a RABBIT disease. It doesn't affect humans or anybody else.