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  • Writer's pictureEmma

Myxomatosis in rabbits- a history

Hi so over the next couple of blogs I want to look at some 2 common rabbit diseases we can vaccinate against and why it's so important.

Today we are going to look at Myxomatosis.

So what is it? Here's a definition from Wikipedia:

Myxomatosis is a disease caused by Myxoma virus, a poxvirus in the genus Leporipoxvirus. The myxoma virus causes a severe and usually fatal disease in European rabbits

So, what's the background?

Myxomatosis was only introduced in Europe in 1952, yes introduced! A man called Paul-Felix Armand-DeLille got hold of the virus in France and released it on his six hundred acre estate as a means of wild rabbit control. DeLille was a physician, bacteriologist, professor, and member of the French Academy of Medicine and he single handedly accidentally brought about the collapse of rabbit populations throughout much of Europe and beyond in the 1950s. Left unchecked and breeding wild rabbits can cause huge damage to crops and land. Previously farmers had turned to alternative methods of rabbit control, including trapping and snaring but other countries had begun to use the virus as a method of control of the expanding rabbit population as the virus has an almost 100% fatality rate.

..this is Paul-Felix Armand DeLille

So after the virus was introduced on DeLilles estate he presumed the virus would stay within his grounds.. he was wrong! He had failed to realise the disease was spread by mosquitoes who can fly anywhere, and soon the disease had spread all over France and within 3 years 98% of the countries wild rabbit population was dead aswell as some 40% of the 140 million domestic rabbits living in the country (source: Stories Rabbits Tell- Davis and Demello)

From there the virus spread fast overseas including to ourselves here in England. You may be thinking this sounds quite familiar with the spread of Covid we have seen! So what happened to DeLille? The amazing book "Stories rabbits tell" has the answer-

  • French Hunting groups took DeLille to court as their annual rabbit catch was just 2% of what it would usually be in 1954.. he was convicted of illegally spreading an animal disease and fined 1 whole franc!

  • On the other hand farmers and foresters were delighted- agriculture skyrocketed with the rabbits gone and they even gave DeLille an award in recognition for his services to the industry.

Reading this I presume like me you are a rabbit fan and are on neither side of the happy farmers or the hunters!

Whilst the British government did not formally introduce the virus over here some farmers took things into their own hands- with reports of one farmer purposely bringing over an infected rabbit and other farmers taking the infected corpses to spread the disease themselves. It's really horrible to think about as rabbit lovers isn't it!

Anyway back to today, so as the disease is still prevalent here and spread by fleas and mosquitoes aswell as infected wild rabbits it's really important we keep our buns safe- even if they are indoors.

The good news is there's a vaccine- hurray! And this will need to be given every year. It's really simple and your vet will give you a vaccination card and you can keep track of what vaccinations you have had. Neither of my boys noticed the actual injection, the real trauma in their eyes was going into the carrier!'s a gorgeous wild bunny in my little brothers garden

The RWAF has these tips to also reduce the risk of infection, alongside regular vaccination:

  • If you buy your hay and straw direct from the producer, try to use farms where the farmer hasn’t seen any rabbit with Myxomatosis on the land.

  • Feed dust-extracted hay or kiln-dried grass

  • Fit insect screens to outdoor enclosures

  • Eliminate standing water (where mosquitoes might breed) from your garden. If you have a water butt, put a small amount of cooking oil into the water. This will form a film over the surface that will suffocate mosquito larvae.  Better still have a sealed lid so that wildlife can’t accidentally fall in

  • Treat your cats and dogs for fleas, otherwise they may bring rabbit fleas home. Talk to your vet about flea control: some products are toxic to rabbits, and some rabbit products are toxic to cats.

  • Try to stop wild rabbits from getting into your garden. If this isn’t feasible, make it impossible for wild visitors to have nose-to-nose contact with your pets

  • Make sure there’s nothing to attract vermin and wild birds to hutches/runs and use small-hole mesh on hutches/runs to keep unwelcome creatures out!

For all hoppers coming to stay we require proof of up to date vaccinations to ensure your little one is totally safe. Any questions or for more info please just ask!

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