Rainham veterinary surgery warns rabbit owners of deadly myxomatosis outbreak

Mosquitoes and damp weather are unpleasant for everyone – but for one furry group in Havering they can be killers.

Vets at a Rainham practice say recent spells of heat and humidity have caused a late-season spike in cases of myxomatosis – a disease that is fatal to rabbits and transmitted mainly by flying insects.

Veterinary nurse Natali This week is Rabbit Awareness Week, but it comes with bad news. Vets at a Rainham practice say recent spells of heat and humidity have caused a late-season spike in cases of myxomatosis – a disease that is fatal to rabbits and transmitted mainly by flying insects.

Veterinary nurse Natalie Kemp, who works at the Best Friends practice in South End Road, said she and her colleagues had seen 20 cases in the last fortnight – their first since last year.

“We saw three yesterday alone. It seems to be getting more common,” she said.


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“We normally have a couple of weeks with a spike, but it seems to be more this year. My colleagues and friends in other practices around Dagenham and Redbridge have seen a lot of it as well.”

The infection, which is spread by the myxoma virus, causes swelling in the rabbit’s eyes, ears and genitals, as well as breathing difficulties and skin tumours. As there is no cure, the kindest option following diagnosis is usually to put the rabbit down.

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“It looks to a normal person as though the rabbit has a cold,” explained Natalie, “but it’s more serious, and treatment is very limited.”

The disease doesn’t harm people. In fact, it was introduced artificially by humans during the last century to control wild rabbit numbers – a move that devastated the population in countries like France.

But a single inoculation can stop a rabbit catching the illness – so bunny owners are urged to hop down to their local vet’s surgery as soon as possible.

“Vaccination isn’t expensive and it lasts an entire year. Previously it had to be given every six months,” said Natalie.

Myxomatosis can also be spread from rabbit to rabbit during breeding, though this is less common and most transmission is by mosquitoes, gnats and rabbit fleas.

If you head down to Best Friends and mention you’ve seen them in the Recorder, they’ll give you 10 per cent off a myxomatosis vaccine for your rabbit. e Kemp, who works at the Best Friends practice in South End Road, said she and her colleagues had seen 20 cases in the last fortnight – their first since last year.

“We saw three yesterday alone. It seems to be getting more common,” she said.

“We normally have a couple of weeks with a spike, but it seems to be more this year. My colleagues and friends in other practices around Dagenham and Redbridge have seen a lot of it as well.”

The infection, which is spread by the myxoma virus, causes swelling in the rabbit’s eyes, ears and genitals, as well as breathing difficulties and skin tumours. As there is no cure, the kindest option following diagnosis is usually to put the rabbit down.

“It looks to a normal person as though the rabbit has a cold,” explained Natalie, “but it’s more serious, and treatment is very limited.”

The disease doesn’t harm people. In fact, it was introduced artificially by humans during the last century to control wild rabbit numbers – a move that devastated the population in countries like France.

But a single inoculation can stop a rabbit catching the illness – so bunny owners are urged to hop down to their local vet’s surgery as soon as possible.

“Vaccination isn’t expensive and it lasts an entire year. Previously it had to be given every six months,” said Natalie.

Myxomatosis can also be spread from rabbit to rabbit during breeding, though this is less common and most transmission is by mosquitoes, gnats and rabbit fleas.

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