Notes: Myxomatosis and why vaccinations are important

Pet rabbit owners and 4-H rabbit breeders alike are concerned about a rabbit disease making the rounds. Myxomatosis, a usually fatal disease that does not affect humans or other animals, has claimed the lives of rabbits raised by 4-H kids in Linn and Benton Counties this month; as a result, fairs in both counties were closed to rabbits and the state fair may not allow rabbits, either.

Owners of pet rabbits may be alarmed to hear about this disease. It often makes an appearance on the Oregon coast and is a common epidemic in California, but hasn’t been seen to this degree in the Mid-Valley in more than a decade.

It is spread by mosquitoes and fleas as well as by humans and wild rabbits – which are usually immune – with symptoms ranging from mild lethargy to swollen eyes and genital areas and high fever. But myxomatosis cannot be diagnosed accurately until the animal has died, and a vaccine against the disease that rabbit owners in Europe and Australia have easy access to is not legal for use in the United States.

To protect against the disease, owners should make sure their animals are safely indoors and therefore less susceptible to mosquito and flea bites. If your pets have parasites of any kind, talk to your vet about a safe way to eliminate them – rabbits cannot be bathed or treated with over-the-counter dog or cat flea products. Owners should take care to wash carefully if they are in contact with other rabbits.

While the disease usually kills, three rabbits belonging to 4-H groups at the Benton County Fair have survived the outbreak. If your rabbit shows a loss of appetite, fever, or swelling it should be taken to a rabbit-savvy vet immediately. There may be secondary care that the vet can provide that may save the rabbit, although the odds are slim.

If your rabbit has been exposed to an ill rabbit, it should be quarantined for two weeks before being introduced to another, healthy rabbit.

Is your bunny living outdoors in a hutch? This may be an ideal time to consider the benefits of a rabbit as house pet. Rabbits can be safely spayed or neutered, then litterbox trained, and can be good pets with little odor. You may be surprised how much the personality of a rabbit can blossom when it is brought indoors and has more interaction with you. Even inside, of course, rabbits can still be bitten by mosquitoes – make sure your screens are all repaired and don’t leave doors open to keep the pests from entering the house.

MORE ON DISEASE: You’re not off the hook if you are a cat owner, as distemper is making the rounds in this area right now, too. Fortunately, a vaccine is available to prevent distemper from ever being a problem for your cat.

If your vaccinations are not up to date or you don’t know when – or if – your feline was last vaccinated, make an appointment to have it done right away. A cat should have its distemper booster given every year so that it can put up a full defense to the disease. Have a kitten? Even when vaccinated, it takes a few weeks for full immunity to build up, so keep any recently vaccinated young cats away from other cats until it is four months old.

Without being vaccinated, cats are very susceptible to the disease, which is formally known as feline panleukopenia. Young kittens and older cats are usually the first to be affected. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite and a high fever. Sometimes you will also see vomiting and diarrhea before the animal dies. As with myxmomatosis in rabbits, some lucky animals will beat the odds and survive. If your cat shows any symptoms, take it to the vet immediately, where it can be given fluids, antibiotics and other supportive care.

DOGS NEED VACCINATIONS, TOO: Thankfully, Mid-Valley dog owners are pretty good, overall, at having their canines vaccinated – that’s usually because they are legally obligated to get rabies shots, and so get their other vaccines at the same time. But if that’s not the case with you, make plans to get your dog vaccinated with the DHPP vaccine. That stands for distemper (different from the cat kind but equally unpleasant), hepatitis, parinfluenza and parvovirus. A couple other diseases to vaccinate against – especially if your dog is in contact with other pooches – is bordatella (kennel cough) and corona virus.

Give your puppies their first shots at 8 weeks old and give them two more boosters four weeks apart. Boosters should be given annually. Make a vet appointment now if you don’t have records or remember when your dog last had its shots.