First broadcast on

This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Myxomatosis is a potentially fatal viral disease which is well established in the wild rabbit population of many countries, and as a result it is transmitted from time to time to domesticated (pet) rabbits

The myxoma virus that causes myxomatosis occurs in a variety of different strains in North America, South America, Australia and Europe. It is highly virulent and is transmitted manly by the bite of insect vectors - eg the rabbit flea (Spilopsyllus cuniculli), mites and mosquitos. 

The incubation period of the disease (the period when the animal is infected but is not showing signs) is 2-8 days, after which the following initial signs of myxomatosis may develop :

  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Reddening of the whites of the eyes
  • A watery discharge from the eyes
  • Lethargy
  • A high body temperature

Later signs include :

  • Extension of the swelling to the rabbits face, lips, ears and around the anal region and the genitals.
  • Anorexia
  • Dehydration
  • Skin haemorrhages
  • Secondary infections eg "snuffles" 
  • The development of skin cancer (seen in Europe and South America)

Susceptible rabbits will die within 3 weeks of developing the signs of the disease, but a few may survive in which case the lesions take a few months to disappear. Wild rabbit populations have often developed an natural resistance to the virus and do not die, but still carry the virus and act as a reservoir of infection for pet  rabbits.

There is no specific treatment for myxomatosis, although veterinarians can help infected rabbits by giving fluids to dehydrated individuals, and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections.

Rabbit owners should take the following precautions to avoid transmission of the disease :

  • Discourage wild rabbits from entering gardens or premises where pet rabbits are kept
  • Quarantine all new rabbits introduced into a household or colony for 2 weeks to make sure signs of disease do not develop
  • In some countries at risk rabbits can be vaccinated with a live vaccine. the vaccine is given subcutaneously every 6-12 months. The vaccine should not be given to pregnant females.
  • Use routine measures to reduce ectoparasites on rabbits, and mosquitos and other biting insects in the environment 


Updated October 2013