The Santa Cruz Sentinel has reported on recent cases of rabbit deaths due to myxomatosis, a fatal disease caused by the myxoma virus that has no treatment. Hilary Stern, an exotics vet at Animal Hospital of Soquel, has been hearing of several cases of rabbits suddenly dying in Santa Cruz County.
Symptoms of the disease include skin tumors around the head and genitals, swollen eyes with discharge, lethargy, lack of appetite, and respiratory distress. The virus can spread through direct contact with an affected animal, or by being bitten by fleas or mosquitoes that have fed on an infected rabbit. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for a rabbit that has contracted myxomatosis, other than pain control and palliative care.
This disease doesn’t have an available vaccine in the US, although there are some options in the UK. Some places encourage the spread of this virus as a means of wild rabbit population control, including Australia, France, Great Britain, and New Zealand. In Australia, the use of the vaccine is banned, despite the fact that this disease is affecting many pet rabbits, and is doing little to control the population of wild rabbits.
If your rabbit is showing signs of illness, take them to an exotics vet as soon as possible.