MYXOMATOSIS has been around in the UK since the 1950s. Although a naturally occurring disease, in the past it has been deliberately spread amongst wild rabbits to try and control spiralling numbers.

Nowadays, many wild rabbits are immune to myxomatosis but acts as reservoirs of infection for domestic pet rabbits. The recent warm weather has allowed the spread of the disease by biting insects and we have already seen a couple of instances of myxomatosis in Malvern.

There is very effective vaccination against myxomatosis and another disease, VHD, which can protect your pet rabbit against this highly stressful and often fatal disease.

The facts: - Myxomatosis is a viral disease spread by blood sucking insects such as mosquitoes and rabbit fleas.

Myxomatosis is endemic within the wild rabbit population.

As the months get warmer these insects start to appear and feed on your pet.

When the insects bite your rabbit a small amount of virus is passed into the bloodstream and starts to multiply.

Symptoms include; puffy fluid filled swelling around the head, neck, eyes, anus and genitals, these progressively get worse and death usually occurs within 12-14 days.

Prevention is by vaccination every 6-12 months depending on prevalence in the area and good parasite control.

Viral Haemorrhagic disease (VHD) is a virus that is rapidly fatal and can be transmitted by either direct contact (rabbit to rabbit) or by indirect contact from clothing, bedding or other items.

VHD is similar to an infectious haemophilia in that the virus attacks the blood vessels causing them to disintegrate. Most rabbits die from massive internal bleeding, particularly into the brain.

VHD is thought to be very under-diagnosed in the UK as it causes sudden death. An apparently healthy rabbit one day is found dead the following morning with no outward signs. This is often attributed to shock perhaps due to a fox nearby when in actual fact it may be due to VHD.

Prevention is by annual vaccination.

The best time to have your rabbit vaccinated is in the spring just as the warmer weather (and therefore flying insects) starts. It also gives your rabbit the opportunity to have a thorough health check by your veterinarian who can advise on diet, dentistry etc.