Rabbit vaccinations protection your rabbits from myxomatosis and VHD

Myxomatosis and VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) are highly contagious and often fatal diseases that can affect our rabbits. Fortunately, effective rabbit vaccinations are available, and regular vaccinations means both are usually preventable.

What are myxomatosis and VHD?

Myxomatosis is caused by the myxoma virus. This is spread by fleas, flies and mosquitoes, or direct contact with an infected rabbit.

Symptoms of myxomatosis

  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite
  • redness or swelling around the eyes, nose, mouth and genitalia
  • discharge around the nose and eyes
  • breathing difficulties


VHD is also known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) and Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD). VHD is an extremely contagious calicivirus virus and is almost always fatal for rabbits. Rabbits can contract VHD after coming into contact with an infected rabbit or contaminated object or surface, such as a food bowl.

There are two strains of VHD – VHD1 and VHD2. Both strains can remain active in the environment for many months, and cause severe internal bleeding, meaning it is often hard to spot until it is too late.

Following exposure to VHD1 symptoms usually occur extremely quickly and include:

  • internal bleeding
  • lethargy
  • lack of appetite
  • breathing difficulties
  • bleeding or bloody discharge from the nose or mouth
  • seizure
  • sudden or unexplained death


VHD2 often shows no specific outward symptoms, so many rabbits go undiagnosed. A rabbit with VHD2 may appear unwell before suddenly and unexplainably dying.

If you suspect your rabbit has myxomatosis or VHD, or has been exposed to an infected rabbit, seek veterinary advice immediately.

Do I need to vaccinate my rabbit against myxomatosis and VHD?

You MUST vaccinate your rabbit to protect them from myxomatosis and VHD. There is no cure for either of these diseases. If your rabbit contracts myxomatosis or VHD and you haven’t vaccinated them, the sad truth is they will very likely die.

A combination rabbit vaccination is available for myxomatosis and VHD1. The initial vaccination can usually be given to rabbits from 5 weeks of age. They then need an annual booster to remain protected.

Your rabbits will need a separate vaccine to protect them against VHD2, and regular boosters injections. Depending on whether you live in a high risk area, your vet will advise whether your rabbits need a 6 monthly or annual booster for VHD2. We recommend consulting your vet for further advice and information on rabbit vaccinations.

In short, to protect your rabbit from myxomatosis and VHD you MUST have them vaccinated regularly. Many vets offer reminder services for rabbit vaccinations, so it’s easier than ever to protect your rabbit.

My rabbit lives alone and doesn’t go outside. Do I still need to vaccinate against myxomatosis and VHD?

It is a common misconception that rabbits that live alone, in cities or inside don’t need vaccinating for myxomatosis and VHD. In reality it doesn’t matter where your rabbit lives. The only way to provide them with complete protection from myxomatosis and VHD is through regular vaccinations.

49% of rabbits don’t get a primary vaccination course when young. Meanwhile, 58% aren’t given regular boosters (PDSA PAW Report, 2018). All these rabbits would be at risk of myxomatosis and VHD.

While rabbits that live inside are unlikely to come into contact with another infected rabbit, that doesn’t mean they’re safe. As mentioned, both flies and fleas spread myxomatosis. Flies can enter your home through an open window, putting indoor rabbits at risk. Meanwhile ‘hitchhiker’ fleas can be picked up by other animals or even people visiting your home.

When it comes to VHD, this is highly contagious; a rabbit only need come into contact with a contaminated object or surface to get infected. This could be something as small as a food bowl or toy given to you by another rabbit owner that wasn’t properly cleaned.

The only fail-safe way to protect your rabbits from myxomatosis and VHD is through regular vaccinations.

What else can I do to protect my rabbit from myxomatosis and VHD?

Alongside vaccination, you can help protect your rabbit from myxomatosis and VHD by maintaining good hygiene. Keeping your rabbit’s hutch or cage clean is an excellent starting point and can help minimise the risk of infection. As mentioned above, VHD is highly contagious and spreads through contact with contaminated surfaces. This could be hutches, food bowls, or even brushes or bedding. VHD can also be spread through contact with another infected rabbit.

Beaphar Deep Clean Disinfectant is long-lasting and kills harmful viruses and fungi. Ensuring you thoroughly clean and disinfect your rabbits' hutch once a week and disinfect litter trays or toilet areas daily will help remove harmful bacteria.

Maintaining a clean hutch and removing dirty litter/bedding and faeces will also help reduce the attraction of flies. As well as being carriers of myxomatosis, flies also cause fly strike, another potential fatal illness for rabbits.

You may also wish to protect your rabbit against fleas, the other carrier of myxomatosis. Rabbits don’t need flea treating in the same way as cats and dogs, if you live in a multi-pet household and are experiencing a flea problem it’s a good idea to flea treat your rabbit as well. Beaphar Anti-Parasite Spot On for rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets and rats contains vet strength ivermectin. It kills fleas, as well as lice, mange mites, other mites and ringworm.