Today, we are here to answer the question, “Do rabbits need shots?”
Every pet owner wants their pets to live long, happy, healthy lives. The same is, of course, true for those who own rabbits.
However, there is one topic that can be mightily confusing for rabbit owners – vaccines.
Do bunnies need vaccinations? Are rabbit shots really necessary? Are they even safe?
These questions pose a real issue for bunny owners. We all want our rabbits to live healthy lives, but the role vaccines play in this can be very confusing.
Luckily, that’s exactly why we’ve put together this handy guide! We’ll explore what different experts say about rabbit shots, look at what your bunny might be vaccinated for in the first place, and explore the details of getting your bunny vaccinated.
Do Bunnies Need Shots?
Truly, it depends on what you mean by the word “need.” Legally speaking, pet rabbits only need vaccines if you live in Europe or parts of Australia. Both of these areas require vaccinations against two different diseases – myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic disease.
This is largely because these diseases are extremely common among wild rabbits in both of these regions. Both of these diseases are tremendously contagious and can easily pass from wild rabbit to domestic rabbit.
Because of these factors, both of these areas have decided to make it mandatory for all bunnies, both indoor and outdoor, to get these vaccinations.
However, matters are different in most other parts of the world – like the U.S.A. and Canada. Vaccinating rabbits is generally rare in these countries, and sometimes the option might not even be available.
This is due to the rarity of these diseases. There are occasional, small outbreaks of myxomatosis in the U.S.A., but there are no licensed bunny shot vaccines against the disease as of yet.
As another example, rabbits can get rabies, but they are low risk for this condition. There is no vaccine approved for rabies shots, at least in the U.S., so the answer to “Do rabbits need rabies shots?” is no.
What Vaccinations Do Rabbits Need?
Once again, it really depends on your location. The U.K. and Australia require vaccinations against two different kinds of diseases – myxomatosis and viral hemorrhagic disease.
That’s about as simple as it gets though. In other areas, the law can be extremely confusing as to what vaccines are recommended for rabbits, what vaccines are available at all, and what vaccines are illegal.
For example, Denmark has changed its law multiple times in the last decade.
As of this publishing date, vaccinating your rabbit against myxomatosis is illegal due to the risk of spreading the disease. However, other vaccinations are recommended in Denmark.
In the U.S.A., there is no vaccination for rabbits that has yet to be approved by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Center for Veterinary Biologics.
Because of this, no vaccines are available. Furthermore, it is illegal to import vaccinations from other countries, and therefore illegal to vaccinate your pet bunny.
If you have any specific questions about the laws and regulations in your area, it is always best to ask your vet. They will be familiar and up to date on all laws regarding rabbit vaccinations in your country.
Now that we’ve explored the particular regional laws, let’s look at some particular diseases rabbits can be vaccinated against in some areas.
Myxomatosis is a virus that is transferred from blood sucking insects, like mosquitoes and fleas, to rabbits. The virus then spreads to the lymph nodes, where it is spread throughout the body.
The first signs of this disease usually involves swelling of the eyelids, followed by the lips, genital organs, and the lining of the eye. As the disease progresses, it causes blindness and is usually fatal within 8 to 15 days.
Prognosis for this disease is generally not very good. 99% of rabbits who are affected by this disease pass away due to either the disease itself or a secondary complication. Most vets routinely recommend putting the animal to sleep upon diagnosis.
Myxomatosis was originally discovered in the Americas, and has since spread around both continents.
However, because the rabbits in both North and South America have been long exposed to the disease, they have built up an immunity. In other words, this virus usually does not affect rabbits as negatively in the western hemisphere.
However, the virus was then spread over to Europe, where it spread to other parts of the world as well. Here, rabbits did not have an immunity to the virus, and it affected them much more negatively.
In fact, the disease almost wiped out Australia’s whole wild rabbit population, except for a few individuals who seemed resistant to the virus.
Viral Hemorrhagic Disease
Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (VHD), also known as Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease or Rabbit Calicivirus Disease, is an extremely contagious ailment that affects only bunnies of the Oryctolagus cuniculus species.
This mostly includes European rabbits, though some forms of domesticated American rabbits are also affected.
It does not affect North American native rabbits or hares.
This disease is extremely contagious, and can even be spread by clothing, shoes, and car tires. It can also be spread by insects, birds, and other animals.
Humans can also spread the disease if they have come into contact with it, though they will not show signs of sickness.
Symptoms can include things such as: loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, and spasms. However, VHD usually causes the affected rabbit to pass away within 48 hours – usually not enough time to report and diagnose symptoms.
Because of this, it is very likely that many rabbits die each year without ever being diagnosed.
If any sudden rabbit death appears suspicious, it is important to report it to your veterinarian as a possible case of VHD. This can help save the lives of other rabbits.
Rabbit Vaccinations Side Effects
If you do get your rabbit vaccinated, there are some side effects you should be aware of, just like with every vaccine.
Side effects to the VHD vaccine include loss of appetite (usually for only 24 hours); site reactions like swelling, irritation, and hair loss and in extremely rare cases, death due to a severe reaction.
Luckily, reactions are normally very rare.
Side effects to the Myxomatosis vaccine include: swelling at injection site, fever, and loss of appetite. This is a very safe vaccine – with overdoses in at-risk rabbits only causing minor side effects.
It is important to note, however, that even with the Myxomatosis vaccine, the rabbit is not guaranteed to never get the virus. Even after vaccination, it is possible.
However, the disease is usually minor when compared to Myxomatosis in unvaccinated rabbits, and is not as fatal.
How Much Do Rabbit Vaccinations Cost
The total cost of annual vaccinations is usually between $40 and $60. Of course, this can vary widely depending on your specific location.
This can be an important cost to consider when thinking about adopting a bunny.
Do Rabbits Need Shots? – A Summary
As you can see, the answer to this question can vary widely.
In some areas, it is required that all bunnies receive particular vaccinations. In other areas, vaccines have yet to be cleared and legalized.
It really does matter a lot on where specifically you are located.
Furthermore, they type of rabbit you own is also important.
Some fatal diseases that are commonly vaccinated against only affect certain species of rabbits. Therefore, you might not need to get your rabbit vaccinated if they are a different species.
Your vet should have up to date, specific information regarding the laws in your area. And therefore, if you have any questions, it is always best to contact a rabbit friendly vet for the correct information.
This is especially true in areas that commonly change their laws regarding rabbit vaccinations.
References and Further Reading
- National Office of Animal Health, Rabbit Vaccinations Briefing Document.
- Martin, A (2016). Myxomatosis in the US. House Rabbit Society.
- Praag, E. (2010). Myxomatosis in Rabbits. MediRabbit.
- Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Rabbit Vaccinations.
- Marcato, P. S. et al (1991). Clinical and pathological features of viral haemorrhagic disease of rabbits and the European brown hare syndrome. Revue Scientifique et Technique (International Office of Zootics).
- House Rabbit Society, Viral Hemorrhagic Disease.
- Macauthur Veterinary Group, Rabbit Vaccination.
- European Medicines Agency (2011). CVMP assessment report Nobivac Myxo-RHD.