Myxomatosis in the US
What is Myxomatosis?
Myxomatosis is a virus. Wild rabbits can carry Myxomatosis, but do not become sick. Myxomatosis is fatal to domestic (pet) rabbits with a 99% mortality rate, and there is no treatment. Symptoms include swollen eyelids, lips, and genitals, a high fever, lethargy, and progresses to difficulty breathing, and death, within 2 weeks.
How is Myxomatosis spread?
Mosquitoes, fleas, black flies, or fur mites bite a wild rabbit with Myxomatosis and then bite a domestic rabbit. Myxomatosis can also be spread by direct contact between infected rabbits, or indirect contact through handling a sick rabbit, then handling a healthy rabbit.
Where is Myxomatosis in North America?
Myxomatosis cases in pet rabbits are periodically reported in the coastal areas of Oregon, California, and Baja California, Mexico, in the territory of the brush rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani) who is a reservoir of this disease.
2016 Santa Cruz County, July & Sept
2016 Santa Barbara County (reported to HRS by CDFA, June) & July & August
2015 Monterey County
2015 Santa Cruz County
2014 Santa Cruz County
2012 Monterey County (reported to HRS by AFRP’s Rescue Rabbits Rock)
2010 San Gabriel Valley (near Los Angeles)
Baja California (Mexico):
House Rabbit Society is collecting reports of cases of Myxomatosis to add to this list. If you are a vet with a patient with Myxomatosis, or a rabbit guardian whose rabbit has been diagnosed with Myxomatosis, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to have the case added.
If you are a vet in California, please submit deceased rabbits suspected of Myxomatosis for necropsy with a CAHFS state lab (fee $120) or report confirmed Myxomatosis cases to the California Department of Food and Agriculture: email@example.com.
There have been no cases of Myxomatosis reported to the Washington State Department of Agriculture in the last 5 years (2011-2016).
What are other diseases that might look like Myxomatosis?
Take your rabbit to the vet immediately if you are concerned your rabbit might have Myxomatosis, and separate them from any other rabbits in your home. Your vet can determine whether your rabbit might instead have rabbit Syphilis, or an upper respiratory infection, or an eye infection, all of which are treatable conditions.
How can I protect my rabbit from Myxomatosis?
House your rabbits indoors with window screens. If you live in an area with reported Myxomatosis cases, treat your rabbits monthly with Revolution, to prevent fleas and fur mites. Revolution is a prescription medication, available through your veterinarian. Or, treat with over-the-counter Advantage, which provides protection from fleas (but not from mosquitoes or fur mites). Be sure to give your cats and dogs flea treatment, too. Don’t let your rabbit play outside if you live in an area with currently reported Myxomatosis cases.
Rabbits live longer, healthier lives when indoors. Because myxomatosis is just one of many concerns facing rabbits who live outdoors, House Rabbit Society recommends indoor homes for rabbits as the primary preventative, along with adequate screening on doors and windows.
For rabbits who must live or spend some of their time out of doors, protection against mosquitoes is next best bet, via protecting the rabbits’ play area with mosquito netting or some other barrier. More information on hazards facing outdoor rabbits.
Why isn’t the vaccine in Europe/the UK available in the US?
The Myxomatosis vaccine available in Europe and in the UK has not been approved by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Center for Veterinary Biologics, so there is no vaccine available in the United States, and it is not legal to import the vaccine from other countries.
More info on Myxomatosis:
By Anne Martin, PhD
Executive Director, House Rabbit Society
Margo DeMello, PhD
President, House Rabbit Society