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Can You Eat Rabbits with Myxomatosis?

Last Updated: 30.03.20


Whether you’re raising rabbits or you’re hunting wild ones, making sure they’re healthy is a must before putting them on the stove. While our recent article helps you find good Oxbow rabbit food, today’s post will help you know more about rabbits with myxomatosis. 

People raise rabbits or hunt them for various reasons. While some of us raise pet rabbits for their companionship, there are rabbit species that are raised or hunted for profit and meat. However, consuming rabbit meat should be done only after it has been carefully examined and handled. 

Looking for signs of meat contamination is, therefore, compulsory since rabbits can carry dangerous diseases. Myxomatosis is one of them. Check out this post to learn more about it, its symptoms, and how to prevent your rabbits from getting this disease. 


What is myxomatosis and how does it spread?

Rabbits can get and develop various diseases including myxomatosis. This highly contagious viral disease is so dangerous because of its outcome, which is fatal in most cases. Myxomatosis is caused by the Myxoma virus, a member of the Poxvirus family. It has been used to reduce the wild rabbit population in some countries and has been around for quite some time now. 

The disease affects both wild and pet rabbits. Its acute form can lead to death within 10 days whereas its chronic form can kill the rabbit within a couple of weeks. However, some rabbits can survive myxomatosis. 

Blood-sucking insects including ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, and mites spread this disease. What’s more, parasites can also pass it on to domestic rabbits. Although it is unusual, it is not impossible for the virus to spread by air transmission, indirect contact via clothes or food dishes, and direct contact between rabbits. 



Myxomatosis symptoms

Identifying myxomatosis in rabbits is not difficult because the symptoms it causes are easy to notice. However, depending on the virus strain that causes it, it may take up to a couple of weeks for the infected rabbit to experience and show symptoms. The first parts that are affected include the genitals, eyes, and nose.  

The most common symptoms of myxomatosis are eye and nose discharge, ulcers, swelling, loss of appetite, redness, lethargy, respiratory problems, and even blindness. In pet rabbits, myxomatosis has three forms. The peracute form has the fastest progression and may lead to death within a week. The only symptoms in this case include lethargy, fever, loss of appetite, and swelling of the eyelids. 

The acute form usually causes swelling around the eyes, lips, nose, ears, genitalia, and anus. This form has a rapid progression, too, and some of the lesions caused may become severe in less than 48 hours. Blindness is one of the most severe symptoms in such cases. When the disease leads to hemorrhage and seizures, the rabbit can die within 10 days. 

Most rabbits that get infected with Myxoma virus and develop the disease die in this stage. If they survive, though, they then develop the chronic form of myxomatosis. Although this form is less common, when it occurs it causes eye discharge, respiratory problems, and swelling around the ears. 

A certain strain of Myxoma virus can also cause myxomas which are a type of nodules. Most rabbits with this form of myxomatosis die within a couple of weeks. If a rabbit survives this stage, it is highly likely not to be reinfected for the rest of its life. 


Prevention and treatment 

While there is no cure for myxomatosis, the disease can be prevented. A vaccine that protects against myxomatosis is available. Still, just like many other vaccines, the one against myxomatosis does not ensure complete protection; therefore, a vaccinated rabbit may still catch the disease. With proper veterinary care, recovery is possible, though. 

If you raise and breed pet rabbits, make sure they are regularly vaccinated against viral hemorrhagic disease and myxomatosis. Ask your vet about these vaccines and their availability. There are countries where the vaccine is not available. 

Make sure that there are no areas in your garden that could attract disease vectors and thus remove any stagnant water. Plus, install mosquito-proof guards on hutches and use screening to prevent the insects from reaching the rabbits. 

Other insects carrying the Myxoma virus can find a way inside your rabbit cage. That’s why it is best to use a flea preventative as well. Selamectin is a monthly flea preventative usually used for pet rabbits. Ask your vet about it as you will need a prescription to get it. 

Controlling external parasites that can transmit the virus is one of the best ways to prevent myxomatosis. Keep the rabbits indoors when biting-insects are most active. Plus, avoid shows, fairs, or places where there are many rabbits or where your rabbit could be bitten by mosquitoes, fleas, and other blood-sucking insects. 

In case you notice signs of myxomatosis in one of your rabbits, you should isolate the animal and cover its cage with mosquito netting. 

Keeping the infected rabbit isolated is of utmost importance as the virus can be easily transmitted to other rabbits through contaminated clothing, dishes, and other means. Supportive care should be provided to infected rabbits. 

Fluids, pain medication, and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections are often part of these supportive methods. When the symptoms your rabbit shows are severe, euthanasia might be recommended. 

If another rabbit has been exposed to the infected rabbit, the animal should be quarantined for two weeks. The quarantined rabbit should be treated and cared for as if it were infected. If symptoms of myxomatosis fail to appear and the rabbit does not develop fever, it is highly likely for the rabbit not to have been infected. 



Does myxomatosis affect humans?

People get worried when they hear about pet diseases and, while in some cases there is a good enough reason for that, myxomatosis is not the case. The disease can only affect rabbits and cannot be passed on to humans and other pets. 

Shortly after the release of the myxoma virus in Australia in 1950, there has been a considerable number of human encephalitis cases, which made many people believe there was a connection between this disease and the myxoma virus. 

To prove that this hypothesis was wrong, CSIRO Chairman Ian Clunies Ross, Frank Fenner, and Macfarlane Burnet injected themselves with the virus. The outcome revealed that there was no connection between the above-mentioned brain disease and the myxoma virus as none of the three scientists was affected. 


Rabbit meat and safety measures

Though the myxoma virus does not affect humans, it is always best to take precautions. When you fully cook the animal meat you want to eat, many of the microorganisms it carries get killed. 

However, if you’re simply not comfortable with eating meat that has been infected, even if the virus does not affect you, then it is best to learn more about the various health conditions that affect rabbits and identify the signs of infection so you can avoid it.

Therefore, pay attention to the symptoms caused by various rabbit diseases. Myxomatosis is just one of the many health conditions rabbits can suffer from. Unfortunately, while in some cases the symptoms are visible, in others they cannot be identified with the naked eye.

Identifying what the animal has suffered from might be difficult when harvesting a rabbit. That’s why it is best not to eat a sick animal. Other common diseases that can affect rabbits include tularemia, calicivirus disease, intestinal worms, and parasites or worms under the skin. 

While fully cooking infected meat makes it safer to eat, it is always best to inspect the meat carefully before handling and cooking it. The meat should be cooked at a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit for any potential disease to be killed. 

Since myxomatosis is not the only disease that can affect rabbits, you should thoroughly inspect the animal before cooking it. If you notice lesions on the rabbit’s internal organs such as small white lesions on the liver, you should discard the rabbit and not eat it. 

Plus, always use nitrile or latex gloves when handling and cleaning the rabbit. If you have any cuts or wounds, make sure to cover them to avoid contamination with various harmful microorganisms through contact with blood. If you notice any unusual health problems or flu-like symptoms after handling or eating rabbits, you should see your doctor. 




Irina Ionescu

As a long-term learner and animal lover, Irina helps her readers find the best products and accessories for their pets, as well as the latest training techniques, tips & tricks on how to handle animals.

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