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What Infectious Diseases Can Rabbits Have?

Last Updated: 27.02.20


Rabbits, whether wild or domesticated, can be affected by various diseases. Identifying the subtle or more visible signs of rabbit health problems is, therefore, compulsory. Disease prevention is also a long-term responsibility. Finding more information on the appropriate diet and adjusting it to your rabbit’s needs and having the animal regularly checked and vaccinated by a vet are mandatory steps to take. 

Whether you’re hunting wild rabbits or you have a domesticated one as a companion, utmost attention should be paid when it comes to their health condition. Both wild and pet rabbits can suffer from various diseases. While some of them can be cured, there are no effective treatments for several infectious diseases. 

Preventing such diseases involves a healthy lifestyle including a correct diet as well as regular health checks and vaccines. However, since rabbits may get infected despite a healthy lifestyle, it is best to be able to identify signs of disease in order to provide the appropriate treatment if needed. 

Here are some of the most common infectious diseases that can affect your rabbit. If you notice any of the below-mentioned symptoms, make sure you see your vet. 



Caused by the myxoma virus, this disease often affects wild rabbits yet, even if your pet rabbit does not come into direct contact with wild animals, it can affect domesticated ones, too. Blood-sucking insects such as fleas, mites, mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas spread myxomatosis. Moreover, parasites can also pass it on to domestic rabbits. 

Also, it is not impossible for the virus to spread by air transmission or indirect contact via contaminated clothes and food dishes. A rabbit can also be infected with myxomatosis if it gets injuries caused by contaminated thistles or thorns. 

The incubation period ranges from 1 to 3 days yet it may take up to a couple of weeks for the infected rabbit to experience and show any symptom. In pet rabbits, myxomatosis takes three forms including the peracute, acute, and chronic forms. Symptoms vary from one stage to another. 

The peracute form progresses rapidly and can cause death in less than a week. Symptoms of this form of myxomatosis include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, and swelling of the eyelids. The acute form also has a rapid progression and thus some of the lesions caused can become severe in a couple of days. 

In this stage, the rabbit may show swelling around the eyes, nose, lips, genitalia, anus, and ears. The disease may also cause seizures and hemorrhage. In such cases, the affected rabbit can die within 10 days. 

Most rabbits that reach the acute stage die. However, if they survive this form of myxomatosis, they then develop the so-called chronic form of this disease. The symptoms encountered in this stage include respiratory problems, eye discharge, and swelling around the ears. 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for myxomatosis but the disease can be prevented. When the rabbit is affected, it should receive supportive treatments including fluids, anti-inflammatory drugs, syringe feeding, and pain relievers.

There is a vaccine against myxomatosis but, like other vaccines, it does not ensure complete protection. Moreover, the vaccine is not available in certain countries. 



Viral hemorrhagic disease

Another contagious disease rabbits can suffer from is the viral hemorrhagic disease (VHD) which is also known as the rabbit calicivirus (RCV) or rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD). The disease is caused by a calicivirus that can be transmitted through direct contact with an infected rabbit, rodents, rabbit items, mosquitoes carrying the virus, and contaminated clothes, dishes, and cages. 

What makes this a dangerous disease is not only the fact that it is highly contagious but it may be fatal. Even if the incubation period is up to three days, the infected animal can die without even showing any signs of being ill. 

However, if there are signs of being infected, they include loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, and collapse. In some cases, symptoms of having the VHD also include respiratory problems, bloody nasal discharge, convulsions, and coma. The disease has a mortality rate of 70 to 90%. If the infected rabbit does survive, it may die a few weeks later as a result of liver failure. 

Since the disease is aggressive and leads to a violent death, prevention gains even greater importance. Therefore, make sure your rabbits get vaccinated regularly. Ask your veterinarian about the vaccine availability as well as its benefits and risks. 

Couple the vaccine with other prevention methods such as isolation of new rabbits from older rabbits, good insect control, and reduction of contact with items that may be contaminated. There is no treatment for this disease; therefore, pay great attention to any changes in your rabbit’s behavior and see your vet in case you notice anything unusual. 



Rabbits can also suffer from an infectious disease called pasteurellosis. This infection is caused by Pasteurella multocida bacteria and is also known as snuffles since it often leads to upper respiratory tract infection. When affecting rabbits, this bacterium causes respiratory infections, abscesses, and chronic inflammatory disease.

Abscesses caused by an infection with this microorganism usually affect tooth roots, internal organs, skin and tissues under the skin as well as bones. The infectious disease also affects the eyes, nasolacrimal ducts, nose, and ears. 

Most cases of snuffles are mild and common symptoms include slight ocular or nasal discharge as well as sneezing. In this stage, the disease can be treated but, if no treatment is provided, it can cause more severe symptoms and be even fatal. 

After running specific tests, the vet will prescribe injectable or oral antibiotics. Supportive care may also be required and it usually involves the use of oral anti-inflammatory drugs and nose or eye drops. 

In case of abscesses, surgery might be required to remove them. Still, some abscesses may occur again even after surgery. They include abscesses that affect the middle ear and thus cause balance problems, the eyeballs leading to blindness, or internal organs and bones. 

This bacterium is carried by all rabbits but only some of them will manifest the disease. Factors that make it more likely for the rabbit to experience clinical signs of pasteurellosis include a poor diet, environmental stresses, or the presence of other health problems. 

The disease can be easily transmitted via direct contact with another infected rabbit such as contact with ocular or nasal discharge and pus from an abscess, or contaminated items including bedding and water bowls. If you want to get new rabbits, make sure you isolate them for a month or so before introducing them to existing pets. 




Encephalitozoon cuniculi is another microorganism that affects rabbits. It can be transmitted from one rabbit to another through infected urine or from mother to offspring. Just like the previously-mentioned bacterium, this one causes a latent condition in the rabbits and thus some infected animals might not show any clinical signs. 

However, when there are signs, they include white cataracts in one or both eyes, twitching eyes, loss of appetite, seizures, difficulty walking, and tremors. The use of anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory drugs is usually what the treatment of encephalitozoonosis involves. 

Supportive care may also be needed and it includes motion-sickness medication and syringe feeding. No medication or treatment guarantees to clear this infection and even after the administration of anti-parasitic drugs, the infected rabbit may show signs of infection. 

There have been a few cases of encephalitozoonosis in people yet further studies and research are required to fully understand this condition in humans. Still, if you have a poorly functioning immune system, it is best to avoid infected rabbits. 

Rabbits can be affected by other diseases such as tularemia that is also caused by a bacterium, rotavirus infection, and papillomatosis. Plus, they can also develop intestinal worms and parasites under the skin. 

Learning more about the various diseases that can affect wild and domesticated rabbits is, thus, compulsory. Being able to identify signs of health problems is of paramount importance as, once you notice and recognize signs of certain diseases, you can take the next steps and see a vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Moreover, identifying such health problems will help you isolate the affected rabbits and stop the disease from spreading. By becoming aware of the health problems your rabbits can suffer from, you can also employ various prevention methods to minimize the risk of developing them.




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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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