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Progression of myxomatosis (illustrated)

After an insect has penetrated the skin and inoculated a rabbit with the pox virus that causes myxomatosis, replication of the virus takes place at the inoculation site in the regional lymph node. The rabbit becomes viraemic as infection is disseminated throughout the body. The disease starts with a skin lesion, which typically develops 4-5 days after inoculation of the virus and is not often observed. The eyelids show the first obvious sign of infection as they redden and become thickened until the eyes are closed, often completely, with a semipurulent ocular discharge. Secondary nodular, crusty lesions develop throughout the body, typically on the nares, lips, eyelids and base of the ears and on the external genitalia and anus. The course of the disease runs for several weeks depending on the virulence of the strain and the immunity of the rabbit. Recovery is possible although scars may remain on the areas that had nodular lesions.

Myxomatosis very first sign.

This picture shows Rio, a 4year old neutered male Netherland Dwarf. He was one of the author's rabbits that was adopted when he was about four months old because he had congenital incisor malocclusion. His incisors were removed. During the day, he and his companion would go into an aviary that was surrounded by wild rabbits so he had close contact with them. From the time of his adoption, he was vaccinated every six months against myxomatosis. Despite his vaccination status, he succumbed to myxomatosis during a severe outbreak in the wild rabbits. This picture shows a slight reddening of the lower eyelid which was the first sign of myxomatosis that was seen.

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Myxomatosis swollen eyelids

Thickened eyelids are the first sign of myxomatosis although there may be a nodular skin lesion at the site of initial inoculation somewhere else on the body. The eyelids continue to become thickened, inflamed and infected over the next few days before nodular lesions develop especially on the eyelids, nasal planum, face, base of the pinnae and genitalia.

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Myxomatosis deterioration

This picture of Rio was taken 5 days after the initial presentation of lethargy and reddened eyelids. Swellings are appearing on the nasal planum and both eyes were closing due to thickened eyelids. A purulent discharge has started to appear from both eyes.

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Myxomatosis full blown

This photograph shows a rabbit with myxomatosis. The eyelids are very swollen and nodular lesions are starting to develop on the eyelids, nostrils and face.

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Myxomatosis further deterioration

This image of Rio shows swelling of the nasal planum and eyelids. The purulent discharge from his eyes and nose had been cleaned off before the photograph was taken. It was 2-3 weeks after the initial signs of swollen eyelids were first noticed. Unfortunately, the rabbit continued to decline. He couldn't breathe through his nose and he struggled to eat and groom.

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Severe myxomatosis

This rabbit had been adopted by her new owners a few weeks previously. During the pre-anaesthetic check prior to neutering, it became evident that there were wild rabbits with myxomatosis near her new home. She was vaccinated against myxomatosis and RHD immediately and spayed the next day. Unfortunately she developed signs of severe myxomatosis despite vaccination. It is possible that she didn't respond to the vaccination because the was either incubating the disease or the stress of neutering interfered with her immune response.

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Myxomatosis advanced

This image shows Rio 4 weeks after the reddening of his eyelids was first noted. He was starting with urine scalding on his legs because he would dribble some urine because of the lesions on his genitalia, He couldn't eat his caecotrophs so his anus needed to be cleaned. His genitalia, nose and eyes were sore and he struggled to breathe. He still wanted to eat but could not pick up food on his own. He seemed to be more comfortable on his back and could be hand fed with his favourite foods (fresh greens) in that position. He was starting to lose weight rapidly. The decision to euthanase him was made on the following day. His companion remained well throughout Rio's illness despite developing a circular crusting lesion at the base of her ear.

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Myxomatosis nodular eye lesions

This image shows the nodular appearance of the eyelid lesions in advanced cases of myxomatosis. In this case, the crusts that were covering the nodules had fallen off . Eventually the nodules regressed and the rabbit recovered.

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Myxomatosis in a case that recovered

This image shows a rabbit with myxomatosis. He was lucky to make a full recovery. About three weeks after the photo was taken, the lesions slowly started to dry out and drop off leaving scars on the eyelids and nose.

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Recovering from myxomatosis

Recovery from myxomatosis, especially in unvaccinated rabbits, is not impossible. This rabbit survived an outbreak that killed her companion and four youngsters. The image is taken just after the crusting lesions had fallen away and the skin was healing.

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Scars from myxomatosis

This picture shows the end results of myxomatosis lesions. The rabbit had made a full recovery from the infection but was left with scars around the eyelids and nasal planum

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Atypical myxomatosis

Crusting circular skin lesions can occur without systemic signs in some rabbits, especially vaccinated ones. This syndrome may called 'atypical myxomatosis' and is probably due to mild infection in rabbits with partial immunity. The lesions are typical of rabbits that recover from myxomatosis. They eventually crust over and drop off. The rabbit shown in this picture made a full recovery. She was vaccinated but exposed to myxomatosis during a severe outbreak in neighbouring wild rabbits.

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Myxomatosis skin lesion

Myxomatosis does not only affect the eyelids, nares and genitalia. It can cause circular crusting lesions anywhere on the body. In vaccinated or other rabbits with partial immunity, there may be solitary or multiple lesions that do not seem to worry the rabbit. This lesion is on the ear. Over a course of 4-8 weeks, these 'atypical' myxomatosis lesions will dry out and fall off. The main differential diagnoses are ringworm, a crusting skin tumour such as a melanoma, an injection reaction or an infected bite wound.

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