Treatment of rabbits with myxomatosis

Although it is possible for rabbits to recover from myxomatosis, it can be a protracted distressing disease with the possibility of the rabbit dying at any point. The rabbit’s temperament, immune status and the virulence of the virus strain all play a part in the course of the disease.  If the lesions are extensive, the rabbit will need nursing for several weeks. Owners must be aware that nursing a rabbit through myxomatosis can be a harrowing experience and it is not their fault if the rabbit dies. Euthanasia is always an option, especially if the rabbit stops eating or becomes very dyspnoeic. The severity of the lesions and the demeanour of the rabbit are the important considerations.

There is no specific treatment for myxomatosis. Supportive care is required. Some features that help recovery appear to be:

  • A warm environment. Ambient temperature affects the course of the disease with high environmental temperature increasing recovery rate.
  • Antibiotics. Although antibiotics will not be effective against the virus, they can control secondary infection.
  • Topical ointments to soften and protect skin lesions.
  • Good nursing i.e. clean bedding that doesn’t stick to the lesions, tempting food and handfeeding. Syringe feeding can be difficult if the rabbit has blocked nostrils. Rabbits that cannot or will not eat on their own should be euthanased.
  • Analgesia Non-steroidal analgesics are useful. Opioid analgesics due not appear to be effective in ameliorating signs of pain. In a study of the effect of buprenorphine on the course of myxomatosis in laboratory rabbits, there was no difference in survival time (Robinson et al, 1999).
  • NO corticosteroids. The use of corticosteroids is contraindicated due to their immunosuppressive effects.