Myxomatosis in Rabbits And its History

Myxomatosis is a deadly and painful disease. It has powerful affects that will normally kill an infected rabbit. The illness is spread by direct contact with a carrier or when insects (fleas, ticks etc) bite an infected and then pass the blood with a bite to the healthy. It can not be spread to other animals or humans. This page contains all the information you need to know, just find the section your after:


In cottontail rabbits, the only affect of Myxomatosis is localized skin tumors. These cause very little harm. On the other hand, the European rabbit is severely affected in many ways. The disease causes:

• Acute conjunctivitis which could lead to blindness

• The rabbit will lose all energy and find movement a great amount of effort

• The rabbit will suffer a heavy fever, which will lead to loss of appetite

• In the later stages it is likely bacterial infections will hit, this causes a pneumonia (a lung infection that restricts breathing) that then adds to the loss of energy

This of course makes eating very difficult and will normally lead to a slow and painful death.

The best way to spot an infected rabbit is by looking at the eyes. The clear signs are swollen eyes or a milky colored glaze in the eye. Like the picture below:

Prevention and Treatment

Although many farmers welcome the disease (why wouldn’t they?), it’s a very real threat to house pets. To prevent a rabbit from contracting Mixi is fairly simple. The most affective way is to have the rabbit vaccinated every 6 or 12 months, depending on the risk in the area.

Vaccination is not a guarantee; the rabbit is still at risk but is far less likely to contract the illness and will be more likely to recover. This treatment is not available in Australia. This is because they fear the immunity may spread.

Insect control is also another great way to control the illness as insects are the main reason it spreads. This can be achieved by treating any other pets for ticks and fleas, using fly paper and using anti-mite cleaner/disinfectants.

If a rabbit becomes infected with Myxomatosis treatment will be needed right away. There isn’t a cure for mixi, but a few things can really improve the rabbits' chances. Such as cleaning the eyes and other body parts of discharge, a course of anti-biotics (to prevent the other infections) and force feeding the rabbit.
It might be kind to put the rabbit down to stop its suffering. Its best to speak to your vet to discuss treatment and which action they suggest.

How the disease spread

The way which Myxomatosis spread is a amazing story. It was first discovered in 1896, in lab rabbits from Spain.Many believe the illness come from Brazil, but I can assure you that this is wrong. It was noted for being fairly harmless in the cottontail rabbits when it started to infect south America. With rabbits being a uncontrollable pest throughout Europe and Australia, it was of course a very short time before it was used to deadly affect.

Where myxomatosis began

In 1938, tests where held in Australia to see if the virus could solve their massive pest problem. After seeing the affects where much greater on the European species, a full scale release was performed in 1950. The affects where amazing. In a two year period it had reduced the population from 600 million down to 100 million. Although it was at first seen as a triumph, it quickly become clear that natural selection ensured that the most resistant rabbits survived. By the 1970’s it was estimated that only 50% of the infected would die.

Despite the success that Australia had, European governments refused to control the pest using biological methods as it was seen as cruel ( it is a horrible disease after all). But like all great viruses, Myxomatosis was unintentionally introduced to France in 1952. A bacteriologist used infected rabbits to reduce the pests on his estate.But many where stolen and used/sold to spread the affects. Yet again it spread like wild fire (mostly thanks to many farmers welcoming it) and it was estimated that 90% of all wild rabbits in France were dead by 1952.

Myxomatosis reached the UK in 1953. It was believed that it was imported illegally, many blaming black markets. The government was fast to make the deliberate spread of the illness illegal but by 1955 the population of rabbit was reduced to about 5%.

Want more information?

This page is what I call a good summary of all the facts and information. Its most likely all you want to know. But if you’re after greater detail about the illness, I strongly recommend This site .I have to warn you this site is very word heavy and is not written in the best style or layout.

Return from "Myxomatosis"” to “The Wild Rabbit”

Retun to "The home page"