Owners’ concerns

Lots of owners have been in touch with varying concerns about the situation.

The BVA/RCVS have advised veterinary practices not to carry out routine procedures, but only to be available for emergency medicine. This is to conserve essential supplies, protect the health of veterinary staff, and avoid further spread of the disease.

For specific health conditions, consult your own vet. Different practices will have different approaches so, in the first instance, check your practice website, to see what protocols they are following, and what they recommend that you do. Contact them by phone to discuss your specific situation if it is not totally clear. The RWAF continue to provide an advice referral service to your vet during this time.

Vaccinations

Many owners rabbits’ have vaccinations due now or soon.

Whilst vaccination is not usually considered an urgent procedure, but if they are overdue, or your rabbits have not had their first vaccines yet, they will be at higher risk of developing diseases. Discuss your individual situation with your vet to find the best option. Many practices are doing vaccinations again now. (June 2020)

What can you do?

You will be spending more time at home and it might be tempting to give your rabbits’ more treats or different foods, but to minimise the risk of gut problems, don’t change their diets. You might not be able to buy your usual supplies but try to ensure that you maintain normal diets where possible.

Whilst you are at home more than usual, you may be able to let them have more outside access. This is generally a good thing, helping to exercise them and keep an eye on them, but be mindful of the dangers and avoid predation, eating things they shouldn’t, and other trauma.

Keep their claws in trim, to avoid them catching and breaking them.

Give them a general check more frequently now, as the weather starts to warm up. Look out for flystrike in particular.

If your rabbits live indoors

If as a result of lockdown and restricted veterinary services your rabbits are not vaccinated, or become overdue for vaccination, then you can offer some limited protection as follows:

• If you have open windows, have mosquito screens over them because biting insects are a known vector of both myxomatosis and RVHD1 and 2
• Practice barrier care – when you come into the house from outside change your shoes, remove outer clothing and thoroughly wash hands before handling your rabbits or any of their food, toys, etc.
• Have a footbath at the door as well, and dip outdoor shoes in that. Use Anigene HLD4V or Virkon disinfectant in the footbath
• Thoroughly wash and dry any wild or garden forage before feeding to your rabbits

If your rabbits live outdoors

If as a result of lockdown and restricted veterinary services your rabbits are not vaccinated, or become overdue for vaccination, then you can offer some limited protection as follows:

• Buy mosquito nets to completely cover windows and doors in sheds and also runs. These can be bought online and large nets are available.
• Only handle your rabbits and their toys or food after you have thoroughly washed your hands
• If you have walk-in accommodation for your rabbits, you should change footwear at the door in case you have picked up any virus on your shoes while walking across the garden.
• Thoroughly wash and dry any wild or garden forage you have picked for them


While these measures aren’t as effective as vaccination, in the current crisis, they are all we have. Full advice on appropriate disinfectants and how to clean effectively can be found here

Frequently asked questions

My vaccinations are due in the next month, do the vaccines only last for exactly 12 months?

This is a tricky one, as vaccine companies do not typically test their vaccines for efficacy over the 12 month period. Dog and cat vaccines have been more widely evaluated for duration of action than rabbit ones. I would suggest that if they are overdue, discuss the risks with your practice. Certainly worth remembering that whilst at the time of being given, Eravac may only have had a licence for 9 months efficacy, but further work since has shown that it is good for at least 12 months. We believe Filavac to last at least 12 months.

Is there anything I can do to protect my rabbits until I can vaccinate them? (ie is there anything you can put on them to deter mechanical vectors)

In addition to the advice above, insect deterrants and insecticides have a role in control. Deterrants may be placed in proximity to the rabbits’ dwelling, or on the animal. Xenex, a permethrin based product, may be used (note, do NOT use this on cats). Fipronil based products must NOT be used on rabbits. Treating cats with external parasite products helps prevent them bringing rabbit fleas back from hunting rabbits.

Is it safer to keep my rabbits in the house until I can vaccinate them?

This is a risk:benefit decision you have to make. Bringing a normally outdoor rabbit inside exposes them to extra risks (electrical wires, pets, falls down stairs etc), and potentially stressful changes in environment (perhaps less available space, higher temperatures) which can cause gut upsets, respiratory problems etc. If you live in the countryside with rabbits close by, bringing them inside, or into a secure outbuilding would be wise. In other circumstances, the risks probably outweigh the advantages.

Can I catch Coronavirus from my rabbit and vice versa?

There is currently no evidence that any non-human species can spread coronavirus to or from humans. There have been media reports, but on exploring them, these reveal that the animals tested positive for transient, non-replicating virus, in the same way as an inanimate object can. One scientific paper suggesting There are theoretical concerns for non-human primates (particularly great apes), palm civets, ferrets, cats catching the disease, but not propagating it to humans. The following quote from the most up to date and reputable source, the OIE, is:

The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human to human transmission. To date, there is no evidence that companion animals have spread the disease. Therefore, there is no justification in taking measures against companion animals which may compromise their welfare.

(https://www.oie.int/en/scientific-expertise/specific-information-and-recommendations/questions-and-answers-on-2019novel-coronavirus/)

It is not recommended to wash rabbits, and certainly it would not be recommended at all to put any sort of disinfectant onto their coats.  They groom themselves and each other, and would ingest any disinfectant at this time, potentially causing toxicity. The only disinfectants we would suggest applying directly to the coat would be F10 (https://www.noahcompendium.co.uk/?id=-452556 ), which is more commonly used to apply to wounds and repel or kill fly larvae.

What will happen if my rabbit needs to have a dental or other procedure?

Contact your vets as soon as possible if you have a planned procedure coming up or think your rabbit may be becoming due for a dental, to give them as much time to fit you in, if possible. The lack of staff in general, and low staffing levels with vets and VN’s rotating, mean that this gives them the best chance of having the right staff in place for your rabbit. it may be that with careful observation, regular weighing, and noting food preferences, that a dental can be put off for longer. But if not, or if your rabbit starts to show signs of problems, then you should discuss getting your rabbit seen as soon as possible. Oxygen, for anaesthetics, is in short supply and staff may be unavailable, making the situation less than ideal, but your vets will be working to maintain the health and welfare of all their clients animals to the best of their abilities at this time.

Neutering is a tough one. Whilst it is a planned, elective, non emergency procedure, lack of neutering cats and rabbits now, will lead to a population explosion in the coming months. Especially if your rabbit is housed with another, and they are not neutered yet, discuss the options with your vet. Where possible, don’t completely split up a bonded pair, but give them separated companionship e.g. with wire mesh, if they are fighting or mating. prioritise neutering both sexes in a M:F pairing, both males in a M:M pairing, over females in a F:F pairing, which can wait longer.

How long will the veterinary restrictions be in place?

This is a question that, right now, no-one is able to answer with any confidence, I’m afraid. an initial period of 3 weeks was suggested, but that is simply a time period after which further review is required. After that, restrictions could be relaxed, maintained, or tightened. We know that as the human health services are put under more strain, veterinary ones (supplies of oxygen, consumables, and perhaps other drugs) will be more limited. The lack of production and supply chains will have a knock on effect on veterinary practices. Staffing levels are unlikely to improve in the short term. However, whilst i do not see the underlying issues improving any time soon, there may have to be new protocols for “important but not emergency or even urgent” situations, to allow vaccinations, neutering etc to take place, where the lack of prevention will cause a health and welfare problem months down the line eg with unvaccinated animals, or unwanted litters/fighting between unneutered males etc

Is it safe to adopt a rabbit now?

 Provided whoever you adopt from has been carrying out safe social distancing methods and is free from symptoms the risk is extremely low.  It is very unlikely that they would have any Covid-19 virus on their fur. If you are at all concerned, don’t handle the rabbit for 24 hours, by which time it will have thoroughly groomed itself. We would be more concerned about the carrier the rabbit came in than the rabbit itself, and we suggest that you clean the former with a suitable product such as soap and water, or alcohol based cleaner, before handling it.

If you have questions, we will update the blog, so email them in, as you probably won’t be the only person wondering!

Keeping up to date with developments

We update the Blog as new advice comes to light. You’ll find all Blog posts relating to Covid-19 and how it affects your rabbits by following this link