Category Archives: Turtles

Myxomatosis Outbreak – Bring your Bunnies Indoors!


the culprit, a poxvirus

Myxomatosis is a devastating viral disease that kills pet rabbits. There is currently an outbreak going on in Santa Cruz County, California, where I live. It has been a very dry year, and as a result the streams aren’t flowing quickly, which leads to lots of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can carry this virus from cottontail rabbits to domesticated rabbits. The virus can also spread by direct contact, and by other insects such as ticks and fleas.


swelling and discharge from the eyes is one of the first symptoms

While the myxomatosis virus only causes minor disease in wild cottontail rabbits, it is highly lethal to pet rabbits, with a reported mortality rate of 96-100%. Initial signs are seen three days after infection and can include reddened eyes with a milky discharge, lethargy, loss of appetite, and fever. Rabbits that survive this initial stage develop swelling of the eyelids, nostrils, lips, scrotum, vulva, anus, and ears. An opaque nasal discharge and labored breathing will commonly follow, leading to death within 7 to 14 days. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for myxomatosis; our only options are to provide supportive care and hope the bunny gets through it, or to euthanize.

While there is an effective vaccine against this disease, it is not licensed for use in the United States. The FDA won’t allow the importation of this vaccine from Europe because it also vaccinates against Rabbit Hemorrhagic Virus, a disease that we (usually) don’t have here in the U.S.


another reason to dislike mosquitoes

The only way to prevent myxomatosis here in the coastal northwestern U.S., then, is to prevent exposure. Assess your home and environs. Are there mosquitoes around? Are there wild cottontails around? If so, keep your bunnies indoors at all times. If not, it still pays to be cautious. Carefully enclose outdoor hutches with mosquito screens. Make sure that your rabbit is either indoors or behind mosquito netting during the highest mosquito activity time periods, dawn and dusk. It is also wise to make sure that all bunnies that go outside receive a monthly dose of the flea control product Advantage.

Remember, myxomatosis is highly contagious and can be rapidly fatal. If you see any symptoms of myxomatosis in your rabbit, make sure to isolate it from other rabbits and call your veterinarian immediately.

Hilary Stern DVM © 2014

Pets are not Wildlife (and vice versa)

This is a Stinkpot Turtle. She is very cute.

She should not, however, have been in a local creek here is California. Her species is native to the East Coast of the United States.

Why does it matter? After all, she is still American, right?

It DOES matter. She and her ilk are taking over habitats and driving out our native Western Pond Turtles.

Western Pond Turtles were once plentiful and ranged from as far south as Baja California to as far north as British Columbia. For many years their habitat range has been shrinking and they are currently only found in parts of California and Oregon along with two small populations in the state of Washington. Their shrinking populations are credited to habitat loss, non-native predators and crowding by non-native turtle species.

Please, please! If you have a pet turtle that you have tired of, find it a good home. Don’t dump it in a local stream. Released pets introduce diseases to and take over habitat from local wildlife populations, and can drive them to extinction. And extinction is forever.