Your pet’s health is very important as they interact with you, your family, and even other animals.
You are probably wondering what vaccines you need for your rabbit before he interacts with other people or animals. If your rabbit goes outside, you may be thinking that he will need a rabies shot.
But does your rabbit really need it? The short answer is no. Rabbits do not require rabies shots. Read the following article to find out more on the why and how of this topic!
Can rabbits contract rabies?
It is very rare, but yes, rabbits can contract rabies. They are warm-blooded mammals and are not immune.
The US Centers for Disease Control considers it rare for rabbits to contract rabies; they are at a lower risk than dogs, cats, or ferrets.
A rabbit could contract rabies in an unlikely scenario; it could happen the same way it could happen to your other pets, such as if a rabbit is attacked by a wild animal that already has rabies, such as a rabid raccoon.
The bite from the rabid animal would need to break the skin of the rabbit, and the saliva of the attacking animal would have to come in contact with the body fluids of the rabbit.
Rabbits do not often survive such attacks, so chances are they would die in the attack rather than live and contract rabies.
Why don’t rabbits need rabies shots?
There isn’t a rabies shot approved for rabbits.
There are no rabies vaccines approved for rabbits the way there are for dogs, cats, and ferrets.
Rabbits were used for rabies diagnostic testing to create the first rabies vaccine in the 1880s. The affected rabbits died within days, but there is still no rabies vaccine for rabbits.
The rarity of infection is the reason for the lack of an approved vaccine.
Rabies is uncommon in rabbits.
Rabbits do not often contract rabies because they are not exposed to situations where they would contract it.
Even if they did survive an attack from another animal, the bite would have had to break their skin, and the animal’s saliva would have to come in contact with the rabbit’s blood.
This is very unlikely to happen since rabbits are prey animals and probably would not survive the attack in the first place.
Even in groups of rabbits, rabbits would not be passing rabies to each other because the form of transmission involves biting. Rabbits are not predators and would not bite other rabbits.
Rabbits should not spend much time outside anyway.
Rabbits do not do well in extreme temperatures and should not have to fight off other animals since they are prey.
Although rabbits can survive outside in the winter, even in below-freezing temperatures, they do not do well if the temperature drops suddenly.
A sudden change in temperature can send them into shock. It is better if they can gradually adjust to the temperature. They will need extra bedding and exercise to keep warm.
In the summer, rabbits can struggle with extreme heat. They need access to shade and hydration.
If a rabbit is spending all day outside during the summer, it needs to be checked for heatstroke at least twice a day.
Since a rabbit should not be kept outside in these conditions, it is unlikely that they would be outside long enough for a predator animal to attack them.
If you supervise your rabbit’s outdoor time, a potential rabbit predator like a raccoon is probably not going to approach you and your rabbit.
How to protect your rabbit from rabies?
Keep rabbits inside
Protect your rabbit from being bitten by a wild animal by keeping them inside.
Leaving your rabbit outside for extended periods of time without supervision is risky, especially overnight when birds of prey might be hunting.
If you are outside with your rabbit and see a wild animal, it is best to steer clear. Approaching a wild animal, especially one that could have rabies, is never a good idea.
If the animal is behaving oddly, it is best to stay away from it and contact your local animal control instead.
If you keep your rabbit inside, you will not face these situations in the first place. Prevention is often more effective than searching for a cure after the fact.
Vaccinate your other pets
If you have other pets, such as cats or dogs, make sure to vaccinate them against rabies.
These pets who spend time outside regularly are more likely to encounter wild animals or other unvaccinated pets, such as a puppy that is too young to receive its rabies vaccine yet.
You do not want your own pets to be the risk factor that could bring rabies to your rabbit, however unlikely it may be.
The reason rabies is less common now than it used to be is because of vaccinations. It is essential to help maintain the control of the disease and prevent its spread.
What if my rabbit is bitten by another animal?
You do not need to worry if the bite did not break the rabbit’s skin. If it did, then you should watch your rabbit. You can monitor your rabbit but you cannot get a rabies shot because once symptoms develop, it is too late to treat rabies.
Once symptoms develop, it is too late to treat rabies.
Scenarios in which you need to monitor your rabbit are those where the bite drew blood, or it was a wild animal, like a raccoon, whose vaccination or infection status is unknown.
You will want to monitor your rabbit closely for common signs of rabies and keep him or her isolated from you and other pets.
You want to look for neurological signs and unusual symptoms, such as those listed below. Be sure to put everything in context and watch for multiple signs.
Not every rabbit will display all the same symptoms.
13 signs and symptoms of rabies in rabbits
- Unusual behavior such as different sleeping patterns. This could include being awake at the times they usually sleep.
- Paralysis. This might only be partial or hard to notice at first and could just seem like a lack of movement.
- Wobbling or walking oddly. It could appear as if your pet is drunk or cannot stay balanced, or is walking in circles.
- Lethargy. Laziness or lack of motivation could be a sign that something is wrong.
- Head tremors. Your rabbit’s head could be shaking intermittently or tilting its head.
- Teeth chattering. Sometimes rabbits chatter their teeth when they are happy, but they can also do so when distressed or sick.
- Laying down and being unresponsive. This is often a sign of illness, including rabies.
- Ear infection. While this alone is not a sign of rabies, it can happen and should be monitored along with other signs.
- Nasal discharge. Again, this alone may not be a sign of rabies but needs to be taken into consideration with other symptoms.
- Sensitivity to stimulation. A rabbit could become sensitive to light or even react aggressively to your normal approaches.
- Fever. Your rabbit’s temperature is an essential part of their health.
- Salivation. A rabbit being unable to control its salivation is unusual. It can be called a slack jaw and may manifest as a dropping of the jaw.
- Blindness. Any sudden change in the ability to see is a cause for concern.
What shots does my rabbit need then?
Always check your local laws and regulations to see if you are legally required to vaccinate your rabbit against anything.
Otherwise, it is up to you to decide for yourself and your rabbit.
In some areas of the United States, you can get your rabbit vaccinated for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus. It is spread through body fluids.
The virus is often fatal, and there is no effective treatment. It was first detected in the United States in 2020. Previously, it had been detected in Europe, Asia, Australia, and other islands such as Cuba.
If your rabbit survives the disease, it can still pass it on to other rabbits, so it is essential to vaccinate your rabbit in order to protect other rabbits, not just your own.
The FDA approved the emergency use of this vaccination.
In the UK and some other parts of Europe, there is one more vaccine to get against a disease called myxomatosis.
It is spread by blood-sucking insects and then easily by contact with an infected surface, such as the cage or fur, or even your shoes. This disease is often fatal, and there is no treatment.
Nothing else needs to be done.
In the United States, rabbits do not legally need vaccinations.
Any that you choose to do are optional, but the local diseases mentioned above are often fatal and are easily spread from rabbit to rabbit.
It is important to vaccinate your rabbit if you plan to socialize him or her with other rabbits or other animals.
It is probably in your best interest to vaccinate your rabbit as recommended by your vet.