Spring brings its own problems for livestock

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I’M typing this out in the sunshine, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and a very welcome break in what is always a busy time of year for us. Spring has definitely sprung!

The fantastic weather we are all enjoying, and indeed an unusually warm winter, has meant an abundance of fresh grass. This can present a few challenges to livestock though.

Our farm vets are being kept very busy with lambing as many more ewes than usual are needing help delivering their offspring, or even a caesarean section because the lambs have grown too big to be born naturally.

The sound of healthy new-born lambs calling to their mothers and the sight of their first few unsteady steps makes those late night and early morning calls seem so much less of a burden though!

Our thoughts also turn to much smaller livestock, in particular rabbits.

Many domestic rabbits will be brought out of their winter quarters to enjoy the sun around now, and you can’t help but notice the abundance of wild bunnies in fields and on verges all over the countryside.

Sadly, the wild rabbit population can pose a serious threat to the health of pet rabbits, in particular through the spread of myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD). We see dozens of cases of these deadly diseases every year, but they can be prevented by vaccination.

Myxomatosis is a virus spread mainly by biting insects. This means that your rabbit can be exposed to myxomatosis whether it has obvious contact with wild rabbits or not.

Fleas can travel long distances and are notoriously successful at finding a way into even the cleanest of houses, so it’s best you vaccinate your rabbit whether it lives indoors or outdoors to eliminate any risk.

Affected rabbits will generally have a swollen face and discharge from the eyes and nose, and there is frequently swelling around the genitalia as well.

The disease process is long, and while we successfully treat a handful of cases every year, the suffering of an infected rabbit means that nursing myxomatosis cases through the disease is rarely in the best interests of the animal. Many rabbits will still die despite early diagnosis and treatment.

VHD, while far less common than myxomatosis, is highly contagious and is a swift and sudden killer. It can be spread by insects, as well as by direct contact with infected rabbits or their droppings. Signs of the disease include fever, loss of appetite, lethargy and muscle spasms but many rabbits die without ever showing signs of disease. Bleeding from the nose and mouth is sometimes seen.

Fortunately vaccinating your rabbit against both myxomatosis and VHD is very straightforward and offers excellent protection against both diseases. The vaccines are inexpensive and at Robson & Prescott, vaccination appointments include a full health check with one of our dedicated small animal vets. We can offer any advice you may need to help keep your rabbit fit and healthy for the coming year.

Hopefully the sunshine will continue into the Easter weekend so we can all enjoy it!

CHRIS GREEN, Senior Vet and Director