Here is a straightforward answer— yes, rabbits can get rabies. All warm-blooded mammals, including rabbits and humans, are susceptible to rabies. Yes, you can also get rabies from your rabbits. You probably have a growing concern about your rabbit, whether they have rabies. We help you understand the symptoms, causes, and prevention of your rabbit acquiring rabies.
Introduction to Rabies: Why is it Dangerous?
Any warm-blooded mammal can carry or get rabies. Although rabbits are not one of the primary carriers of rabies, they are still highly susceptible to the virus. When rabbits are exposed to rabies, incubation happens between 2 to 3 weeks before the onset of symptoms and rapid deterioration of their health.
It is unfortunate how there is no treatment for rabies. For over 20 years, federal and state wildlife officials in the United States have started vaccinating the wildlife in several regions. Vaccine-laden prey is released into the wilderness. When target animals devour them, they vaccinate themselves.
Currently, experts are continuing the oral rabies vaccination of wildlife to reduce the spread of specific rabies strains found in targeted carrier species. This method brings so much hope as it might halt or shrink the disease range.
It is quite rare for rabbits to get rabies, but it puts them in a fatal condition. Where can rabbits possibly get rabies?
Possible Causes of Rabies
Rabies has lyssavirus that causes infection. The virus takes shelter in the saliva of a stray animal. Thus, rabbits can get this virus when a wild animal bites them, or there is a wound on their body that lets the virus enters the body. When the virus penetrates the tissue, it moves through the peripheral nerves and travels to the spinal cord and brain.
That’s why it is best to keep your rabbits away from stray animals and wildlife. If your pet fought with a stray and potentially rabid or animal, be extra careful when handling them. Use gloves to prevent from touching any fresh saliva, it may enter an open wound which allows virus transmission.
Rabies virus is short-lived, it cannot withstand when exposed to open air, so the virus cannot survive on a dried saliva. Let’s check the symptoms of rabies in rabbits.
Signs and Symptoms of Rabies in Rabbits
The signs and symptoms of rabies are different depending on the species affected. Although it is uncommon for rabbits to have rabies, owners still need to know the usual signs and symptoms.
- Abnormal salivating or slobbering
- Anxious or irritable
- Aggressive or noticeable behavioral change
- Bilateral conjunctivitis
- Difficulty swallowing
- Partial paralysis of limbs or immobilization
- Slack jaw (lack of mobility or dropping)
- Other neurological signs (teeth grinding, head tremors)
You have to brace yourself as rabies progresses quickly. It may only take 3 to 4 days following the onset of signs and symptoms until it leads to death. If you encounter these signs and symptoms, it is best to bring them to the vet for consultation.
Vet Consultation for Rabies Diagnosis
Are you suspecting your rabbit of having rabies? Since we have talked about the possible signs and symptoms of rabies in rabbits, it is easy for you to tell if your pet is suffering. The most obvious is the noticeable mood and behavior changes, especially when your rabbit has aggressive tendencies.
Neurological changes may be caused by other diseases such as brain abscess or tumor, lead poisoning, tetanus, or parasitic infection. In order for the vet to ensure the diagnosis, the following diagnostic tests are performed:
- Blood hematology
- Brain imaging
Blood hematology helps rule out poisoning, while brain imaging checks the signs of brain abscess or tumor, presenting other diseases with similar symptoms. These diagnostics need confirmation. However, you can only provide the official diagnosis with the post-mortem test.
Unfortunately, there is only a low survival rate if your pet rabbit has rabies. You can have an official diagnosis with a post-mortem diagnostic test. The possible diagnostic tools are:
- Rabies virus-specific antibodies detection
- Direct fluorescent rapid antibody assay (dFA)
- Direct rapid immunohistochemistry test (dRIT)
- Histopathology and immunohistochemistry
- Virus isolation
- Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR)
Although owners want a definite diagnosis, they would rather not have the official diagnosis report if it means you can only have it through post-mortem. So, the next question is, if your rabbit gets infected with rabies, would there be any treatment?
Rabies Treatment for Rabbits
Unfortunately, there are no treatments for rabies. It is a zoonotic disease, which means rabies is transferrable from animals to humans and highly infectious. Moreover, animals exposed to rabies have a poor prognosis.
With the danger it brings and the low survival rate, veterinarians, recommend euthanizing animals that are exposed to rabies for humane and public safety reasons. However, if you are not in favor of euthanizing your pet rabbit, it has to be isolated away from humans and other pets for six months; and they have to be monitored for some signs and symptoms of infection.
Survival and Recovery Rate of Rabies in Rabbits
Sadly, rabies is a grave health condition for rabbits. As mentioned earlier, vets recommend euthanizing rabbits with rabies. If other pets are exposed to the infected rabbit, you have to take quarantine measures to keep the virus from spreading.
It is important to carefully evaluate their health to reduce the chance of exposure and transmission of rabies.
Vaccination is probably the first thing that came into your mind after reading “prevention.” However, there is no available rabies vaccination for rabbits. That’s why it is more important to be more cautious with your rabbits. The only way to prevent them from rabies is to keep them away from the possibilities of where they can have it.
So, what can you do to protect your pet rabbit from rabies?
- Keep them indoors. If you prepared an outdoor cage for them, ensure that their cage is elevated. Do not keep them in a wired cage flooring, as it might give them cuts that may be susceptible to virus or bacteria entry.
- If your rabbit is housed outside, ensure that it will not have possible exposure to potentially wild animals. Keep skunks and raccoons away from them by keeping trash away or avoiding pet food and other temptations that can possibly attract a wild animal.
- Supervise them when roaming around open areas or exercising outdoors.
- Prevent contact with stray or wild animals. You do not know whether these animals are rabies carriers.
- If you have other pets, such as cats or dogs, ensure they are vaccinated. Although these are domestic animals, cats are violent in nature, while dogs are natural hosts for rabies.
- Report animal bites or the presence of wild animals on your property. Your local animal control will help you handle it.
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Well, prevention is best when there is no cure for the disease. But, owners should not only be concerned with their pet rabbits when it comes to rabies. You should also know the connection between humans and rabies and how to be cautious when handling against the disease.
Humans and Rabies: Can Humans Have Rabies?
Rabies has long been a health issue between animals and humans. But even though it has all the attention, some are still surprised to know that having rabies may lead to death. Even though there’s a slight chance of contracting rabies, it is best to be cautious.
Here is what you can do:
- Do not go near or handle wild animals.
- Vaccinate free-roaming cats and dogs under your care.
- Get medical advice from a doctor if bitten by a wild animal.
- Get medical advice from a veterinarian if a wild animal bites your pet.
- When bitten by a potentially violent and wild animal, flush the wound with running water and aggressively scrub the wound with soap. Rush to the emergency room after doing first aid.
- If possible, capture the animal and test it for rabies. You can leave these tasks to animal control professionals.
Do not panic if your pet rabbit bites you. More so, do not be afraid to report it. Although you are unsure whether your pet is a rabies carrier, it is best to do first aid and visit the nearest emergency room. Timely treatment after bite or exposure helps you survive this grave disease.
Fun Fact About Rabies
The Global Alliance for Rabies Control (GARC) launched World Rabies Day in 2007. It encourages the vaccination of dogs globally. This has conspired because most deaths from rabies happened in countries with limited access to health resources and preventive treatment.
Prevention is better than cure, and in this case, knowledge is the best prevention method. There are cases where even tamed rabbits bite or scratch people; it is best not to touch wild or unfamiliar rabbits. Although rabbits in pet shops may be low-risk rabies carriers or vaccinated, you should not still be complacent.
If you see a wild rabbit roaming around your backyard, do not try to catch and adopt them. Instead, call the local animal control.