Posted: September 13, 2013, 6 p.m. EDT
© Neta Leinonen
One reason rabbits don't need vaccination against rabies is because they typically live indoors.
Q: Can my rabbits catch parvo? I had a pup die about a year ago from parvo, and I just wanted to know if my rabbit could contract it from the soil.
A: Fortunately, rabbits are not prone to infection by the parvovirus that attacks dogs. There is no danger in allowing your rabbit on or near an area where an animal previously lived that was infected with parvovirus.
Parvovirus is a very serious and sometimes fatal disease in dogs, but it does not infect rabbits. This is why we do not need to give rabbits parvovirus vaccines when they come in for their yearly examination.
In fact, in the United States, there are no yearly vaccines that we give to pet rabbits. Vaccines that we have for dogs and cats for ailments, such as distemper, hepatitis and leukopenia, do not attack rabbits. It is unnecessary to protect rabbits from such viruses by vaccination.
One very serious virus, however, can infect rabbits — the rabies virus. Rabies virus is almost 100 percent fatal to any animal that is infected if that animal has not been vaccinated against this disease. Most warm-blooded animals are potentially at risk for developing rabies virus.
We routinely do not give rabies virus vaccine to rabbits for three reasons. One, rabies virus is less likely to infect a rabbit versus a more likely host, such as a raccoon or bat. Two, most pet rabbits live a lifestyle that puts them at a lesser risk for being bitten than, for example, a dog that must be walked outdoors or cats that may roam a neighborhood. Third, there are no USDA-licensed rabies virus vaccines for use in rabbits. Therefore, vaccination of a rabbit for rabies virus is considered "off-label,” and there is no scientific data to determine if the rabies virus vaccine is safe and effective in rabbits.
In areas where rabies is common, we warn owners not to keep rabbits outdoors. If a rabbit has to be outside, it is extremely important to protect them from being bitten or scratched by dogs, raccoons, skunks and bats.
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