Now I’m in that limbo land of just having to wait and see how things pan out, my mind has turned to how we came to be in this place to start off with. I’d like to think that I have high standards of husbandry and hygiene. Ok so I don’t empty out and wash litter trays in disinfectant every 20 seconds, but I do take a sensible and pragmatic approach to disease control. Litter trays and wider housing are cleaned regularly. Each separate bunny enclosure has their own litter trays, water bowl, dustpan and brush etc, so there isn’t any cross-over of implements between bunnies. We do have wild rabbits in the garden, so I have been working for some time now to try and move all of my rabbits into one corner of the garden and to fence that area off completely so that the wild ones can’t get in. It wouldn’t solve all issues, as I would still have to walk across garden to get to the bunny area, picking up particles of virus/bacteria/spores on my feet and clothes as I go, but it would stop them getting too close and would lower the load in that area.
So where did it come from? I had new hay at about this time, ironically I got it from a different place to normal because my normal supplier was near to a previous RHD2 outbreak last year. A friend had visited in April and her bunnies sadly subsequently passed away from RHD2 – but that was several weeks earlier and too long had passed between those times.
Hindsight is always a wonderful thing (those of a sensitive disposition, skip this paragraph) but I think it must have come from the local wild population, who had no doubt picked it up through the normal course of disease transmission. We live in the middle of a farm with lots of agricultural machinery to-ing and fro-ing so there is a high potential for infection to spread easily. On the 15th May, one of my cats caught and brought a young wild rabbit into the house. It was bleeding from one of its eyes and its mouth, but he hadn’t killed it. I couldn’t leave it to suffer so I popped it in a pet carrier and took it to the emergency vet to be euthanised. I assumed that its bleeding was due to injury, it never occurred to me that he might have caught it *because* it was ill. This is a 16 year old arthritic cat with 2 canines missing, after all. It’s entirely possible that I’m putting 2 and 2 together and making 75, but reflecting back, it seems a bit coincidental and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it at the time. So, if this little one was in fact suffering from RHD2, it’s now across my house – both directly where the rabbit was and also wherever my cats have gone – and in my car, in the pet carrier, over my clothes. It would be pretty much everywhere. I’ll be honest, although I cleaned the carrier, I didn’t disinfect my house, shoes, car, carpets, cats etc. The wild population seemed to be thriving, so it didn’t even occur to me that this one might be a source of infection. I’m kicking myself now, of course.
The family of bunnies (mum and 7 babies) were still indoors at this point, so it would have been very easy for me to have trodden any virus into the room in which they were living. Even if I had disinfected everything that moved, it probably still wouldn’t have stopped it entirely as it would have been on carpets and soft furnishings, the sorts of things that don’t take kindly to being sprayed with bright pink disinfectant. I don’t think that house bunnies are any less at risk than outdoor bunnies as far as RHD is concerned – and in fact possibly even more at risk – because it’s easier to physically transfer virus around and onto them within your house as part of your normal daily activities.
Later this week, I can’t remember the exact date, I decided to move them outdoors, because mum Delilah kept on getting extremely overheated and I thought she was getting too warm indoors. So they moved out onto the patio in a hutch and run which was completely surrounded by mosquito netting to try and limit the risk of them picking up myxi. On the 21st May, so still within the right timeframe of 3-9 days post-infection for illness to develop, I took Delilah to the vets because she was still extremely hot – panting constantly and her ears were throbbing like mad. The babies were 4 1/2 weeks old and extremely boisterous. My vet gave her a really good check over and couldn’t find anything obvious wrong apart from her elevated temperature, which was about 39.8 – high, but not outrageously high. We thought she might just be being a very stressed and anxious mum, so I took the decision that because the babies were thriving and eating well, I would try removing mum for a bit of a rest and see if that calmed and cooled her down. It did, and the next day I put her back with the children because she started rattling persistently at the shed door as if she knew she wanted to feed them.
I have no evidence to support this view, but I think she had probably picked up the RHD2 and her body was fighting off the infection at this point. A few weeks later, I took a little video of all the babies clamouring for their milk, to the point that they were lifting her front end off the ground to get to it. One of my friends commented that she’d never seen anything like it and wondered if they knew they needed something from her. Again, with hindsight, maybe they were getting some antibodies from her while the infection was brewing and going round them all?
Everybun in this family went to the vets for their nobivac-myxo-rhd vaccination on the 28th May. A lot of their temperatures were slightly elevated, but they all seemed perfectly healthy so we assumed that this was normal range for them. Yet again, with hindsight, maybe they were brewing infection at this point (which brings me to a musing for another time…has their nobivac-myxo vaccine been effective?) Ironically, Lily, the little bun who succumbed to the infection, had the lowest and most normal body temperature of them all. Maybe, contrary to this being a sign of good health, was actually a sign that her body wasn’t dealing with the infection like the others were? It was only 6 days later that she suddenly fell ill and passed away, and 7 days later that Jeremy first showed the very slightest signs that all might not be well with him either.
So, there we have it. Actually in writing this blog post, I’ve gone back through my phone calls, texts, photos etc to find out when things happened, and discovered that the timelines do indeed match up. When I started writing it, I thought that these things might have been connected, but now looking at the dates, I start to think it even more so.
This evening I moved my 6ft hutch and run up from the bottom of the garden onto the patio (mucho swearing over the stubborn refusal of 4 screws attaching the hutch to the run to unscrew) where it was liberally sprayed with virkon. Tomorrow I will set it all up ready for the three boys to move in. They’ve been staying with a non-bunny owning friend for a few days while I was away, and they’re now back and in an indoor cage for another night, much to their displeasure. It’s supposed to be warm tomorrow so I will prepare it and they can move in. I will soon probably need to remove mum from the remainder of her litter, although she is calmer now there are fewer of them and they’re all the same gender. I may also need to separate the boys yet again, but they’re only just coming up to 9 weeks so hopefully I have a little longer to sort that logistical issue.
It’s getting late again, I’ll stop waffling and go to bed. Writing all this down is really helpful, it’s giving me an outlet to process things. It’s starting to make more sense. I have just three more days to go before everybun should be ‘safe’ as their vaccines should have taken effect. Three more days.