Disease in rabbits

Food acquisition is a big part of bushcraft and some of that food will be from wild game.  But it’s unwise to consume any animal that isn’t healthy.  So, here’s a few pointers on disease in rabbits (although much the same would apply to a hare or other small mammal).

Before consuming a rabbit or hare, inspect it for anything that just doesn’t look right.

  • Is there any swelling, lumps or bumps?
  • Is there any discharge from the eyes, ears, mouth, anus or genitals?

When you cut the animal open take a close look at the internal organs , look for intestinal worms, cysts or liver fluke.

Also check for ‘neoplasms’, the abnormal and excessive growth of tissue.  It isn’t common in short lived mammals such as rabbits, hares and rodents but has been found from time to time.

Wild rabbits and hares are subject to a number of diseases that you should be aware of.

Myxomatosis in rabbits is a highly contagious viral disease that’s spread by biting insects such as fleas, mites and mosquitoes.  Sadly, there is no cure for this disease and it’s usually fatal.

Symptoms of myxomatosis include

  • Swelling, redness and/or ulcers around the eyes, nose or genitals,
  • Runny nose,
  • Milky eye discharge,
  • Blindness caused by inflammation of the eyes,
  • Breathing problems,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Low energy.

Myxomatosis is generally mild in hares and doesn’t affect humans.  None the less, avoid eating rabbit or hare if myxomatosis is suspected.

Another disease that can infect wild rabbits is Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD).  There are 2 strains found in the British Isles, RVHD1 and RVHD2, with the later appearing in 2013 and now the most prevalent strain.  It acts quickly, so rabbits may not show any signs of infection until it’s too late.   Symptoms are:

  • Lethargy,
  • Difficulty breathing,
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Blood in discharge from nose or mouth,
  • Lack of co-ordination.

Fortunately this is another disease that doesn’t present any risk to humans.  Again, avoid eating rabbit or hare if RVHD is suspected.

We talk about disease in rabbits on our Deer Preparation & Butchery course.

You can see loads of photos from that courses, as well as all the rest of the fantastic courses that we run, on our Facebook page.

About Gary

Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

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