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Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease

A distinct strain of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD-2) has been confirmed as the cause of death of some rabbits in our area in recent months.

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease RVHD-1

This disease was first seen in China in 1984. A combined vaccination to protect against Myxomatosis and VHD-1 has been commonly used in the UK for many years. VHD is a highly contagious disease caused by a calicivirus that affects only rabbits (wild and domesticated). Symptoms may include: – Loss of appetite – Lethargy – High Fever – Spasm – Sudden death.

VHD is often a very swift and sudden killer, giving little warning. Rabbits may die without showing any symptoms at all. Some bleeding from the nose, mouth and rectum is sometimes seen. The incubation period of this disease is very short – within 48 hours of exposure to the virus. The death rate of rabbits exposed to the virus is very high and the few rabbits that may survive this disease are carriers that can shed the virus for at least 42 days, perhaps longer. The virus is very hardy, remaining viable in the environment for up to 12 months depending on temperature. The lower the temperature the longer it remains and it resists freezing.

VHD can be spread by: –

Contact of a rabbit with inanimate objects contaminated by the virus (such as bowls and drinking bottles, feed, clothing, shoes and even vehicle tyres) – Direct contact of a rabbit with an infected rabbit or the faeces of an infected rabbit – Insects, birds and animals such as rodents are known to spread the virus by acting as indirect hosts – Transferring the disease from rabbit to rabbit – Humans can spread the virus to their rabbits if they have been in contact with infected rabbits or contaminated objects.

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease RVHD-2 RVHD2 was identified in France in 2010 and 2013 in the UK. We now have available a separate, additional vaccination to help protect against this strain of the disease. It is thought we are seeing a greater number of deaths in the UK from this disease than before. This might reflect the fact that RVHD-2 kills rabbits more slowly (seemingly over a 3-day period), giving the disease more time to spread than RVHD-1 (which was more likely to kill rabbits before they could pass it on), and so it spreads faster. Vaccinations are available to help us to protect rabbits against this disease and others fatal rabbit diseases. These vaccinations should be given every 12 months to maximise protection for domestic rabbits.



– Quarantine any new rabbit for 14 days and handle quarantined rabbits last, keeping all their utensils and supplies separate from your other rabbits’.

– House your rabbits indoors or in enclosed environments, where wild rabbits have no access. Rabbits who live or exercise outdoors are more at risk.

– Know your sources of hay and feed and if they are near areas of any outbreaks or are accessible to wild rabbits. Take care collecting wild plants from areas inhabited by wild rabbits.

– Minimise insects, midges, flies and fleas in your rabbits’ environment and use licenced rabbit insect repellent products such as Rearguard

– Change your clothes and wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your rabbits (or anyone else’s). If you volunteer at a shelter, have special clothes and shoes you only wear at the shelter.

– Remove your shoes, wear disposable shoe covers or use a disinfectant footbath for your footwear when entering their enclosure. Prognosis being poor, prevention is key.

For any further information or if you have any concerns contact your veterinary practice



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