Rabbit Viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD) is a highly infectious and rapidly fatal disease that attacks the internal organs (especially the liver) causing massive internal bleeding in infected rabbits. The disease shows few or no symptoms and can kill rabbits very quickly.
RVHD is one of the worst viruses out there. It is an air borne virus that can be spread by direct and indirect contact with infected rabbits. This virus has evolved to survive in the environment living on pretty much any surface at all for months and can even survive cold temperatures.
RVHD is highly contagious and can be spread in a number of ways, including:
- Direct contact with infected rabbits
- Contact with contaminated surfaces
- Contact with the urine or faeces of an infected rabbit
- Ingestion of contaminated food or water
- Foxes, birds or insects may transport the virus on their feet (or in their droppings) to your garden where your rabbit may graze
- People who have been in contact with infected rabbits can transport the virus on their hands or clothes
- While out walking in fields, you or your other pets’ might bring the virus home on your feet from infected wild rabbit droppings.
- The virus is air borne so may be blown on the wind.
There are two types of RVHD (RHD1 and RHD2)
Both strains of the virus are deadly and show similar signs, although some rabbits may die suddenly without any clinical symptoms.
However, these symptoms are not specific to RVHD – they can be signs of other rabbit diseases!
- Loss of appetite
- There may be a mucoid foaming at the mouth
- Bleeding from the eyes, nose, ears or anus
- Difficulty breathing
The biggest difference between the two strains of the virus is the incubation period — the length of time between infection and showing symptoms. RHD1 causes acute illness and is nearly always fatal within 1 – 4 days from first being infected. RHD2 symptoms develop more slowly, with an incubation period of 3 – 9 days. This means that the virus is present in a single rabbit for a longer period of time increasing the rate of infection between animals. While RHD2 does appear to a have a lower mortality rate than RHD1 it is no less dangerous and is still a deadly disease.
This strain has long been established in the UK, it kills very quickly and has nearly a 100 % mortality rate for unvaccinated rabbits.
Once infected, in many cases rabbits don't display any symptoms at all and die suddenly within two to four days. Other rabbits may develop some symptoms but very quickly deteriorate.
Baby rabbits under four weeks’ old appear to have a natural immunity and can be protected from the virus for their first few weeks of life.
RHD2 is a relatively new strain that was first identified in the UK in 2013. It affects rabbits of all ages, killing slowly over a prolonged period. With RHD2, in most cases the disease develops slower, with rabbits showing symptoms for longer, also including weight loss and jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin) due to liver disease. Fortunately, with veterinary treatment the mortality rate is lower between 20 and 50%.
However, this means that the rabbit is infectious for longer, they can shed the virus infecting others for up to two months spreading the disease more widely than the original strain.
If you suspect your rabbit has Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease:
Contact your practice for an emergency appointment if you suspect your rabbit has Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease, or if you have any concerns about changes in your rabbit’s health.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for either strain of Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease. In vaccinated rabbits or very mild cases that receive urgent veterinary treatment, the chance of survival is increased.
More severely infected rabbits are unfortunately less likely to recover and sadly, often die or need to be put to sleep to stop them from suffering.
Regular vaccinations are the only way to ensure your rabbit is protected from this highly contagious, deadly disease. Our vaccinations provide cover against both strains of RVHD.
There are other measures that you can take to help control the spread of Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease:
- Avoid attracting insects to your rabbit by maintaining good hygiene.
- Regularly clean and disinfect your rabbits' enclosure and any areas they access, using a rabbit-safe disinfectant. Change bedding and litter regularly.
- Fit insect screens to outdoor hutches and runs.
- Keep parasite protection up to date for your rabbit and other pets in your household.
- Ensure your garden is secure to prevent access to wild rabbits.
- Mosquitoes breed in standing water/ponds so it is best to eliminate these from your garden (and preferably from any neighbouring gardens as well).
- New rabbits should be vaccinated at least three weeks before being introduced to your existing rabbits