New Strain Of Viral Haemmorrhagic Disease In Rabbits

RVHD and Myxomatosis are diseases found throughout the UK and can be fatal to un-vaccinated rabbits

Bunny

Both outdoor AND indoor rabbits are at risk.

RVHD in particular is highly infectious and contagious.  It is an air borne virus that can be spread by direct and indirect contact with infected rabbits. For example – if you, your dog or cat walks on ground where a rabbit infected with VHD has been, you can carry the virus on your clothes or shoes, your other pets can carry it on fur or feet and infected your rabbit. This means that keeping your rabbits indoors just reduces the probability but does NOT protect them against infection.

Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is one of the worst viruses out there.  It has evolved to survive outside of a host for over 200 days and can survive cold temperatures. The virus can live on pretty much any surface at all, this includes shoes, clothes, hay, the feet of wild rodents and birds, grass, dandelion leaves etc. 

Myxomatosis

Sadly almost all pet rabbits that contract myxomatosis do not survive and in the majority of cases euthanasia is the only humane option to avoid suffering. Symptoms first appear within 2 weeks of contracting the disease, these include swelling of the skin particularly of the face and around the eyes, mouth, ears and genitals, a high fever, lethargy and anorexia (not eating). Commonly affected rabbits develop respiratory disease and discharges from the eyes and mouth. Without treatment, affected rabbits typically suffer a slow and lingering death. Vaccination is the best protection.

Viral haemorrhagic disease – Two strains (RHD1 and RHD2)

Viral haemorrhagic disease is caused by a virus, the incubation period is up to three days, although some may die suddenly without any clinical signs. Symptoms include anorexia, fever, loss of interest and lethargy. There may be a mucoid foaming at the mouth or a bloody nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, convulsions and finally coma. Very few rabbits survive this acute phase but die a few weeks later of liver disease and jaundice. All affected rabbits suffer a horrendous death, therefore should be vaccinated annually.

Two VHD strains VHD has two strains, RHD1 and RHD2.

RHD1 has long been established in the UK, kills quickly and has a 100 per cent mortality rate, whereas RHD2 is an emerging strain that kills slowly, has a mortality rate between 20 and 50 per cent and also kills baby rabbits. Over the past year there has been an increased number of RHD2 outbreaks in the UK.

RHD2- The virus appears to have mutated into a strain which kills the host more slowly. 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 needs to be vaccinated against.  Many vets are still not aware of this new strain of RHD2. 

We have been told of concerned rabbit owners, contacting vets about RHD2, only to be told that they have been covered for the disease with the standard Myxo-RHD vaccine.   THIS IS NOT CORRECT.  This vaccine only covers RDH1 and DOES NOT protect against RHD2.  Rabbits which were up to date with their Myxo-RHD vaccine have been confirmed to have died from RHD2 under pathology.

RHD2 vaccine is not readily available and requires a special import permit. We are pleased to have applied for this and now have the new RHD2 vaccines in our practices.

We would advise concerned rabbit owners to contact us regarding vaccinating their rabbits.

Vaccination protocol.

The new RHD2 vaccine is NOT a replacement for the current RHD1 and myxomatosis combo vaccine and will need to be given AS WELL. It is important to note that these vaccines CANNOT be given at the same time and need at least a 2 week gap between them.

In total, your rabbit will now require 2 vaccinations (comprising of 3 injections) per year:

1) Myxo-RHD combo – Just one injection covers them for myxomatosis and RHVD1.

2) Cunivak RHD – 2 injections 3 weeks apart. This covers them against RHVD2.

Summary.

If your rabbit is vaccinated with the Myxo-RHD vaccine AND the RHD vaccine, they will have been vaccinated against Myxomatosis, RHVD1 and RHVD2. As always, no vaccination is 100% effective and it does not mean your pet will not contract the disease. However, it does mean they have a chance to be treated and survive these normally fatal illnesses.