Those of you with rabbits have probably seen the worrying news in the press recently regarding a new strain of fatal viral haemorrhagic disease that has swept in from Europe.
This disease can affect rabbits of any age. In contact rabbits can contract the disease within 3-9 days and the period of illness prior to death can be up to 5 days. This condition is more likely to cause a protracted disease with weight loss, anorexia and jaundice (yellow mucous membranes). However, there have been reports of sporadic sudden death with no obvious clinical signs. This disease can trigger other conditions to flare, which can complicate diagnosis.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for affected rabbits. The majority will die quickly but supportive treatment can help. The carrier status of rabbits that survive is unknown but it is presumed they could still be infectious to in contact rabbits.
The British Rabbit Council is closely monitoring the situation. The source of infection and how it is spreading is unclear. Potentially the mixing of rabbits from breeders/ pet shops/ rescue centres has aided further spread. The only way to diagnose the condition is via a post-mortem. Any cases of sudden death should undergo a post-mortem examination as soon as possible. Samples will be sent to Moredun laboratories in Scotland for microscopic evaluation and PCR testing to confirm whether RHVD2 is prevalent.
Inanimate objects (clothing/shoes), flying insects and food (hay/ wild forage) can be sources for spread of infection. They can be contaminated by urine/ faeces/ tissue of contaminated rabbits. To avoid picking up contaminated forage, look for areas with tall plants, as wild rabbits graze locally and keep the plants short. Foraging is important for rabbits and conversely there is also some data to suggest that a little bit of exposure to the condition can aid immunity. The virus is resistant to temperature changes and survives well outside of the body and in the digestive tract of predators that eat infected carcases.
It is important to keep biosecurity measures high;
- Use a strong disinfectant (Virkon)
- Use different clothing around your rabbits to reduce spread from outside
- Protect your rabbits against biting insects
- Quarantine new rabbits for 1 month
If an outbreak occurs, there is insufficient information on how best to enforce damage control but we would recommend;
- Any rabbits on the premises should not leave and mix with other rabbits
- Vaccinate all the remaining rabbits
- Use a strong disinfectant
- Defer from breeding
- Be vigilant
We currently vaccinate annually against myxomatosis and viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD1). The new vaccine can be given 2 weeks around the annual vaccination and only needs to be given annually unless you have any breeding does or a large rescue unit, in which case the manufacturer’s would recommend every 6 months. The vaccination can be given to rabbits above 10 weeks old.
Our supplier is currently out of stock of the Filavac vaccine for the RVHD2 until the end of July as they are awaiting a delivery from Europe. Please let us know if you are interested in vaccinating your rabbit against this new strain, we can obtain a special permit and let our supplier know. There are a lot of things we still do not know about this disease but hopefully in time more light will be shed on the situation.
We will keep you updated on news as we hear it but in the meantime if you are all worried about your bunnies or would like them to have the vaccination as soon as possible then please let us know.