What is RHDV2 in rabbits – and is it fatal?

What is RHDV2 in rabbits – and is it fatal?
July 11, 2018 kernow

Unfortunately the disease is potentially fatal to rabbits. RHD stands for Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease but is sometimes known as Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) and RCV which is Rabbit CaliciVirus. Although it goes by all of these names, it is a horrible disease affecting rabbits only – and sadly usually with a negative outcome. Until recently the virus was only known as one strain RHDV1, but now we have RHDV2 which is a fairly new strain affecting rabbits in the local area. 

How is it spread?

It is a highly contagious disease and one infected rabbit can spread it rapidly to other rabbits in the area. The virus is passed by direct transmission from rabbit to rabbit.   We also know that it is present in all the rabbit’s bodily fluids, which means it can be spread by coughing, urine, saliva and faeces.

Can humans spread it?

Yes they can. Because the virus is so stable in the environment (some scientific studies suggest that it could last about 100 days at room temperature), the route of transmission can be by touching infected areas – the virus particles can be carried on your shoes, skin and clothes. This means that house rabbits are not safe either, as owners can carry the virus indoors.

What are the symptoms?

A horrible disease, the virus causes bleeding (haemorrhaging), as the name suggests.  Blood vessels break down and leak. In the original virus RHDV1 the most common symptom was sudden death – rabbits that were apparently healthy, suddenly die. Death is normally due to a sudden internal bleed. If they did live a bit longer, they showed lethargy, loss of appetite and depression. With the new strain, RHDV2, the symptoms are very similar, however sudden death is not so common – rabbits can last several days or even a week. Very rarely, an infected rabbit may recover, but must be kept in quarantine for at least six weeks, as they may still shed the virus.

What is the treatment?

There is no treatment for either strain of virus. Sadly, because the outcome is unlikely to be good and due to the severe suffering that this virus causes, we usually recommend putting infected rabbits to sleep on welfare grounds. This also minimises the risk of infection of other rabbits. If on a rare occasion a rabbit is only showing mild symptoms, which means they have an immune system that has partially combated the virus, these are given supportive care with fluid therapy, antibiotics against secondary infection, and pain relief.

Can this disease be prevented?

Yes it can! We have a vaccine to immunise rabbits against both strains of the virus. It can be given from 10 weeks of age as a single vaccination. If you have a rabbit that has had the RHD/myxo combination vaccination in the past, they are not protected against this new strain of RHD. For more information on the vaccination protocol, including for younger rabbits, please click here.

What’s the next step?

If your rabbit doesn’t have protection, we strongly urge you to book an appointment to get them vaccinated. If your rabbit is vaccinated, please contact the surgery to see if they are covered against the new strain. Because of this current outbreak we strongly advise giving them a booster if they have not been vaccinated in the last six months.

If you are at all worried about your rabbit’s health, please call us for further advice on this virus, vaccinations and preventative health.