Washington rabbit owners - be aware of deadly rabbit virus
reported in British Columbia
Monday, March 19, 2018
Badcoe Animal Health Program, Field veterinarian
A deadly virus that infects both domestic and feral European rabbits has been
detected in British Columbia, and is good reason for owners of rabbits or fair
managers with rabbit shows to take extra precautions this year. It is not known
how this new rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) serotype virus 2 would affect
native North American wild rabbits.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) reported the detection of rabbit
hemorrhagic disease (RHD) serotype virus 2, or RHDV2, on March 8. Rabbit deaths
were reported on Vancouver Island, and there are tests in progress to determine
if this disease has spread to the Canadian mainland. Officials in Canada are
currently reviewing a vaccine for RHDV2, but there is no vaccine available in
hemorrhagic disease, or RHD, is easily spread among rabbits, causes a high rate
of infection and death, and the agent (calicivirus) is very stable in the
environment. The first signs of the disease can take up to nine days following
infection, but affected rabbits can also develop a fever and die within 12 to 36
European rabbits have been shown to be affected by RHD and are the type of
rabbit most commonly used as show animals by 4H, FFA and other hobby groups. The
rabbits that died in British Columbia were European rabbits that had gone feral.
It is not known how the virus would affect native North American rabbits, which
are typically cottontail and jack rabbits.
Protecting your rabbit
Since there are no vaccines currently available in the U.S. for the virus, the
best way to protect your rabbits is by practicing good biosecurity, including
good sanitation and disinfection, and keeping new rabbits separated from your
With fairs, shows and exhibitions coming up soon, there is always the concern
that someone could bring an infected rabbit from an area where the disease has
been reported. Remember that a certificate of veterinary inspection must accompany all
animals entering Washington State, including rabbits.
Rabbits can shed the virus in urine or feces for as long as four weeks after
infection. It can be spread on contaminated food, bedding, fur and water, or by
direct contact with infected animals or contaminated objects. Rabbits can become
infected through oral, nasal, or conjunctival routes in the eyes.
While the disease does not affect humans, it can be spread through contaminated
clothing or vehicles, or other animal handling equipment. Biting insects, birds,
rodents, and wild animals can also spread the virus. The virus can survive for
long periods of time in the environment and remain infectious to animals.
Signs of infection in rabbits include:
- Lack of
membranes around the eyes
- Lack of
Blood-stained, frothy nasal discharge upon death
notice any of the symptoms listed above, contact your veterinarian. Rabbit
hemorrhagic disease must be reported to state or federal authorities immediately
upon diagnosis or suspicion of the disease.
To report a diagnosis or an unexplained increase in deaths among rabbits, you
can contact WSDA at 360-902-1878 or 1-800-606-3056. Wild rabbit die-offs can be
reported at email@example.com or by visiting
www.wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health to file a report online.
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease in the RHD form has occurred in the U.S. before, back
in 2000 in Iowa and in 2001 in Michigan, New York and Utah. However, the
outbreaks were restricted to small groups of affected rabbits. RHDV2 has never
been reported in the U.S.
British Rabbit Council: RHD-2 Facts Sheet
Domestic Rabbit Abandonment PDF 3
Facts, misinformation on rabbit vaccines corrected by Gooch;
2018 RHD Nanaimo