Rabbit owners have probably seen the worrying news recently regarding a new strain of fatal viral haemorrhagic disease that has come from Europe. RVHD2 is a strain of the Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD1) that we already have in the UK; It was discovered in France in 2010 and in the UK in 2013, since then it has been spreading slowly through the rabbit population and can now be found throughout most of the UK.
How Is RVHD2 Spread?
Both strains of Viral Haemorrhagic Disease are spread either by direct contact with infected rabbits, or indirectly via contact with infected urine or faeces, so could be spread by
- Contact with an infected rabbit
- Feeding hay, grass or other foods that may have been in contact with infected wild rabbits
- Birds and insects may transport the virus on their feet (or in their droppings) to your rabbit grazing on the lawn.
- You might bring the virus home on your hands, feet, (or other pets’ feet) or clothes by handling other infected rabbits or from infected wild rabbit droppings if you are out on walks in rabbit populated areas.
The viruses can survive for several months in the environment which makes it easy for them to be transmitted; they also survive both hot and cold temperatures very well.
What Are The Symptoms of RVHD2?
This disease can affect rabbits of any age and may cause
- Anorexia (not eating)
- Weight loss
- Jaundice (yellowing of the mucous membranes).
However, there have also been reports of sudden death with no obvious clinical signs seen by the owners.
Currently the only way to determine if the disease is RVHD2 is by performing a postmortem.
How Are Rabbits With RVHD2 Treated?
Unlike RVHD1 which tends to kill affected rabbits very quickly due to internal bleeding, some rabbits affected with RVHD2 have recovered with veterinary care if it is diagnosed early enough, although sadly the vast majority do still die. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease in affected rabbits, so they are treated symptomatically which may include supportive care such as intravenous fluids, assisted feeding, pain relief and intensive nursing.
Currently it is unknown how long an infected rabbit can carry the disease and pass it on to others for, so owners of surviving rabbits will need to be extremely careful regarding quarantine and contact with any other rabbits.
How Can RVHD2 Be Prevented?
Currently the only prevention is vaccination. The RVHD1 vaccine is usually given routinely along with the Myxomatosis vaccination annually (or biannually in high risk areas), but unfortunately the RVHD1 vaccine does not protect rabbits against the new strain of the virus so they will now require an additional vaccination against RVHD2.
As with all disease threats, it is also very important to keep to strict biosecurity measures
- Use a strong DEFRA and/or Veterinary Approved disinfectant (i.e Virkon, Anigene, Trigene) for cleaning
- Use different clothing around your rabbits to reduce spread from outside
- Protect your rabbits against biting insects (hang fly paper or use a fly zapper)
- Quarantine new rabbits for at least 1 month
- Be vigilant for any signs that your rabbit is unwell
- Avoid potential sources of infection such as wild rabbits, rabbit shows, pet shows, petting zoos etc.