RHD2 Virus in Rabbits

Author: Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets

RHD2 virus, also known as VHD2, is a relatively new strain of viral rabbit haemorrhagic disease. The only way to protect your pet rabbit is with a preventative vaccine. 

With confirmed cases in most parts of the UK now, nowhere can be considered safe. The new strain was first recognised several years ago and recently it has become increasingly prevalent throughout the UK.

The two strains of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) or viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) are highly contagious and are fatal in most cases. The second, and most recent, strain of the disease, RHD2, is affecting more and more pet rabbits in the UK and so vaccination is strongly recommended. All rabbit owners across the country are advised to speak to their vets about the RHD2 vaccine and the advice is to vaccinate all Rabbits against this viral disease as there is no cure. It is highly contagious and the 1.3million pet rabbits estimated to be in the UK are now at risk and many are likely to already have succumbed to this disease. We therefore strongly recommend that all pet rabbit owners have their pets vaccinated to protect against this deadly disease. Protection against the first strain of RHD, along with other diseases, is at present now included in the current standard rabbit vaccinations: i.e. against Myxomatosis and RHD1, which every pet rabbit should have already had.  The vaccine for new RHD2 strain needs to be given at least two weeks after the vaccine for the first RHD1 strain and then Booster vaccines are then normally recommended annually.

This virus often shows few to no symptoms and kills rabbits quickly and suddenly. As RHD2 sadly often results in sudden death consequently the real incidence of RHD2 is unknown, especially as most cases are suspected rather than confirmed with tests. Little can be done to save any other companion rabbits from suffering the same fate as the disease can spread rapidly. If there are any symptoms present, they can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and abdominal spasms. The RHD2 virus is spread very easily between rabbits and also via contaminated surfaces, from human hand contact from handling an infected rabbit via contaminated clothing, from contaminated food and food bowls, and also from hay and straw bedding. If a rabbit owner is unaware that their pet has the virus, it will continue to spread rapidly. There is an incubation period of three to nine days, during which time the virus is already highly contagious. Research on the effect of the disease on wild rabbits and on the transmission between them in the wild rabbit population is limited. Anywhere that has an outbreak of RHD2 will need rapid decontamination and will not be able to house another rabbit until strict measures have been taken to ensure the virus has been completely eliminated.

As there is no cure for this disease, the only way to protect your pet rabbit is with a preventative vaccine.  So please ask us about providing the vaccine against RHD2 for your pet rabbit and make an appointment for this additional protection as soon as possible.