What is Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease and how is it spread?
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) is a serious and extremely contagious virus of domestic (including feral domestic) rabbits. With a high mortality rate, most infected rabbits will not survive the virus. There have been confirmed cases where two small colonies of rabbits died from the disease on both Vancouver Island and Annacis Island (within the Lower Mainland) in February 2018. All rabbits are susceptible to this disease, including pet rabbits.
The RHD virus is spread directly through contaminated bedding, food and water as well as urine or droppings. The hearty virus can live in the environment for many weeks and may survive at varying temperatures, as well. Indirect spreading of the virus can occur through the use of contaminated items such as human clothing, surfaces, unwashed hands, etc. or by contact with insects and wildlife (flies, birds, mammals) that have had an interaction with a deceased infected rabbit. This disease does not affect humans or any other species besides rabbits.
What symptoms should I watch for and how do I protect my pet rabbit?
Within one to nine days of becoming infected, signs of RHD occur quickly and include lethargy, problems with balance/coordination, difficulty breathing and behavioural changes. Unfortunately though, most rabbits that contract the disease pass away suddenly. The highly fatal virus causes internal bleeding and attacks the liver and other organs.
Listed below are suggestions to keep your pet rabbit from contracting RHD:
- Avoid travel to areas known to have infected rabbits and avoid other rabbits in general
- Limit/Avoid human visitors that live or have travelled recently to contaminated areas
- Remove shoes before entering your home and wash hands before handling your rabbit
- Avoid introducing any new rabbits into your home
- Clean and disinfect any new/used rabbit supplies entering your home
- Avoid using wild plants, grass or vegetables grown in areas that other rabbits or wildlife have access to
- Remove or tightly secure anything outside (such as food) that could attract wild rabbits, insects or other wildlife
- If you exercise your rabbit outdoors, do so in areas that are secured with no possibility of contamination
- Cats or dogs that go outside to potentially contaminated areas should not be allowed near your rabbit’s living area
How do I disinfect my rabbit supplies?
Most common household cleaners are not affective against the RHD virus. It is recommended that bleach is used for cleaning at a 1:10 dilution (one part bleach to 9 parts water). Ensure that materials are rinsed thoroughly after being cleaned with bleach to remove any residue. Another option is a product called Virkon (potassium peroxymonosulfate) which can be purchased at your veterinarian. Both should be allowed to soak on surfaces or items for at least 10 minutes before being rinsed.
What if I have more questions?
Contact your local small animal veterinarian if you have any questions regarding RHD or the health of your pet rabbit.
What should I do if I see a group or rabbits or a deceased rabbit?
If you come across a group of rabbits or a deceased rabbit, contact your local animal control – do not attempt to handle it yourself.
*Article written with excerpts from original BCSPCA article that can be found here: http://spca.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/Rabbit-Hemorrhagic-Disease-Information-Sheet-for-Rabbit-Guardians.pdf