Viral Haemorrhagic Disease in rabbits: what you need to know about the cause, symptoms and vaccination

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) continues to be a cause for concern for many rabbit owners.

The summer of 2016 saw several outbreaks of RVHD (as well as its mutated form RVHD2) and owners should remain vigilant against this deadly virus.

Petplan looks at the causes, symptoms, and precautions that you can take to ensure your rabbit remains as safe from infection as they can be…

What is RVHD?

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) is a fatal virus that causes bleeding in major organs such as the lungs, heart, spleen and kidneys leading to sudden death in the vast majority of cases.

RVHD is a highly contagious virus and can survive in the environment throughout a range of temperatures for months. It’s spread not only by direct rabbit to rabbit contact, but also through insect bites and indirect contact with infected rabbits such as through clothing and shoes which poses a risk to both indoor and outdoor rabbits.

Unfortunately, the virus has recently mutated into two different forms – RVHD and RVHD2 – which means that one vaccination is no longer enough to protect your rabbit.

What are the symptoms to spot?

In the vast majority of cases, infected rabbits show few or no symptoms and it's common for rabbits to die suddenly even within several hours of being infected. Symptoms can include:

Of course, if you spot any of these symptoms then you should immediately contact your vet.

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for the virus, which accounts for the high mortality rates and therefore prevention is vital.

What can be done to prevent the virus affecting your rabbit?

The best way to help keep your bunny protected is to ensure they are vaccinated against RVHD and Myxomatosis. This can be given by your vet from 5 weeks of age, and will need to be repeated yearly. In some high-risk areas your vet may recommend repeating this every six months.

Recently a vaccine for RVHD2 has been developed, and protects against both RVHD strains and can be given at 10 weeks of age. However, check with your vet as this may not be readily available at your practice.

Other steps you can take to reduce the risk of infection include ensuring your rabbit is kept well away from their wild cousins and, if you’ve been out walking in areas where there are wild rabbits; change your clothing and shoes before interacting with your pet. It’s also recommended to avoid rabbit shows, pet shops, and petting farms. Rabbits here may be unvaccinated, and again you risk spreading or bringing the disease home on your clothes, shoes, buggy wheels etc.

 Do you have any experience of RVHD? Let us know your story and advice below…