Viral Haemorrhagic Disease in rabbits

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) is a fatal illness that is a cause for concern for many rabbit owners. Discover the symptoms of this disease, how it spreads, and how to prevent your rabbits catching it.

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) is a fatal illness that causes bleeding in a rabbit’s major organs such as the lungs, heart, spleen and kidneys. Unfortunately, it leads to sudden death in the vast majority of cases.

RVHD is a highly contagious virus. It mainly spreads in the summer months and largely affects wild rabbits, but can also spread to domestic rabbits. It can be spread through direct rabbit-to-rabbit contact, but is also spread by infected droppings, insects and other animals, as well as by humans.

Your rabbits might be infected if you walk in an affected area and then bring the virus back with you on your clothing and shoes. As a result, RVHD poses a risk to both indoor and outdoor rabbits.

The virus has mutated into two different forms – RVHD-1 and RVHD-2.

What are the symptoms of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease?

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

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • High fever
  • Respiratory problems
  • Spasms
  • Incoordination
  • Bleeding from the nose or mouth

If you spot any of these symptoms in your rabbits, then you should immediately contact your vet.

Treatment of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for the virus and it has a very high mortality rate. This is why prevention is so important. If your rabbit should be infected, your vet may offer supportive care including fluid therapy and pain relief. 

What can be done to prevent the RVHD virus affecting your rabbits?

The best way to help protect your rabbits from RVHD is to ensure they are vaccinated against RVHD-1, RVHD-2 and Myxomatosis. This combined vaccine can be given by your vet from five weeks of age and the single injection will need to be repeated annually.

In some high-risk areas, your vet may recommend repeating the vaccine every six months. Make sure you insure your rabbits so you are able to access the best possible care for your pets should they need it.

Other steps you can take to reduce the risk of RVHD infection include:

  • Ensure your rabbits are kept well away from wild rabbits.
  • If you’ve been out walking in areas where there are wild rabbits, change your clothing and shoes before interacting with your pets.
  • Avoid rabbit shows, pet shops and petting farms. Rabbits here may be unvaccinated and you risk bringing the disease home on your clothes, shoes, or anything else that came into contact with an infected surface.

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