Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease
July 7, 2020: We are very relieved to announce that we have received approval to import the Eravac vaccine from Europe, with help from our local veterinarians. We expect to receive our shipment of the vaccine later this month.
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease is a highly contagious and deadly disease of rabbits caused by the RHD virus (RHDV and RHDV2). This disease is very often fatal and there are no treatments for it. The best way to protect your rabbit is to vaccinate. See our RHD Background section below for more information on this virus.
BUNS will be conducting vaccination clinics with the assistance of several local veterinarians. If you are interested in the vaccine clinic, please fill out or online form (link below). We anticipate the cost of the vaccine to be approximately $30 per dose, but this is subject to change.
If your rabbits are current patients of Adobe Pet Hospital (Dr. Haskell) or VCA Noah’s Ark (Dr. Sostrin), please contact them first and let them know you would like to get your rabbits vaccinated.
If you have a different vet, or are directed to the clinic by Dr. Haskell or Dr. Sostrin, please fill out our online form and we will contact you with information on the clinic as it becomes available.
Direct link to the clinic signup form: https://forms.gle/UuU9FMYTa7QQuUU49
The Eravac vaccine has been used in Europe for many years and is very safe. It is routinely used on elderly rabbits as well as those with underlying medical conditions. It needs to be given once per year for full protection. Vaccination is expected to be effective for most rabbits. It may not prevent the disease in 100% of rabbits, but if vaccinated, it helps rabbits survive if they have been exposed to the RHDV2 virus.
BUNS is paying for the up-front cost of importing this vaccine in order to help our rabbit community. We understand that many are struggling financially during this challenging time. If you are able, please make a donation to BUNS to help defer the cost of importing this necessary vaccine and to help BUNS care for rabbits and guinea pigs in our community.
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease is a highly contagious and deadly disease of rabbits caused by the RHD virus (RHDV and RHDV2). The RHDV2 strain of the virus has been spreading through the Southwest and has finally reached California. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed that Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV2) was found in a dead rabbits in the Palm Springs, (Riverside County), Yucca Valley (San Bernardino County), Poway (San Diego County), and most recently San Clemente (Orange County). Because it is in the wild rabbit population, we can assume that RHDV2 will become common in California, and will reach the Santa Barbara region relatively soon. Currently RHDV2 has not been confirmed within a 150 mile radius of Santa Barbara, but it epidemic is moving our direction.
BUNS has already modified our operations to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. We recommend that you consider modifying your routines to help reduce the chance of RHD infecting rabbits under your care.
RHD only infects rabbits and other members of the lagomorph family. You, your family and other pets will not get this disease. However, you can spread it inadvertently, so awareness is key.
RHD is highly contagious and resistant to environmental conditions. It spreads through rabbit contact with a diseased rabbit’s fur, feces, urine, bedding, or direct contact. It also spreads via feces from other animals (scavenging predators, including birds) or insects that have had contact with a diseased rabbit, or contact with a contaminated surface or food. The virus can survive for at least 3 months in the carcass of a dead rabbit or dried on cloth. On other surfaces the virus may survive from 1 to 2 weeks, depending on conditions. It is resistant to both high temperatures (it can survive 1 hour at 122° F) and freezing.
Rabbits housed outdoors are at the highest risk. Even if there are no wild rabbits in your area, insects (especially flies) are able to transmit the virus. A single fly speck can contain enough virus to infect a rabbit.
There is no treatment for this virus and mortality rates are very high, so prevention is crucial.
Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, bleeding, loss of appetite, lethargy, fever, jaundice, seizures, and sudden death. Most rabbits die within hours to days after exposure, while asymptomatic carriers can shed virus for over a month. The virus impairs the blood’s ability to clot, and death is most often caused by liver failure, or internal or external bleeding.
The best way to prevent this disease is to vaccinate your rabbit. Please refer to the first section for information on getting your rabbits vaccinated. It may not prevent the disease in 100% of rabbits, but if vaccinated, it helps rabbits survive is they have been exposed to RHDV2. Biosecurity measures should still be taken to protect vaccinated rabbits.
RHDV2 may reach Santa Barbara before all rabbits can be vaccinated, or before full protection is provided by the vaccine. We must also consider the health of our wild rabbit populations. Here are additional things you can do to reduce the risk to your rabbit and help slow the spread of this disease in our wild and domestic rabbits:
- If you find a sick or dead rabbit do not handle or move it. Call CDFW Wildlife Investigations Lab (916) 358-2790 to report dead wild rabbits, or Santa Barbara Wildlife Care network: (805) 681-1080, and tell them you suspect RHD.
- Housing your rabbit indoors is the single most important step you can take to protect your rabbit from this disease. If you cannot do that, then screen outdoor hutches to keep flies and other insects away from your rabbit. Exercise your rabbit indoors. If you cannot do that limit outdoor time and use fly prevention.
- Remove your shoes when entering your home, and wash your hands before and after handling your rabbit.
- Ask your vet about external parasite control. Vectra3D protects against flies and mosquitos and can be dosed correctly by your vet. Never use Frontline on rabbits.
- Avoid contact with other rabbits. Until further notice or until the vaccine is available, BUNS will not do rabbit introductions, grooming or Hoppy Hours. If you have friends with rabbits, or visit an area with wild rabbits, change your clothes and shoes after visiting their homes. Wash your clothes in hot water and dry on high. Let your shoes sit for several days to 2 weeks in areas away from your rabbit.
- If you have a dog or a cat, avoid situations where they may come into contact with a wild bunny or dead wild rabbit; leashes outdoors are recommended. You may want to wash your dogs paws when they enter the house.
- Stop foraging for wild greens and know the source of your feed. The rates of infection through food are not known, but contaminated feed has been suspected in cases where rabbits housed indoors in urban environments got sick. Greens grown in an outbreak area should not be fed.
Here are some resources for additional information:
- Detailed info from the House Rabbit Society: https://rabbit.org/rhdv/
- Two-page handout you can print and share: https://rabbit.org/articles/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/hrs_rhdv_v5.pdf
- CA Dept of Food and Agriculture: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/ahfss/Animal_Health/pdfs/RabbitHemorrhagicDisease.pdf