RHD also referred to as ‘ Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease ‘ (VHD) is a highly infectious and often fatal disease that attacks the lungs and other organs of a rabbit. The disease can be caused by two different strains of virus and these are known as RHD-1 and RHD-2.
RHD is common in wild rabbits and can easily spread through the air or direct contact from infected rabbits. It can also spend many months living on hutches, food bowls, clothes and shoes. RHD affects only rabbits, but insects, other animals and humans can pick up the virus from a sick rabbit and pass it on to another rabbit accidentally.
For a long time, RHD-1 has been found in the UK. RHD-2 is a newer strain from Europe, but here too it has become very common now and our first rabbits have actually been killed. For each strain, it’s important to get your rabbits vaccinated so they’re both protected. Ask your veterinarian which vaccines should be fully protected for your rabbit.
The symptoms of RHD can be tricky to spot in the early stages but they can include the following:
- unusual tiredness or lack of energy
- loss of appetite
- high fever
- blood at the nose, mouth or bottom.
The disease can progress very rapidly and some rabbits die without any signs. If one of your rabbits suddenly dies, report it to your veterinarian, especially if you notice blood around their mouth, nose, or back. It is important to get immediate advice from your vet if you have other rabbits, as they are likely to have been exposed to the virus already.
There’s no RHD cure. A few rabbits are going to fight off the virus without symptoms. Sadly, if a rabbit develops symptoms and most rabbits who are exposed die of the disease, it is rare to survive the disease.
If a rabbit has only a very mild form of RHD, they may be treated by a vet by keeping them away from other rabbits and giving them intensive care. Rabbits surviving RHD are still infectious for an unknown amount of time and should therefore be kept separate from un-vaccinated rabbits to prevent them from passing the disease on. If one of your rabbits has survived RHD, it is best to vaccinate all of your rabbits before re-introducing them or allowing them to go wherever an infected rabbit may have been.
The best way to protect your rabbits against RHD is with regular vaccinations. Speak to your vet about options and what to do next!
- Vaccination is the probably the best protection for young rabbits. They can get their first jabs at five-weeks-old but may need more injections to be fully protected from all the dangers lurking (Regular check ups).
- If you have house rabbits, keep them in a house area where no shoes are worn and always wash your hands before handling them. This will help to stop you from passing them on RHD accidentally. Rabbits living outdoors are at higher risk from RHD. By keeping them in a safe area that wild rabbits can not reach, you can help protect them. To avoid flies and bugs, use insect-proof screening. .
- New rabbits should be kept fully quarantined from rabbits that you already own for at least two weeks after both RHD-1 and RHD-2 vaccinations. If you had a rabbit with suspected RHD, you should destroy or thoroughly clean household items and then disinfect them with a virus-killing disinfectant. It may be more difficult to disinfect certain areas such as carpets and soil or grass. Before they come into contact with anywhere an infected rabbit might have been, keep new rabbits away from these areas and make sure they are fully vaccinated.