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MDARD Encourages Owners to Protect their Rabbits Against Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2

Taking preventive measures, like biosecurity and vaccination, are key to keeping RHDV2 out of Michigan

LANSING, MI — The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) continues to be proactive in efforts to protect Michigan’s domestic animals. While no cases of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2) have been found in Michigan, MDARD is strongly encouraging rabbit owners to take every measure possible to keep the virus away from their animals as well as to vaccinate them against RHDV2.

“Now is the time to take action to protect Michigan’s domestic rabbits from RHDV2,” said State Veterinarian Nora Wineland, DVM. “Rabbit owners should continue their biosecurity efforts to keep harmful germs away from their animals, and if rabbits are not already vaccinated, consider vaccinating them as soon as possible. It will take 35 days from the first dose of the vaccine for rabbits to be fully protected against the virus.”

RHDV2 is an extremely contagious and fatal disease for domestic and wild rabbits and hares. Virtually all rabbits and hares that contract this disease will die. Fortunately, the disease does NOT affect people or other species of animals.

With the disease being detected in other U.S. states and Canada (the most recent case occurring in Windsor, Ontario), it is vital to take every action possible to protect Michigan’s domestic rabbits and prevent the disease from entering the state.

Keeping pet rabbits safe and healthy begins with:

  • Avoiding the purchase and/or adoption of rabbits from areas with RHDV2.
  • Isolating newly acquired rabbits from other rabbits for at least 30 days.
  • Regularly cleaning and disinfecting all items/surfaces a rabbit has touched, especially if a rabbit has been ill and the item is likely to be shared with another rabbit.
  • Bleach is effective against RHDV2 but be sure to follow the label’s instructions.
  • If something cannot be disinfected, discard it.
  • Not sharing items between different groups of rabbits.
  • Limiting who has contact with rabbits.
  • Washing one’s hands before and after handling a rabbit.
  • Taking off one’s shoes after coming indoors and storing them in a place that is out of reach for a pet rabbit.
  • Keeping domestic rabbits away from wild rabbits. Do not let domestic rabbits outdoors.
  • Controlling for flies and rodents as they could indirectly spread the virus.
  • Opting not to feed a domestic rabbit with vegetation from outside as it could be contaminated.
  • Checking to ensure a rabbit’s feed has not been grown or produced in an endemic area.
  • Knowing the symptoms of RHDV2—lethargy, reduced appetite, lack of coordination, breathing problems, bleeding, and unexpected death.
  • Promptly isolating any ill rabbits and contacting a veterinarian.
    • If RHDV2 is suspected, contact MDARD immediately at 800-292-3939 (daytime) or 517-373-0440 (after-hours).

Beyond these actions, rabbit owners should strongly consider asking their veterinarian about vaccinating their animals against RHDV2. In 2021, a U.S.-based vaccine was made available to protect domestic rabbits from the virus. Preliminary data shows the vaccine to be safe and highly effective.

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To learn more about RHDV2 and explore other resources, please visit MDARD’s website.