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Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD)
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) is a foreign animal disease that is extremely contagious and fatal for both domestic and wild rabbits and hares. The disease is caused by a virus, which can survive for a long time in the environment. There are three types of the virus: classical RHDV, RHDVa, and RHDV2.
While there have been no cases of this disease in Michigan, cases of RHDV2 have been found in other states. A rabbit or hare can develop the disease by having contact with an ill rabbit or its excretions as well as contact with an item that has touched an ill rabbit or its excretions.
Fortunately, the disease does not affect people or other species of animals. However, virtually all rabbits and hares contracting the disease will die.
Often, the only sign of the disease is the sudden death of a rabbit or hare. However, other signs can include lethargy, reduced appetite, lack of coordination, respiratory problems, and bleeding. Affected rabbits may also make paddling motions with their feet or arch their heads back towards their spine.
The best way to prevent the disease is to practice good biosecurity (taking steps to keep germs away from animals), such as:
- 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.
- 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.
- Promptly isolating any ill rabbits and contacting a veterinarian.
Vaccination is also an important tool for protecting domestic rabbits. In Michigan, there is now a U.S.-based vaccine available for RHDV2. Developed by Medgene Labs, the vaccine is only available to, and must be administered by, licensed veterinarians in the State of Michigan.
The vaccine is given in two doses, 21 days apart. Full immunity develops 14 days after the second dose. Research has shown the vaccine to be very effective in protecting against the disease in rabbits with rare side effects.
If you are a veterinarian and interested in obtaining the vaccine, please contact Medgene Labs at 605-697-2600. For more information on the vaccine, including a list of frequently asked questions, visit the Medgene Labs website.
If you are a rabbit owner, contact your veterinarian regarding vaccinating your rabbits.