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Penn Animal Hospital
Dear Penn Animal Hospital friends, 

COVID-19 may be dominating the human news, but for rabbit owners, there’s a new virus in town. Actually, it’s more of a re-vamped vintage virus, as the first strains of a virus causing Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease were found back in 1984. The original RHDV targeted primarily adult rabbits, leaving kits unaffected.

But even viruses have gotten new century updates: RHVD2 was first discovered in France, affecting juvenile as well as adult rabbits. RHVD2 first appeared in North America in 2018. For several years this deadly disease was thought to only affect domestic rabbit species, meaning that outbreaks were few and far between and easily contained.

Unfortunately, 2020 didn’t stop with human virus developments.

RHVD2 has now been found in multiple states in wild rabbit species (cotton tails and jackrabbits). This means that it is likely to spread throughout the continent in the wild populations and can also be spread to domestic rabbits.
Photo of cute black and white rabbit sitting in grass.
What is RDHV2?
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease is a highly contagious disease primarily attacking the liver.  It exists in three forms: 
  • Peracute – Usually seen as sudden death with bloody discharge from the nose, mouth, or other orifices
  • Acute – Rabbits are often found lying on their sides or depressed, not eating, with low-grade fever, watery eyes and nose, and/or neurologic signs.  If this stage progresses to death, it usually does so within about 12 hours.
  • Subacute to Chronic – Symptoms are the same as acute but less severe initially; it may progress to jaundice, constipation, or mucous-covered diarrhea. Rabbits that die from this stage usually do so within 1-2 weeks.
How is RHDV2 spread?
The virus is highly contagious and can be spread by direct contact between rabbits, but more importantly, fomites (inanimate objects such as grass, clothing, hutches, shoes, etc.) can become contaminated with the virus and spread it from one animal to another. 

Meat and pelts from infected rabbits can also house the virus. The virus can also be spread by biting insects such as mosquitoes and flies.

Is RHDV2 contagious to humans?

Fortunately, no. However, humans can act as fomites, spreading the virus on clothing, hands, or shoes between rabbits.
Photo of adorable small white bunny sitting on a rug. What should I do if my rabbit looks sick?
Isolate the sick rabbit from any others and call us immediately.
RHDV2 can be diagnosed through a viral RNA test, and because of how quickly the disease can spread, it’s important to diagnose it as soon as possible to protect all other rabbits in our community.  
How can I keep my rabbit safe?
Right now, the only vaccines against RHDV2 are not licensed in the United States and can only be obtained from Europe through special permits and paperwork in rare emergency situations.

Most practically, the best means of prevention is keeping good biosecurity – eliminating contact between your rabbits and any outside rabbits.

You should also: 
  • Clean and disinfect all hutches, dishes, bottles, and other items that contact your rabbits regularly
  • Don’t allow your rabbits to play outside where wild bunnies may have been.
  • If you or anyone in your house travels to a state where RHDV2 has been found, be sure to wash all clothing, shoes, and luggage before bringing it into the house or where your rabbits are sheltered
  • Maintain a “closed herd.” Don’t bring new rabbits into your group, and if you take rabbits out to shows or other events, isolate them from the rest of the group upon return.
  • Insect control – take steps to keep flies and mosquitoes away from your rabbits.  Ask us about rabbit-safe flea control.
To learn more, we recommend these resources: 
VIN News Service  (Warning: article contains graphic image)
USDA Map of incidences
California Department of Food & Agriculture

Please call us if you have any questions or concerns about your rabbit(s), as we would be happy to answer any questions!

Your friends at Penn Animal Hospital
Thank you for trusting Penn Animal Hospital with the care of your pet's health.
This electronic communication is being sent to you by VINx on behalf of Penn Animal Hospital - 881 West Baltimore Pike, West Grove, PA 19390 USA.
(VINx is a division of the Veterinary Information Network, 777 West Covell Blvd, Davis, California, 95616, USA,
 (800) 454-0576)
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