Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease
Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) is a highly contagious and usually fatal disease which affects rabbits. The disease is also known as Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) and Rabbit Calicivirus (RCV). Vaccination is the only way to truly protect your rabbits against this disease.
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Signs of RVHD
Both strains of the virus cause similar signs:
- RVHD1: the most common sign is sudden death, often with bleeding from the mouth and nose immediately afterwards, or death within 48 hours of initial signs (below)
- RVHD2: rabbits often live for up to nine days after being infected, which risks spreading the virus more
- Bruising under the skin or a rash, like septicaemia
- Bleeding from the mouth, nose and anus
Causes of RVHD
There are now two strains of RVHD in the UK: RVHD1 and RVHD2. RVHD2 has become present in the UK more recently and causes a potentially more dangerous form of the disease.
RVHD is spread between rabbits by direct contact and through all bodily fluids (blood, urine, faeces, saliva). The virus is very stable in the environment; it can survive for more than 100 days at room temperature and longer if it is cold. The virus particles are also resistant to freezing.
What can you do to help your rabbits?
- RVHD can be prevented! There are now vaccines against RVHD1 and RVHD2. More information about rabbit vaccines can be found in our article.
- Reduce the risk of infection in addition to essential vaccination: cages and equipment must be disinfected prior to re-use
- Not even house rabbits are safe from this disease: you or anyone visiting your house might bring the virus home on your feet if you have walked in infected wild rabbit’s droppings
- Keep your rabbits away from contact with wild rabbits, or areas that they graze
- Keep the hay or straw that you use for your rabbit out of reach of wild, potentially infected rabbits
- Be aware that birds or insects may spread the virus either on their feet or in their droppings
- The virus may also be blown on the wind
- Other pets in the household may also carry it on their paws
Treatment of RVHD
Sadly there is no treatment for RVHD1 or RVHD2. Unfortunately, 90-100% of rabbits who contract this disease will not survive. Due to the severe suffering that this disease causes, your vet will usually recommend euthanasia on welfare grounds.
Occasionally, a very small number of rabbits survive, although we do not know why this is. It is most likely to be due to differences in their immune response to the virus. In these cases, supportive care, pain relief, fluid therapy and antibiotics against secondary infections, may help to combat the disease. In a rabbit that has been extraordinarily lucky to survive the infection, they must be quarantined to protect other rabbits. Quarantine must last for a minimum of six weeks, and possibly longer, as they continue to shred the virus into the environment.
When is it time to visit your vet?
- Ask your vet about preventing RVHD with vaccinations
- If you notice any of the signs associated with RVHD above
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