RABBIT HEMORRHAGIC DISEASE VIRUS (RHDV)
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What is Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV)?
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is a calicivirus that is spread via the eyes, nose, and mouth. RHDV2 is a subtype that affects not only wild rabbits but domesticated rabbits as well. RHDV2 was first found in Europe in 2010 and in North America in 2018.
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 was confirmed in Ramsey County, Minnesota in September 2021. These were two indoor-only rabbits from the same household with no direct contact with other rabbits.
How is it spread?
The virus is transmitted via the eyes, nose, and mouth.
It is easily passed from one rabbit to another. It can also spread from your hands, clothes and shoes, your other pets who go outside, and even insects. Because the virus can be found in urine, feces, and respiratory discharge, it can easily contaminate food or bedding as well.
Can indoor-only rabbits get infected?
Yes! Because it can contaminate and survive on surfaces outside of its preferred host for long periods, this virus can easily sneak into your home and come into contact with your rabbit. It can also survive in extreme temperatures, so this virus is still a concern in the winter months.
What if I have other (non-rabbit) pets? Can they get it or spread it?
While other pets will not get sick from the virus, they can inadvertently spread it to your rabbit via their feet, body, and fur; if they ever go outside. Insects such as flies or blood-sucking insects can also bring the virus into your home if they’ve come in contact with it.
What wildlife species are susceptible to RHDV2?
Hares, rabbits, and pikas. No other species of wildlife are known to be susceptible.
Can RHDV2 infect humans?
It’s not known to affect people, but we can spread it to our pets via contaminated skin, clothing, or shoes. It is important to follow strict cleaning and anti-contamination procedures to protect your rabbit.
What should I do if I find a sick or dead wild rabbit?
If you see any dead or sick wild rabbits, do not touch them. Contact local state wildlife authorities to report it.
How is RHDV diagnosed and treated?
Watch your rabbit closely for symptoms and contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice any. Sadly, this disease can come on very suddenly, progresses very quickly, and most cases result in death. Some rabbits may not show any symptoms at all and may pass away suddenly without any warning. Any sudden deaths should be reported to your veterinarian.
Currently, there are no known effective drugs or other treatments beyond keeping them isolated and providing supportive care such as IV fluids and hand feeding.
What symptoms do I need to watch for in my rabbit?
This virus causes bleeding in the animal’s internal organs and tissues. Again, RHDV is a rapidly progressing disease and some infected rabbits pass away abruptly, without any symptoms present at all.
• High fever (normal temperature for rabbits is 101°F - 103°F) Learn how to take your rabbit’s temperature.
• Eating less or not at all
• Lethargy (laying around more, not moving, acting depressed or “dumpy”)
• Spasms or seizures
• Yellowing of eyes and skin
• Bleeding from nose, mouth, or rectum
• Trouble breathing
• Sudden death
How do I safely clean surfaces to prevent this illness?
Not all disinfectants are effective in killing the RHDV, so be sure you are using an appropriate cleaning solution. Always wear gloves when cleaning your pet’s habitat.
The simplest disinfection solution is a 1:10 dilution of bleach to water. New dilute bleach solutions should be mixed every 24 hours to maintain effectiveness. Below are instructions for cleaning your rabbit’s habitat using this bleach solution.
1. Remove all debris (feces, hay, food, fur, bedding, etc.) from your pet’s habitat. Discard these items by double bagging them in plastic bags and disinfecting the outer bag.
2. Thoroughly wash all habitat surfaces and other supply/enrichment items with soapy water, rinse with water, then allow to dry.
Make your bleach solution by mixing 1 part 6% or 8.25% household bleach with 9 parts water.
3. Submerge or saturate all habitat surfaces and other supply/enrichment items with the bleach solution for 5 minutes of contact time. This means that you must reapply the bleach solution as needed to keep the surface wet for the entire 5 minutes.
4. Once surfaces have been saturated for 5 minutes, rinse with cold water and allow to dry completely.
What can I do to protect my rabbit from this disease?
•. Do not allow your rabbit outdoors until they are fully vaccinated.
•. Do not allow your rabbit to have any contact with other rabbits or with people who have rabbits unless they are fully vaccinated.
•. Change your clothes and thoroughly wash your hands if you’ve been gardening or spending time outdoors. If you’ve had any potential direct exposure to the disease, wash your clothes on a hot water cycle twice.
•. Wash your hands before and after interacting with your rabbit.
•. Adopt a “no shoes in the house” policy, keep indoor/outdoor shoes separately, or use slippers indoors.
•. If you have dogs or cats that go outside, wash their feet with a soap and water solution (do not use disinfectant, this can be dangerous) before they come back inside, or have them wear booties when outdoors. Keep your rabbit in a separate area that your other pets cannot access if possible. To give your dog a foot bath:
1. Keep a washing bowl or tray (such as a clean litter box) by the door and fill it with fresh, pet-friendly soap and water.
2. When you let your pet in after spending time outside, dip each of your dog’s paws in the soapy water and remove any excess debris.
3. Dry their paws with a clean cloth.
•. Keep windows and doors closed (or use window/door screens) to prevent insects from coming inside.
•. Keep your dogs and cats on flea prevention. Speak with your veterinarian about putting your rabbit on a safe flea prevention such as Revolution or Advantage II.
•. Do not feed any forage or clippings from outside.
•. Try to keep wild rabbits and scavengers out of your yard with fencing or other options.
•. Maintain proper cleaning practices and procedures for your pet’s habitat, supplies, and enrichment.
•. Do not attend any events with your rabbit or bring your pet out of the house for any reason, unless absolutely necessary, until they have been vaccinated. Speak with your veterinarian regarding their recommendations on annual preventative exams until vaccines are available.
•. Learn to groom and trim your rabbit’s nails at home to avoid taking your rabbit outside of the home. MNPPR is working on creating a virtual training class to teach you how to trim your rabbit’s nails at home and will provide a link when available. MNPPR is now accepting vaccinated rabbits only at our Nail Trim Clinics. Proof of yearly vaccination is required.
•. Vaccinate your rabbit as soon as it becomes available in your area.
•. Purchase foods that have been sourced from unaffected areas and/or have been appropriately quarantined (3 months.) View Oxbow’s policies here. Though there has not been any known exposure from fresh greens, you may consider purchasing greenhouse or indoor-grown greens, and rinse thoroughly with water as always.
•. If you see any dead or sick wild rabbits, do not touch them. Contact local state wildlife authorities to report it.
Is there a vaccine?
Yes! As of Friday, October 1, 2021, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health has authorized licensed veterinarians to order and administer a RHDV2 vaccine manufactured by Medgene Labs, a private company in South Dakota.
It is recommended that, even once your rabbit has the vaccine, you continue to practice biosecurity precautions. This disease is not expected to go away as it is present in wildlife populations and it is very hearty and can live a long time in the environment.
Contact your rabbit-savvy veterinarian to inquire about getting your rabbit vaccinated against RHDV2. This vaccine must be boostered yearly.
What are MNPPR’s policies regarding RHDV?
Please note, now that a vaccine is available in MN, these policies may change in the future. We will keep this page and our pocket pet community updated.
We are now accepting intake of rabbits who have been fully vaccinated against RHDV2 pending foster home availability. If your rabbit is unvaccinated, it will only be considered on a medical emergency basis until further notice. All rabbits regardless of vaccine status will be quarantined at their Intake Foster home for 14-days prior to their intake exams.
Rabbits are to be fostered only in homes that are rabbit-free and without indoor/outdoor pets of any kind. Fosters are to dispose of any non-washable items, including food, from previous foster animals and bleach everything else according to USDA cleaning instructions.
We will be keeping all rabbit supplies in a separate area from other supplies, to prevent potential contamination.
Bonded rabbits will only be adopted into homes that are rabbit-free. Rabbit Critter Courtships will be limited to households with fully vaccinated rabbits only. Now that the vaccine is available, all of our rabbits will be vaccinated for RHDV2 until further notice.
Rabbits who are not up to date on their yearly RHDV vaccine not be allowed at any events. Please view our Nail Trim Clinic page for more information. If you arrive at an event with a rabbit without proof of up-to-date yearly RHDV vaccine, you will be asked to leave for the safety of your pet and others.
In the event a rabbit needs to be transported by a member of the team, the volunteers are to wear gloves when handling, do not accept any used supplies, and practice proper sanitation per the USDA cleaning guidelines, especially if transporting using a MNPPR carrier. Drivers who have personal pet rabbits will not be permitted to transport rabbits or rabbit supplies until further notice.
Due to the dangers of this virus, we are unable to accept any used rabbit supplies until further notice. If you want to donate supplies, please check out our Amazon Wishlists. You can purchase items from one of our wishlists and it will be mailed directly to us.
Below are some excellent resources with lots of information. If you have more questions about this illness, please reach out to your veterinarian.
Remember, it is okay to feel anxious and fearful about this scary disease. Be sure to take care of your mental health and speak with a friend, loved one, or mental health professional if you are feeling overwhelmed.
All information shared by MN Pocket Pet Rescue is researched, up to date, and accurate to the best of our ability. We are not a licensed veterinary organization and do not intend to present ourselves as such. All educational material contains our best recommendations for care specific to each species. However, all animals are different and some may have unique needs. MN Pocket Pet Rescue does not assume any liability for the well-being of any animal not under our care. Always use your best judgment and follow veterinary recommendations whenever necessary. If you have any questions or find inaccurate information please contact us.