Rabbit Haemorrhagic disease (RHD)

Rabbit Haemorrhagic disease (RHD)

What is RHD?

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), also known as viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD), is caused by a viral infection. The first cases were seen in Europe in the mid 1980s (RHD-1) and a newer strain (RHD-2) surfaced in the UK in 2014. It is a very serious infection that causes internal organ damage and bleeding. Sadly over 90% of rabbits who are infected with the virus will not survive.

How do I know if my rabbit has RHD?

The symptoms of RHD will vary a little depending on which strain of the virus is causing the infection. However, most rabbits will show some or all of the following:
  • Blood around the nose, mouth and bottom
  • Lack of energy (lethargy)
  • Poor appetite
  • Fever
  • Sudden death
RHD-1 tends to cause a more rapid onset of symptoms and is almost always fatal within two days. In fact the disease may develop so quickly that rabbits will die without showing any previous illness. Conversely, rabbits infected with RHD-2 may be unwell for one to two weeks before succumbing to the virus. The more prolonged period of illness with RHD-2 means these rabbits may be more likely to spread the infection.

How is RHD spread?

Virus particles are present in the bodily fluids of infected rabbits, mainly in their urine, faeces or saliva and the infection may be spread by direct or close contact between infected bunnies. However, many cases pass from one rabbit to another by passive or indirect transfer on the feet of birds, rodents, flies or even humans. The virus is highly infectious and only a few virus particles are needed to cause infection.

Can RHD be treated?

Sadly, there is no cure for RHD and with a fatality rate of 90-100%, bunnies that are infected have a very slim chance of survival. For the lucky few that have milder signs, supportive care in the form of fluids and intensive nursing can be attempted, but more often than not, euthanasia is the kindest option.

Can my rabbit be vaccinated against RHD-1 and RHD-2?

Fortunately, your bunny can be protected from this horrible disease with an annual vaccination. Combined vaccines offering protection against both RHD-1 and RHD-2 are available and can be given to your bunny from five to seven weeks old, with immunity developing within three weeks. If your bun has missed out on their vaccines, get in touch with your vet as soon as possible to arrange an appointment.
[caption id="attachment_1347" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Vet examining a bunny with its owner in medical office[/caption]

How do I protect my rabbit from RHD?

Vaccination is the best way of preventing RHD but you may be wondering if there is anything else that you can do to help protect your much loved pet. Whilst no substitute for your rabbit’s annual booster jab, it is a good idea to pay special attention to the following:
  • Hygiene 
Hygiene is super important. Cleaning out their hutch and run regularly with a pet-safe disinfectant such as https://petwell.co.uk/collections/small-animal-cleaning-hygiene/products/johnsons-clean-n-safe-disinfectant-cleaner-deodorant-suitable-for-small-animals-500ml, helps keep your pet’s home fly free. Check their coat regularly for fleas and use a flea treatment suitable for rabbits such as Advantage Spot On Flea Control, if necessary. Remember to sweep up spilt food and bedding to discourage vermin.
  • Rabbit-proofing
Make sure that their living quarters are suitably enclosed to keep your pet away from any wild rabbit visitors and to keep vermin and birds out.
  • Quarantine new rabbits
Be sure to get any new bunny friends vaccinated straight away and keep them separate for about three weeks.

Do I need to get my house rabbit vaccinated against RHD?

Bunnies that are largely indoor pets are at a lower risk of RHD but it is still important to keep their vaccines up to date. Did you know that the virus can be transmitted on your shoes for example?

My rabbit died from RHD, what precautions should I take before I get another?

The virus that causes RHD is extremely tough. It can survive for at least a hundred days in the environment at room temperature, and longer if it is cold. It can even survive freezing temperatures and is pretty heat resistant too. The difficulties of decontaminating the environment mean that after a suspected case of RHD, only fully vaccinated rabbits should be allowed on the premises.
So make sure that your bunny is fully protected with up to date vaccinations. Prevention of RHD is always better than cure!