Watch out for RHD2 in rabbits

As a new rabbit virus evolves, make sure you have all the right information to take care of your bunnies!

If you have a rabbit you will know what how it feels to worry about their health. Rabbits are complicated creatures who give very little away about how they are feeling or if something is wrong. The best attack is a good defence and so it is very important to feed your bunnies a good diet and to keep up with their vaccinations.

We were all very sad to hear that the newer strain of the RHD virus continues to rise in the UK. Please make sure you protect your bunnies! Here is everything you need to know from veterinary advice.

What is RHD2?

RHD2 is a new variant of a virus that can cause sudden death in rabbits, often with no signs of illness. Due to vaccination, the original disease, RHD (RHD1), is now rarely seen. However in recent years the new variant, RHD2, has appeared and, unlike RHD1 which had a very high mortality rate, some rabbits infected with RHD2 may recover from the virus while others may show no signs of the disease at all. Sadly, some rabbits do die, often suddenly.

How can I tell if my rabbit has RHD2?

Signs of the infection may be vague. Your rabbit may show some weight loss, lethargy or jaundice (yellowing of the skin). However some rabbits may be infected and yet show no signs of being unwell at all. Tests of blood and faeces may confirm the infection in rabbits that are showing signs of illness, however for a rabbit that shows no obvious signs of being unwell, it may only be possible to confirm the presence of the virus after the rabbit has died.

How is the infection spread?

The virus can be spread directly through contact with an infected rabbit or indirectly through water bottles, food bowls etc. There is also a risk of RHD2 spreading to pet rabbits from outbreaks in wild rabbits. This is because the virus can be spread through the droppings of birds, foxes or flying insects that may have fed on the carcass of an infected wild rabbit. As the virus may be spread through faeces, which may soil shoes and boots, it’s important to recognise that house rabbits may also be exposed if there is an outbreak in the wild rabbit population in your area.

Is there a cure?

Regrettably, as yet there is no cure. The disease can only be prevented through vaccination.

What should I do?

We recommend that you visit your vet who will be able to advise you on the vaccination requirements for your individual pet based on their local knowledge. Being registered with a vet also means they can contact you in the future for any follow up that may be advisable.

There are a number of vaccines available that will protect your rabbit against common diseases. A combined vaccine against the original strain of RHD (RHD1) and Myxomatosis is widely available and offered for free with every adoption rabbit from our adoption centres. Your vet can also provide a separate, single vaccine against RHD2 although this cannot be done at the same time as the combined vaccine – a period of two weeks in between the vaccinations is recommended. The RHD2 vaccine isn’t as widely available as the combined vaccine as it has to be imported. Your vet will advise on the appropriate action for your pet.