Vaccinating Your Bunny: Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV)

Posted by Leslie Hasty on


Your house rabbit is an amazing pet. It's easy to see why so many people desire to have a rabbit as a pet. Rabbits have become popular pets for apartment living, only partially because they're generally clean and quiet. Your house bunny can easily be as entertaining and companionable as a dog or cat, and some are born comedians! With an estimated 902,300 rabbits maintained as pets in the USA, it's clear that house rabbits are here to stay. Rabbit ownership brings a lot of joy and happiness, but if you haven't gotten one yet, beware! They're like potato chips: It's nearly impossible to stop at just one or two.

Domestic rabbits can be expected to keep you company for 8 to 12 years, however some may survive for a longer period of time depending upon the lifestyle and care provided.

In general, rabbits require suitable habitat, exercise, socialization, and a certain diet to be happy and healthy. It is mandatory to clean the rabbit box at least every other day, removing filthy bedding and ensuring rabbits have a fresh place to sleep. If rabbits do not have dry bedding, they may get respiratory diseases, skin problems, and parasitic infestations such as fleas and mites.

Before purchasing a rabbit, it is critical that you learn all of the needs for proper care. Moreover, you should know about the major diseases that affect rabbits so you can protect your bunny from them and take timely action if needed.

Most of the diseases become evident with a sudden shift in your rabbit's behavior, such as:

  • Hiding or hostility when you attempt to touch or pick it up.
  • Excessive cage or item biting
  • Rabbit seems stressed or anxious

If you observe these signs, you should contact your veterinarian.

In rabbits one extremely contagious disease is Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD). In this article we will talk about Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) and need for vaccinating your house rabbits (especially in the USA right now) against this disease.

What Is Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV)?

The rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV) belongs to the Calcivirus family of viruses.

RHDV infects both wild and farmed rabbits. Fortunately, it does not produce disease in humans.

The virus enters the bloodstream of a sick rabbit and quickly destroys the liver cells. The liver produces proteins that aid in the formation of blood clots. Typical infection of RHDV results in uncontrolled bleeding in rabbits.

Signs of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease

Signs of RHDV in domesticated rabbits include

  1. Appetite loss
  2. Fatigue or lack of energy
  3. Temperature of 104 F or higher
  4. Convulsions, shakiness, and other neurological indications
  5. Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and mucosal membranes (most notably in the ears), bleeding from the nose, mouth, genital openings, or rectum are some signs seen in RHDV.
  6. Rabbits affected by RHDV may face difficulty in breathing.

How does Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus spread?

Diseased wild rabbits may shed the virus, which can then be brought into

the home on people's clothing or shoes and transferred to pet rabbits. Any rabbit exposed to an infected rabbit's blood, urine, or excrement may become infected. The virus may persist in the corpse of a dead rabbit or on fabric for up to three months. Depending on the circumstances, the virus may persist for 1 to 2 weeks on other surfaces. It can withstand both extreme heat (it can withstand 1 hour at 122° F) and freezing.

Preventive Measures against Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease

It is recommended to take precautions in your house to limit the danger of RHDV infection because it is transmitted between rabbits easily.

1. Do not let your rabbit out to graze in locations where wild rabbits congregate.

2. Make sure that shoes worn outside do not enter parts of the house where your pet rabbit has access.

3. Do not feed pet rabbits herbs and flowers from open places frequented by wild rabbits.

4. Wash your hands well before and after touching rabbits.

5. Get your pet rabbit vaccinated.

Vaccination against Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease

It is far easier and less expensive to prevent a disease than it is to treat it. That is precisely what vaccines are designed to accomplish. Immunizations safeguard us and our animals from deadly diseases and also help to keep such infections from spreading to others.

Although the RHDV vaccine has not yet been fully approved by the FDA, the process is ongoing. According to preliminary testing, this vaccine is both safe and efficient in preventing illness.

Moderate swelling at the injection site, as well as mild fever or drowsiness for a few days after the vaccination is delivered, have been reported as side effects of the vaccine. To be successful, the vaccination requires two doses provided at least three weeks apart, followed by yearly boosters.

Because no vaccine is 100 percent effective, even if your rabbits are vaccinated, it is critical to adopt proper bio-security. It takes 7 days for the vaccination to confer full immunity from the sickness, so be extra cautious during that time. The two-dose vaccinations are successful in preventing rabbits against clinical indications of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease.

Is it necessary to provide a booster dose?

The FILAVAC vaccination is effective for 12 months, while the ERAVAC vaccine is good for 9 months before rabbits need a booster. Because antibodies (antibodies obtained from the mother before or after delivery in the colostrum and milk) might interfere with the vaccination's efficacy, a booster may be required if the vaccine is taken before 9 weeks of age.

Because there is no therapy for this virus and the fatality rate is very high (90% or higher), prevention is critical.

Your most important and valuable resource for keeping your house rabbit healthy is your bunnies' veterinarian! Make sure you have good communication with your local vet so that you can feel confident that your house rabbit will have the health care they need, when they need it. Just like humans, an annual check-up is a good practice, and your local small animal specialist will probably be thrilled to help you keep your favorite long-eared friend as healthy as they can be.

So make the call, get the vaccine, and be safe out there! Binky on!!!


Photo courtesy of Hong Feng via UNsplash