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Rabbit Virus FAQs – What to Know About the Latest Strain of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease

 

A new strain of a foreign rabbit virus has recently emerged in parts of the U.S. — threatening both rabbits in the wild and the furry companions we call pets. This highly-contagious strain, known as Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2 or RHDV2, popped up earlier this year and has since spread to multiple states across the country.

WHAT IS RHDV2 AND MORE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

RHDV2 is the most recent strain of a highly contagious virus that causes Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD) in European rabbits, of which most pet rabbits are descendants

The origins of RHD date back to the 1980s when an older strain of the virus, known as RHDV1, was prevalent throughout Europe and in China. It spread so rapidly that eventually the disease became endemic to some parts of Europe and is believed to have to led to dramatic declines in the wild rabbit population throughout the continent.

This new virus strain — RHDV2 – was first identified in Europe in 2010, and only a few years later, found its way to our shores. Here’s what we know so far:

What is RHDV2?

According to the United States of Agriculture, RHDV2 is a newer and highly contagious strain of RHDV that was first detected in North America in 2016 in domesticated rabbits in Canada.

Unlike older strains of the virus, RHDV2 affects both domestic rabbits and many wild species native to North America.

This was discovered earlier this year when RHDV2 was confirmed for the first time in wild rabbits and hares in an outbreak that has since spread across multiple states, including New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas.

To learn more about RHDV2, as well as earlier forms of the virus, check out this article featured in Science Magazine.

How does RHDV2 spread?

Animal health experts say RHDV2 can be spread through direct contact or exposure to an infected rabbit’s saliva, secretions from the eyes and nose, urine, feces, or blood. Incredibly resistant to extreme temperature, the virus can also survive and spread from deceased animals, food, water, and any contaminated materials, according to the USDA.

While humans cannot be infected, it is believed that people can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes.

To learn more about how the virus has spread throughout the U.S., check out this article featured in the New York Times.

What are the symptoms of RHDV2?

The reason this virus has many rabbit owners concerned is that oftentimes there are no warning signs. In some cases, pet owners only discovered their rabbits were infected after they died suddenly.

There are, however, some symptoms to be aware of. These include:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite             
  • Bleeding from nose, mouth, or rectum
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Jaundice  

 (Sources: USDA, Rabbit.org)

How to keep your rabbits safe from RHDV2?

Animal health experts recommend owners protect their pet rabbits by practicing good biosecurity — which simply involves taking daily steps and precautions to keep germs away from your rabbit and any other animals in your household.

Both the USDA and The House Rabbit Society, a non-profit rabbit rescue and educational organization, recommend the following biosecurity measures for pet rabbit owners:

  • Do not allow external pet or wild rabbits to have contact with your rabbits, or be inside your home.
  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water before coming into contact with your rabbit and their cage or enclosure.
  • If you bring a new rabbit into your home, keep them separated from your existing rabbits for at least 30 days.    
  • If you live in or near a recent outbreak area, consider adopting a no shoes in the house policy to prevent tracking the virus indoors from wild rabbits.

Can my dog or cat get RHDV2?

Animal health experts believe RHDV2 is specific only to rabbits – so your dogs, cats, and other pets cannot contract the virus. They can, however, be carriers of the virus just like humans, so be sure to follow good biosecurity measures with all of your pets.

For example, if you live in an outbreak area, you may want to wash your dog’s paws with soapy water when they come inside from the yard.

Is there a vaccine for RHDV2?

Yes, but it’s not approved in the United States. There is, however, an approved vaccine in Europe that states in the U.S. experiencing an outbreak can import under a special permit. To learn more about the efforts around a vaccine, check out this RHDV2 Vaccine Fact Sheet created by the USDA.

Should I worry about my rabbit getting infected from their food or hay? 

While there is no current evidence indicating RHDV2 has been spread to a rabbit through their hay or food, it is important to purchase products from a trusted brand like Vitakraft® which has strict food quality and safety measures in place to help prevent opportunities for product contamination.

In addition to providing delicious treats & care products for your pet rabbit, Vitakraft™ is committed to helping educate pet owners on current trends and topics that could impact the special bonds with our pets.

If you have a question about our strict quality and safety measures we follow when making our treats, feel free to contact our team. If you want to know more about whether RHDV2 is in your area, get in touch with your veterinarian.