New Strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD2)


Rabbit owners may already be aware of a condition called Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) which is caused by a type of virus called the Calici virus. In most cases infection causes sudden death in wild and pet rabbits due to severe liver failure and internal bleeding. Thankfully we have had a vaccine available in the UK for some time now which offers protection against RHD - in combination with protection against myxomatosis.

RHD2 is spread in a similar fashion to classic RHD through contact of the viral particles with the rabbit's eyes, nose and mouth. very few virus particles are needed to cause disease and the virus is hard to kill in the environment - withstanding extreme temperatures for some time. Once inside the rabbit's body the virus rapidly invades the internal organs causing liver failure and internal bleeding. It appears infected rabbits take a little longer to succumb to RHD2 but ultimately, for most of them, the infection proves fatal. Those rare cases that do survive often have severe weight loss, jaundice and liver failure which results in euthanasia on welfare grounds.

It is not clear what the prevalence of RHD2 is in the UK, this is because many wild rabbits will die in their burrows and many infected pet rabbits may be found dead before their owners have had a chance to present them to the vet. There have been reports in the media of outbreaks in Devon and Cornwall and a recent veterinary publication cited a possible two deaths in Cheshire.

So what can be done?

In order for us to build a clearer picture of the prevalence of this disease please report and sudden unexplained rabbit deaths to your vet. Furthermore please ensure cages, litter trays, feeding and watering bowls are thoroughly disinfected before getting a new rabbit and that fresh bedding is used.

We are hoping to obtain a vaccine effective against RHD2 in the near future. Vaccination may be particularly prudent if you have wild rabbits who visit your garden or you anticipate that your rabbit may come into close contact with other bunnies at a show or boarding kennels for instance.

The product in question (Filavac) is not currently licensed in the UK and is being imported from France. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page for more details about when this has arrived and the recommended vaccination schedule. Please note: this product does not cover rabbits against myxomatosis so needs to be administered in addition to (though on a separate occasion from) the existing combined vaccine (RHD-Myxo) manufactured by MSD Animal Health.

If you have any questions regarding the disease or vaccination please contact the Penwortham surgery on 01772 743933.