August 11, 2016 – A new strain of the potentially fatal Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease has been identified in UK rabbits, but vets can vaccinate your bunnies against it.

RVHD2 was first identified in France in 2010 and in the UK in 2013, and it has been killing a lot more rabbits than usual in Britain in recent months.

RVHD2 is a variation of the already recognised Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (RVHD1), which has a close to 100% fatality rate. RVHD2’s symptoms are similar to those of RVHD1, but the rate of the disease’s progression appears to be longer at three to nine days. RVHD2’s fatality rate appears to be lower at around 20%-50% at this stage (it’s still a new disease being investigated).

Like RVHD1, rabbits can drop dead without any signs of being unwell, but with RVHD2 they usually appear a bit unwell (it can present like digestive problems; they might just go off their food), or could bleed from their orifices (in particular, the nose) or more unusually, have bleeding under the skin.

Vaccines for the original strain of RVHD (which also treats Myxomatosis) do not appear to offer long term protection against RVHD2, however vaccines for this new strain are now available in the UK from your local vet. They are not licensed for use here by the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate, but they are licensed for use in France and they can now be used here under an EU veterinary medicine reciprocal arrangement. We’re giving you this extra detail as it is possible your local vet may not be aware of the availability of the RVHD2 vaccine in the UK and will likely need to order it in, so make sure you give the practice adequate notice. If your vets are unsure, please advise them to email hq@rabbitwelfare.co.uk – the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund – for more information.

Vet and rabbit expert Richard Saunders with bunny buddy.
Vet and rabbit expert Richard Saunders with bunny buddy.
UK rabbit expert Richard Saunders gave the following advice for Pet News Today’s rabbit-owning readers:

Get your bunnies vaccinated;
Don’t go to rabbit shows unless your bunnies are fully vaccinated;
If you enjoy visits from wild rabbits in your garden, ensure there is no way possible for them to come into contact with your pet rabbits. So ensure your rabbits aren’t let out of their run until at least a fortnight after they are vaccinated. Richard said taking rabbits inside isn’t a particularly good solution as they need fresh air and sunshine;
If you are going for walks in the country, clean the soles of your shoes/boots before entering your garden;
If you like to forage for wild food for your pet bunnies such as ….., pick it from higher up in the hedgerows where wild rabbits can’t reach it;
If you are adopting or buying rabbits, try and arrange to have them vaccinated on the way home (combing a vet trip with picking them up will be less stressful for them). Keep your new rabbits quarantined from your existing rabbits for at least nine to 14 days;
During any quarantine period, feed your existing rabbits first, so you are less likely to spread something from your new bunnies to your existing ones.
One of the reasons the disease-causing strains of RVHD are so deadly is that unlike most other viruses, which need a living host to survive, RVHD can survive a remarkably long time in inanimate objects, which makes it very difficult to combat.

For a detailed Q&A on RVHD2 from Richard, including information on vaccines, visit www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk and click RVHD2 – Filavac Vaccine – FAQs on the home page.

Richard Saunders graduated from Liverpool University in 1994, and went into general small animal practice, before concentrating on exotic pets, including rabbits, wildlife, and zoo work. He holds the RCVS Certificate and Diploma in Zoological Medicine, and has written and co-written a number of chapters, and two books, on rabbits. He is the veterinary adviser to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund.

Polly Stewart
I'm the founder of MyPawsomePet.com.

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