Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is a highly contagious
disease caused by a calicivirus that affects only rabbits of the
Oryctolagus cuniculus species. This includes wild and domesticated
European rabbits, from which our own domesticated rabbits are descended.
It has not been known to affect any North American native rabbits or
hares, such as cottontails, snowshoe hares and jackrabbits. VHD is also
known by several other acronyms: RHD (Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease), RCV
(Rabbit Calicivirus), and RCD (Rabbit Calicivirus Disease). VHD was first
seen in China in 1984, and has since spread to Mexico, Continental Europe,
Israel, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Symptoms may include:
Loss of appetite
VHD, however, is often a very swift and sudden killer, giving little
warning. Rabbits may die without showing any symptoms at all. Some
bleeding from the nose, mouth and rectum is sometimes seen. Any sudden
rabbit death is suspicious and should be reported to your veterinarian or
the State Veterinarian as a possible case of VHD
The incubation period of this disease is very short, and rabbits
may die within 48 hours of exposure to the virus that causes VHD.
The death rate of rabbits exposed to this virus is very high, between
50 and 100%, with the latter number probably being closer to actual
mortality rates. Rabbits who survive this disease are carriers and shed
the virus for at least 42 days, perhaps longer.
Rabbit calicivirus is a very hardy virus, remaining viable in the
environment for 105 days at 68F (i.e. remains stable for 105 days at room
temperature) and for 225 days at 39F. It resists freezing.
There is no known cure for VHD. Vaccinations are available in
countries where the disease in endemic, but there is no vaccine currently
available in the US.
How VHD is spread
As was mentioned, VHD is highly contagious. It can be spread by:
Contact of a rabbit with inanimate objects contaminated by the virus
(i.e. via fomites). Such object would include clothing, shoes, and car and
Direct contact of a rabbit with an infected rabbit or the feces of an
Contact with rabbit products such as fur, meat or wool from infected
Insects, birds, and animals such as rodents are known to spread the
virus by acting as indirect hosts. They can transport the disease, for
example, from an infected rabbit to an unaffected rabbit.
Humans can spread the virus to their rabbits if they have been in
contact with infected rabbits or in contact with objects contaminated by
the virus, including feces from an infected rabbit.
How to Protect Your Rabbits
House your rabbits indoors. We strongly suggest that they be kept
indoors, or in enclosed environments. Rabbits who live or exercise
outdoors are more at risk for contracting this disease.
Wash your hands thoroughly before handling your rabbits, particularly
when you come home from places where other rabbits may have been, or where
people who have been in contact with rabbits may have been. This would
include places such as feed stores, pet stores, fair grounds, humane
Change your clothes and wash your hands after handling or coming in
contact with rabbits. Wash these clothes twice in hot water before you
wear them around your rabbit.
If you volunteer at a shelter
, then have some special
clothes and shoes that you wear only at the shelter. You may want to wear
plastic bags over your shoes, secured with a rubber band. When you leave
the shelter, remove the bags and dispose of them before you get into your
car, making sure not to touch the outside of the bag. Follow clothes
laundering instructions above, and shoe disinfecting instructions below.
This protects the shelter rabbits as well as your own. The same
considerations apply to anyone who sees rabbits at work and also has
rabbits at home.
Adopt a "no shoes in the house" policy, or keep your bunnies from
running in high traffic areas of your home. To disinfect shoes that may
have been contaminated, you need to place the shoes in a foot bath that
contains one of the following: 10% bleach solution, 2% 1-Stroke
Disinfectant, Parvosol, or parvoviricide disinfectant. You may wish to
speak with your veterinarian about how to obtain these. The shoes must be
in contact with the disinfectant for at least ten minutes. The foot bath
is recommended as it is important that during the ten minute disinfection
time that the disinfectant remains wet. Merely spraying shoes with
disinfectant and leaving them to dry is not effective.
Know your sources of hay and feed and if they are near areas of any
Minimize insects in your home by installing window and door screens.
Eliminate mosquitoes and flies from your home.
Quarantine any new rabbit for 5 days. Always handle quarantined
rabbits last, and keep all supplies for them separate from your other
To disinfect objects, use one of the disinfectants above, remembering
that it must stay in contact with the item and remain wet for at least ten
What You Can Do
Educating yourself and others about VHD is one of the best ways to
help protect your rabbits. Dont panic, but get involved on spreading
the word to others in the rabbit community.
Informing veterinarians, shelters, pet stores that sell rabbits
and fellow rabbit lovers about VHD is important to helping to protect all
rabbits. Make copies of this article to show your local vets, etc., and
refer them to above websites. The VHD in the US Coalition website has
informational flyers that you can download and distribute as well. We need
your help to spread the word!
Protect all Rabbits from VHD
Unexplained and suspicious rabbit
deaths, especially when they occur in clusters of several rabbits dying in
a short period of time, should be reported to your local veterinarian. All
veterinarians are being instructed to report any suspicious deaths to the
State Veterinarian. This is very important to prevent the spread of this
awful disease. If you suspect that you have a possible case of VHD, do not
bury the body or take it out of the house, but call your vet to learn the
proper handling procedures. To conceal an infected rabbit or knowledge of
a VHD infection is to sentence many other rabbits to death as well.
dont panic, but educate yourself and others. Together we can make a