Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease

RHD2, also known as VHD2, is a relatively new strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease.

What is RHD2 and why should I be worried?

There are two strains of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) – or viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) – they are highly contagious, have very few, sometimes no symptoms at all and are fatal in most cases.

The second, and most recent, strain of the disease, RHD2, is affecting more and more pet rabbits in the UK, Aspen Vets recommend vaccination against it urgently. The standard vaccination includes protection against the first strain of RHD, along with other diseases.

What are the symptoms of RHD2?

RHD2 presents even fewer symptoms than the initial strain of the virus. It can result in sudden death, although there are many other causes of this in rabbits, most cases are suspected rather than confirmed with tests. Little can be done to save other companion rabbits from suffering the same fate thereafter and the disease can spread even further without careful decontamination.

If there are symptoms present, although rare, they can include fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and spasms.

How is RHD2 spread?

The RHD2 virus is spread very easily between rabbits and on surfaces, human clothing and things like hay bales. It will continue to spread rapidly. There is an incubation period of three to nine days, during which time the virus is already highly contagious. 

What do I do in the event of a RHD2 outbreak?

Anywhere or anyone that has an outbreak of RHD2 will need rapid decontamination. They will not be able to house another rabbit until they ensure the virus has been completely eliminated.

Can RHD2 be cured?

Not currently. The only way to protect your rabbit is with a preventative vaccine. There are confirmed cases in most parts of the UK, nowhere in the UK can be considered safe.

What does the vaccine involve?

The vaccine for RHD2 needs to be given at least two weeks after the vaccine for the first RHD strain. Booster vaccines are normally recommended annually but speak to Aspen Vets about this.

Where can I get my rabbit vaccinated?

Ask Aspen Vets to provide the vaccine. Not all veterinary surgeries provide the vaccine at this time because the strain of the virus is relatively new, but Blue Cross is urging all rabbit owners across the country to speak to their vets about the vaccine.