Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease

In 2020, an exotic disease deadly to wild and domestic rabbits called rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHDV2) has been making its way through the states of California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Texas, and has also been identified in Mexico.  The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) is watching these developments with concern for Vermont’s population of rabbits.

Since March of this year, RHDV2 has caused mortalities of both wild and domestic rabbits in other states. Infected rabbits and jackrabbits may die so quickly that the clinical signs associated with RHDV2, including fever, inappetence, and neurologic and respiratory abnormalities, are not observed. The range of susceptible species in North America is currently unknown, but all rabbit, jackrabbit, hare and pika species are likely susceptible.  RHDV2 is not related to coronavirus; it is a calicivirus that does not infect humans or domestic animals other than rabbits.

“We are greatly concerned for our Vermont community of rabbit owners, including several agricultural operations.  These owners of domesticated rabbits are encouraged to maintain strict biosecurity standards for their rabbits and to avoid importing rabbits from the states where RHDV2 has been identified. We also encourage rabbit owners to report findings of rapid and unexplained rabbit death or detection of signs that could be consistent with this disease to their veterinarian ” said Dr. Kristin Haas, VAAFM Director of Food Safety and Consumer Protection and the Vermont State Veterinarian.

Globally, this disease has caused dramatic declines in some wild rabbit populations since it was first detected in China in 1984. Since then, there have been confirmed cases in 40 countries, including in Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, Israel, the UK, Mexico, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“We’re quite concerned with the potential impact of this deadly disease and are currently working with the Agency of Agriculture to monitor rabbit deaths in Vermont,” says Mark Scott, Director of Wildlife for Vermont Fish & Wildlife.  “We will continue our monitoring efforts of any adult wild cottontails or snowshoe hare found dead without an obvious indication on what killed it.”

ADVISORY FROM VT STATE VETERINARIAN, DR. KRISTIN HAAS:

Due to the severity of this disease and the current inability to protect rabbits through vaccination, Vermont rabbit owners and caretakers must practice strict biosecurity at all times when working with rabbits to protect them from RHDV2 and other contagious diseases. These measures include:

  • Do not acquire rabbits from regions of the country with positive cases of RHDV2. A map of infected areas can be found here: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/maps/animal-health/rhd.
  • Do not allow pet or wild rabbits to have contact with your rabbits or gain entry to the facility or home. If you must bring outside rabbits into your facility or home, keep them separated from your existing rabbits for at least 30 days and monitor closely for signs of disease. Use separate equipment for newly acquired or sick rabbits to avoid spreading disease.
  • Do not allow visitors in rabbitries or let them handle pet rabbits without protective clothing (including coveralls, shoe covers, hair covering, and gloves).
  • Always wash hands with warm soapy water before entering your rabbit area, after removing protective clothing and before leaving the rabbit area.
  • Do not introduce new rabbits from unknown or untrusted sources or from those that cannot confirm the rabbit’s health status for 30 days prior to acquisition.
  • Sanitize all equipment and cages moved on or off premises before they are returned to the rabbit housing area. We recommend disinfecting with 10% bleach or 10% sodium hydroxide mixed with water.
  • Establish a working relationship with a veterinarian to review your biosecurity practices for identification and closure of possible gaps.
  • Report all cases of rapid and/or unexplained rabbit death to your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will then follow up with the appropriate state or animal health official if warranted.

To read the full communication from Dr. Kristin Haas, click here.

OTHER RESOURCES

 

For questions, please contact:

Kristin M. Haas, DVM

State Veterinarian; Director of Food Safety & Consumer Protection

Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

(802)828-2426 | Kristin.haas@vermont.gov

Contact Information

Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

116 State Street
Montpelier, Vt 05620-2901
802.828.2430

 

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