Vets are warning rabbit owners that their pets are threatened by a deadly new strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD). There is no cure for this virus which originally appeared in the UK in 1992 and it is almost always fatal. Pets can be protected by vaccination. But the newest strain, RHD-2, which first emerged in France, requires an additional vaccination.
What is Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease?
Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease RHD-2 was first detected in the UK in 2015. It is vital that pet rabbits are protected by receiving vaccinations for both RHD-1 and RHD-2. The disease can be difficult to stop as it escalates quickly with rabbits suddenly appearing to be seriously ill or found dead.
Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease causes internal bleeding and the development of blood clots in major organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys. Many of the associated symptoms are not unique to the condition, making it harder to spot.
Symptoms of RHD
Rabbit owners should keep an eye out for loss of appetite, fever, lethargy or unexplained bleeding. Affected animals may also exhibit nervous spasms or fall into a coma. Even if pets are seen and diagnosed quickly, their chances of survival are very slim indeed.
Vaccinations for Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease are highly effective at preventing infection. They represent an affordable way to protect pets. The vaccinations for RHD-1 and RHD-2 are usually given two weeks apart. All vaccinations carry the risk of side effects, but these are generally mild and improve within two days. Research has shown that rabbits younger than 8 weeks of age are resistant to the virus which tends to prosper in colder weather.
Rabbits can be given their first vaccinations at five weeks old. After this, they will need regular boosters throughout their lives to keep their immunity up. Vets recommend vaccinating both outdoor and indoor rabbits. Indoor rabbits are less likely to come into contact with the disease but RHD-1 and RHD-2 can easily be spread by insect bites and other pets. It can even be transported on clothes and shoes.
Unfortunately, rabbits don’t have to come into contact with other rabbits to catch the disease which makes it very difficult to protect your pets. Infected animals can often shed the virus before they become ill themselves and the virus particles are then carried on the wind. This means they can land on car tyres, animals and clothing.
If a rabbit dies unexpected, RHD could be the reason and so the pet’s living space should be cleaned vigorously to ensure that virus particles don’t linger and infect a new pet who is introduced to the home.
RHD emerged in China with the first case being identified in 1983. The disease began spreading across the globe and has now been seen in Europe, Mexico, Cuba, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. The introduction of the vaccine has considerably reduced the incidence in the UK but the threat remains.