Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus

Also known as: Rabbit Calicivirus (RCDV)

What is RHDV?

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is a highly contagious hepatitis virus which is almost always lethal. Aotearoa, New Zealand has three confirmed strains of the virus and there is no guaranteed cure. The best protection is to vaccinate rabbits with the “Filavac” vaccine.

– Rabbits can be vaccinated with “Filavac” from ten weeks old, and will require booster shots once yearly for the duration of their lives.

– The old vaccine “Cylap” can be given from twelve weeks of age. Please note, this vaccination is NOT effective against RHDV-2.

It is our strong recommendation that all rabbits are
vaccinated with Filavac, and it is our policy that we will not adopt out to families without proof of up-to-date vaccination.

History of the RHDV in New Zealand:

RHDV-1 was illegally introduced to Aotearoa, New Zealand in 1997. Domestic rabbit owners gained access to a vaccine called “Cylap”, and this has been routinely used by veterinarian clinics nationwide until June 2019.

In March 2018, RHDV-K5 was introduced by the Ministry of Primary Industries(MPI) in an effort to control wild rabbit populations.

During routine testing by MPI, it was discovered in 2017 that a third strain of the virus was present, and was confirmed in May 2018.

RHDV-2 is not covered by the vaccine “cylap”, so efforts were made by the domestic rabbit community to gain access to “Filavac”, as it is the only vaccine which provides protection against all three strains of RHVD.

How does RHDV spread?

The virus is spread easily through direct contact with infected rabbits, or objects carrying the virus.

– Insects such as flies/mosquitoes, and other animals including birds.
– Human activity – such as shoes or clothing.
– Contaminated objects – such as hutches and bedding.
– Food sources from infected areas.

The virus can stay active in the environment, and on contaminated objects for an estimated minimum of ninety days (three months). Some suggest longer.

How can I keep my rabbit safe from RHDV?

The safety measures below are as a guideline to work in conjunction with vaccinations to ensure your rabbits are as protected as possible and to prevent the spread of RHDV through domestic rabbit populations.

– Vaccinate with filavac from 10 weeks old, and ensure they are kept up-to-date with their once yearly booster shots.

– Insect control methods such as fly-nets over top of enclosures, or around windows and doors. Some people recommend planting rosemary and lavender around their properties. Both plants are safe for rabbits to eat in small quantities.

– Remove your shoes before entering the property, or the rabbit area. Ask that your guests do the same.

– Wash hands thoroughly between touching rabbits. Where possible, change, and wash your clothes as well.

– Don’t collect forage from areas that have a known wild rabbit population, or heavy human/animal foot traffic.

– Use brand new equipment/accessories, or inquire about the history of items if buying second-hand. Do not collect any second-hand equipment from a property where rabbits were unvaccinated, or a cause of death is unknown.

– Wash all equipment and accessories with a bleach solution where possible.

– Use quarantine measures if you find/receive a lost rabbit, and contact your local rescue shelter for advice asap.

What should I do if I suspect my rabbit has died from RHDV?

– Immediately put biosecurity/quarantine measures in place to protect any other rabbits on your property and in the local area.

– Seek experienced veterinarian advice – you may wish to have an autopsy performed to determine the cause of sudden death. If RHVD is suspected, it is advised to have the body/bodies cremated.

– Alert any rabbit owners you’ve been in contact with recently, and share this document with them. It is always appreciated that you contact your local animal shelter, and rabbit community, to let them know the virus is active in the area.

– Dispose of any equipment/accessories/bedding safely, or wash with a bleach solution and then keep away from humans/mammals. This includes soil/carpet and household items.

– Your property should exercise biosecurity measures for a minimum of 90 days (three months).

– Please be mindful of all other rabbits, and their owners. Do not visit, or have visitors who have rabbits unless they are aware of the safety precautions above and their rabbits are up-to-date with vaccinations.

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