Deadly rabbit disease confirmed in Hennepin County pet rabbit

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Saint Paul, Minn - The unexpected death of four pet rabbits in Hennepin County was linked to Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2), which was confirmed in one of the carcasses. The positive rabbit was lethargic, quiet and limp before its death and was submitted to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) in late July to determine a cause of death. The VDL observed liver lesions consistent with RHDV2, notified the Board of Animal Health, and sent samples to the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories, who confirmed RHDV2 last week. RHDV2 is a highly contagious virus affecting domestic and wild rabbits. There is no risk to humans.

“There is a vaccine available for RHDV2, and we encourage rabbit owners to talk to their veterinarian about getting pets vaccinated,” said Senior Veterinarian, Dr. Veronica Bartsch. “Whether your rabbits are vaccinated or not, you should always call your veterinarian right away if you notice any signs of illness.”

There were eight unvaccinated rabbits at the home and the four surviving rabbits received the first of a two-dose series RHDV2 vaccine shortly before the USDA confirmation last week. The rabbits were quarantined to the owner’s home on July 28, and they will continue to be monitored for signs of RHDV2. These are pet rabbits and do not travel out of the home to shows or exhibitions. Animal health officials are investigating how the rabbits were exposed to RHDV2. Learn more about this disease on the Board’s website.

Biosecurity is the first line of defense for many animal diseases. Rabbit owners can take some specific precautions like washing hands before and after handling rabbits, limiting visitors interacting with rabbits, keeping rabbits indoors if possible, and adequately separating outdoor rabbits from wild rabbits and their environment. Additional biosecurity details are outlined in the Board’s Biosecurity for Rabbits flyer.