Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease
Since 2019, there have been multiple outbreaks of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Type 2 (RHDV2) in the United States. Several outbreaks have been resolved; two areas have ongoing outbreaks: Washington State and in the southwestern United States. In both areas with outbreaks, the disease has been confirmed in feral and/or wild rabbits.
Rabbit owners and commercial operations should work with their veterinarian to identify their biosecurity risk factors. Site-specific biosecurity plans should identify key risk factors, establish best practices and plan for disease prevention and control.
Human Best Practices
- Have indoor and outdoor footwear; don’t wear outdoor shoes indoors and vice versa.
- Wash hands before and after handling or caring for rabbits and between groups.
- Don’t allow visitors who also have rabbits.
- Don’t handle others’ rabbits.
- Handle sick rabbits last.
- Commercial operations may utilize a line of separation at their property and a perimeter buffer area to reduce the risk of virus entering their rabbit colony.
- If possible, keep rabbits inside on an impermeable surface.
- If rabbits are housed outdoors, double fence to avoid direct contact with wildlife.
- Prevent direct or indirect contact with wild rabbits.
- House rabbits in hutches or cages off the ground.
- Do not use forage, tree branches or grass for bedding from areas with infected wildlife.
Isolate new rabbits or rabbits returning from a show (see Show/ Exhibition guidance)
- Keep rabbits in separate area for 30 days before allowing contact with your colony.
- Be aware of animal health and certificate of veterinary inspection requirements if moving your rabbits.
Clean and Disinfect Equipment (See USDA C&D guidance)
- Remove all visible organic debris from items to be disinfected (cages, feeding equipment, waterers, etc.). Items made of wood are best discarded or burned.
- Wash items thoroughly with soap and water; rinse well and let dry.
- Saturate or spray with 10% solution of household bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water). or 1% Virkon-S (by DuPont) or accelerated hydrogen peroxide products (Rescue, Accel, Virox 5).
- Allow 10 minutes of contact, then rinse and let dry before allowing animal contact.
Control disease vectors
- Flies, rats, cats, dogs, birds, etc. that can move the virus around on their feet or body.
- Fence out scavengers and wildlife (including wild rabbits).
- Do not put rabbits down on the ground to eat.
- Do not collect outdoor forage to feed rabbits; stay with pelleted feed in areas where wild rabbits are infected. Treats can include raw vegetables from grocery stores.
- Source hay from unaffected areas.
- Monitor your rabbits closely for going off feed, looking limp/depressed, or behaving unusually.
- Call your vet ASAP if you note signs of illness in your rabbits.
- Report unusual mass illness and/or death events to your State Veterinarian.
- Rabbit owners should be concerned if clinical signs include bleeding from the nose or mouth.
Sidebar links on the webpage:
- USDA cleaning and disinfection guidance (PDF)
- EPA approved disinfectants https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-o-disinfectants-use-against-rabbit-hemorrhagic-disease-virus-rhdv2
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2?
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 (RHDV2) is a highly contagious virus affecting domestic and wild rabbits. RHDV2 is a Foreign Animal Disease that has appeared periodically in North America and has a high case fatality rate.
Where has RHDV2 been found?
RHDV2 initially occurred in North American domestic rabbits in Vancouver, Canada (2018). The virus appeared later in 2020 in domestic rabbits in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Utah, and Texas. RHDV2 was first confirmed in wild black-tailed jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits in the United States in April 2020. As of June 2020, RHDV2 has been confirmed in wild populations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and in 5 northern states of Mexico. The source of the recent RHDV2 outbreaks has not been identified.
How do I know if a rabbit has RHDV2?
Sudden mortality in otherwise healthy rabbits is characteristic of RHDV2. Observation of sick rabbits prior to death is rare, but sick rabbits may be lethargic and reluctant to move. Infected rabbits die between a day to two weeks after becoming infected. The virus kills 70 to 90 percent of infected rabbits. Rabbit carcasses may have bloody discharge from the nostrils and/or mouth or have no external signs.
How is RHDV2 spread?
RHDV2 is highly contagious and can spread through direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly through contact with infected carcasses, blood, urine, and feces. The virus can also be present on contaminated surfaces such as cages, feed, water, and bedding. Insects, scavengers, predators, and birds can also spread the virus by contact with infected rabbits or carcasses.
How long can the virus live in the environment?
RHDV2 is very persistent and stable in the environment. It is resistant to extreme temperatures and can survive freezing. The virus has been found to survive up to 15 weeks in dry conditions.
What wildlife species are susceptible to RHDV2?
Hares and rabbits and pikas. In North America, RHDV2 has been confirmed in wild black-tailed jackrabbits, desert cottontail rabbits, mountain cottontail rabbits, and antelope jackrabbits. Experiments have shown eastern cottontails are susceptible to infection and mortality. No other species of wildlife are known to be susceptible.
Can RHDV2 infect humans?
It’s not known to affect people.
What should I do if I find a sick or dead wild rabbit?
If you find sick or dead wild rabbits, please contact your local state wildlife office to report your finding to a biologist, game warden, or wildlife veterinarian. Dead domestic rabbits should be reported to the Board of Animal Health.
Where can I get more information on RHDV2?
Current information on RHDV2 can be found on United States Department of Agriculture APHIS webpage.
Rabbit shows and exhibitions
Rabbit events with live rabbits can contradict several biosecurity recommendations. Biosecurity practices are always a good idea. The highest risk areas are those with infected feral domestic or wild rabbits. Indoor rabbits cared for with excellent biosecurity practices are at very low risk.
Rabbits co-mingled at shows have greater risk of contracting disease from an infected rabbit. Risk of disease transmission could be reduced by only having rabbits from one premises present per event.
Exhibitors should wash hands before and after handling rabbits and arrive at the site with clean clothing and clean/disinfected footwear. After returning home, they should change clothes and footwear and wash their hands before caring for their own rabbits.