Spring 2018 Campaign Update

Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.

Online sale of rabbits

Unlike these rabbits, many don’t live in a suitable environment
The online sale of pet rabbits is a huge problem and rapidly increasing. Rabbits are often sold without any accompanying care advice and without any vetting of the buyer. Rabbits are probably the most misunderstood of pets, so when people take them on without knowing how to care for them it results in neglect and suffering on  the part of the rabbit.

Pet shops in the UK are licenced by their local authorities and subject to annual inspections. They are also public places and welfare standards front of shop can be monitored by the public who can report any concerns. Pet shops should also be licensed according to the Sale of Pets 1951 legislation, and according to the Model Licence Conditions that were updated in 2013. All of this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any problems in terms of welfare, but it at least provides some protection for the animals, and some legal recourse.

This is not the case with online sales. Anyone can breed animals at home and sell them online. This activity is not licensed and there are no inspections. It is not public and there are no model conditions to be adhered to. It is mostly cash based and therefore untaxed.

Back in 2013 the RWAF discussed developing software with Hindesight, with the specific task of finding unlicensed online breeders/sellers. This software is now in use by other charities and the RWAF are very proud to have led the way here.

As you may already know from previous updates, we are very lucky to have Mark Dron in place as our Welfare Officer, who is monitoring the data provided by the software, as well as responding to other concerns that we see online.

This is a recap of what Mark has been working on during the first six months with us.

Introduction

Mark Dron has been working as the RWAF Animal Welfare Officer since May 2017
The Capone Campaign is designed to identify ‘rogue’ rabbit breeders, who use internet sales platforms (such as Ebay, Gumtree, Facebook, Shpock etc), as well as Pet Fairs and Boot Fairs, to sell rabbits, often with no welfare considerations for the animals, no health checks or vaccinations and no Local Authority licensing in place for running a pet sales business. The campaign relies on software provided by Hindesight, which maintains regular surveillance on sales sites looking for key words, and is then able to identify rabbit breeding and sales across the various platforms. It links common phone numbers, user names and email addresses, to minimise the ability of these ‘rogue’ traders to hide behind multiple anonymised identities. The RWAF also relies upon information provided by concerned members of the public about the welfare of rabbits in trade, and proactive research and investigation by the dedicated Animal Welfare Officer/investigator.

A post has been funded by Pets Corner since late 2015, working eight hours per week and tasked with a duty to carry out proactive and reactive investigations, based upon data provided by Hindesight and other sources. In May 2017 a new officer was retained by the RWAF, and the campaign was able to continue with its mission to identify ‘rogue’ traders and use every avenue available to it to minimise the impact of their activities. This includes referral to Local Authority Licensing Teams regarding failure to license pet sales businesses, the Police National Wildlife Crime Unit, RSPCA Intelligence Team and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The new officer brings with him over 25 years’ experience of investigation and enforcement work, coming from service with the Police as a Wildlife Crime Officer and Team leader of proactive intelligence teams, as well as from leading intelligence and investigation teams in a variety of Local Authority and Government agencies including Trading Standards and the Financial Conduct Authority.

2017 – A timeline

May 2017: The new officer was recruited and commenced duties on or about 28/05/2017.

June 2017: Investigations started in earnest, the first enquiry stemmed from information supplied by the RWAF Senior Management regarding the activities of a former glamour model, who had taken to breeding and selling giant rabbits, online. Investigations traced this breeder to their home address, and linked them to a pedigree
puppy breeding business.

They were referred to the Local Authority regarding the operation of an unlicensed pet sales business, and HMRC’s Tax Evasion Unit in London.

June also saw a wholesale review of how we did intelligence work, and the new officer revamped referral forms and processes to bring them in to line with the National Intelligence Model (NIM). This included the creation of a bespoke 5x5x5 Intelligence Document, a S9 Witness Statement, an intelligence/enforcement referral document,
as well as the start of research regarding sourcing a Criminal Justice secure email address and Data Protection Registration.

Ongoing long-term project work was also started in June. This involved the identification of traders using Gumtree and Pets4Homes with multiple identities and believed to be operating in the South East of England and further afield.

July 2017: Work started on two Kent-based prolific traders, one dealing in rabbits and wallabies and the second ostensibly based on the Island of Sheerness. The major concern with the Sheerness trader is the well-known presence of RVHD2, rendering the uncontrolled sale of pet rabbits from that location suspect and highly
irresponsible.

Work also started on the creation of a database of online traders, starting with those in SE England and London, and intended to develop across the UK as time allowed.  In tandem with this was the creation of a database of licensed sites, sourced from Open Source Local Authority Information and Freedom of Information requests.

August 2017: August saw the commencement of our long-term enquiry to identify one of the most prolific ‘rogue’ traders on the internet based in Halifax, who appeared to be linked to organised crime in that area. This enquiry is ongoing, and initial referrals have already been made to the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) and RSPCA as well as enquiries with the relevant local authorities.

Other work in August related to the establishment of our secure CJSM (Criminal Justice) email address, which allows us to make contact with the Police and other enforcement bodies in a secure fashion, thus allowing for a free passage of intelligence information. There was also the registration of the RWAF with the Information
Commissioner for Data Protection purposes, which allows us to handle certain sensitive data.

September 2017: September saw enquiries commenced in to the activities of traders in Kent, Essex, Suffolk and Wiltshire. An urgent referral was forwarded to the Animal Welfare Officer (AWO) regarding a female breeder operating on Facebook, who appeared to be selling rabbits via that platform despite having had RVHD2 diagnosed in her animals. An urgent intelligence referral was made to Wiltshire Trading Standards and the RSPCA, once the breeder’s last known address had been identified.

Incorrect care leads to neglect and suffering
October 2017: Work began on investigations into the activities of a Leeds based trader, who has been identified as a prolific breeder and advertiser, and a further Kent-based trader, who again is a prolific advertiser and sells using her own website.

October also saw work begin on a project identifying vendors of rabbit hutches, both online and in shops, offering products claiming to be authorised and recommended by the RWAF. To date two traders have been referred to local Trading Standards teams and the Advertising Standards Authority for making misleading claims in their advertising.

November 2017: Work continued regarding online and physical sellers around the South East. This included investigations regarding an urgent RWAF Management referral, following complaints about a breeder, who had been seen selling rabbits at a Pet Fair in the Thames Valley area, and keeping them in atrocious conditions. This seller was traced to Kent, where they run a Rare Breeds Centre from a Farm, the animals there are also being kept in suspect conditions.

This trader had claimed to the organisers of the Pet Fair that she held a Pet Shop Licence; this has however been shown to be a false claim. A full referral has been made to her Local Authority, HMRC and the RSPCA. In addition to this workstream, a further enquiry has arisen from Open Source monitoring of the Facebook Rabbit
Sales account, leading to a woman in Herne Bay, Kent who is running a rabbit breeding, sales and accessories website from her home address. This individual has been referred to her Local Authority, Canterbury City Council and to HMRC.

December 2017: Following a complaint from a member of the public regarding an online seller (using Gumtree) based in Wood Green, an investigation has been launched to identify and refer the individual as a matter of urgency. In his sales photos he can be seen mistreating one of his rabbits, holding it vertically by the ears,
and the conditions in which it and other rabbits are depicted fall well short of basic Animal Welfare Standards.

Enquiries have linked this individual to the sale of chickens as well as rabbits via a second online sales platform. Once again the conditions depicted are atrocious and urgent action is needed to intervene from an animal welfare standpoint. As such this was the officer’s priority investigation for December, although initial intelligence regarding his believed location and phone number(s) has already been passed to the RSPCA and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

December has also seen the start of a work-stream to identify Romanian online traders, who are believed to be involved in the sale of pet rabbit breeds for food, anissue that has been mooted via social media for a few months, and appears to have become an issue to fuel the demand for rabbit meat amongst the Roma Gypsy
community in the UK.

In addition December has also seen the identified trader records moving north and west from the South East where resources have been concentrated for the first six months of the AWO’s tenure with the RWAF.

Conclusion

This report covers the period 28/05/2017 to 31/12/2017, which spans the current tenure of the Animal Welfare Officer/Investigator employed by the RWAF as part of the Capone Campaign.

The Campaign funds the officer for eight hours per week, and this has meant that prioritisation of workloads has been a major factor of the latter half of 2017’s activities.   The RWAF’s intelligence and investigation capability has had to be reviewed, and updated, making the function suitable to operate alongside and integrate with the
intelligence and investigation functions of other Animal Welfare charities and enforcement agencies. Therefore we now have Data Protection Registration, CJSM Secure Emails, and utilise National Intelligence Model referral forms, Magistrates’ Court Act compliant statements and the like.

In addition to this ongoing work, investigations have been instigated, in particular with regard to urgent cases, raised either by concerned members of the public/RWAF Management, or through issues being identified by the AWO. Six of these have been completed and referred to the appropriate local authorities, and nine intelligence referral packs have been passed to other enforcement/animal welfare agencies. In addition to this, the AWO has also fielded enquiries relating to ongoing animal welfare issues, and provided input to government animal welfare legislation consultations.

It is anticipated, now that the lion’s share of the overhaul of the administration of the function has been completed, that 2018 will see an exponential increase in investigation and intelligence work generated by the AWO.

Media Star! Members competition

RWAF Members

Do you and your rabbits want to become RWAF Social Media stars?  We are looking for members to profile in our new Social Media campaign which will run in February on both Facebook and Instagram.  Not only could you and your buns be featured, but there are some excellent prizes too (see later)!  All you need to do is submit one (or more) photo(s) of your rabbit and a separate photo of yourself and finish the following using between 250-300 words “ I am a member of the RWAF because…”    The RWAF Directors will select between 10-15 responses to use in the campaign.  Those selected to be profiled will receive a 10% off voucher for the RWAF shop https://shop.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/. And there’s more…once the campaign has run, the profile which receives the most likes/loves and shares will win this beautiful and unique rabbit memo board with stylus, specially made for us by Rosemary MacDonald.  The image is burnt into the wood and then lightly varnished

Deadline for entry is:   31st January 2018

How to enter in three easy steps:

Select one or more photos featuring you and separately, one or more of  your rabbit(s)

Finish the following  “ I am a member of the RWAF because…”    using between 250-300 words

Submit your photos along with your membership details and sentence here https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/about-the-rwaf/photo-submissions/

Looking forward to hearing from you and seeing all your fabulous photos!

 

Capone Campaign Annual Report 2017

Introduction

The Capone Campaign is run by the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, with funds provided by the Pet Trade. The campaign is designed to identify “rogue” rabbit breeders, who use Internet Sales Platforms (such as Ebay, Gumtree, Facebook, Shpock etc) as well as Pet Fairs and Boot Fairs, to sell on rabbits, often with no welfare considerations for the animals, no health checks or inoculations and no Local Authority licensing in place for running a pet sales business .

The Campaign relies on software provided by Hindesight, which maintains regular surveillance on sales sites looking for key words, and is then able to identify rabbit breeding and sales across the various platforms, linking common phone numbers, user names and email addresses, to minimise the ability of these “rogue” traders to hide behind multiple anonymised identities. The RWAF also relies upon information provided by concerned members of the public about the welfare of rabbits in trade, and proactive research and investigation by their dedicated Animal Welfare Officer / Investigator.

A post has been funded by the Campaign since late 2015, working 8 hours per week and tasked with a duty to carry out proactive and reactive investigations, based upon data provided by Hindesight and other sources. In May 2017 a new officer was retained by the RWAF, and the Campaign was able to continue with its mission to identify “rogue” traders and use every avenue available to it to minimise the impact of their activities. This includes referral to Local Authority Licensing Teams regarding failure to license pet sales businesses, the Police National Wildlife Crime Unit, RSPCA Intelligence Team and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

The new officer brings with him over 25 years’ experience of investigation and enforcement work, coming from service with the Police as a Wildlife Crime Officer and Team leader of proactive intelligence teams, as well as from leading intelligence and investigation teams in a variety of Local Authority and Government agencies including Trading Standards and the Financial Conduct Authority.

2017 –
A timeline

May 2017 –
The new officer was recruited and commenced duties on or about 28/05/2017.

June 2017 –
Investigations started in earnest, the first enquiry stemmed from information supplied by the RWAF Senior Management regarding the activities of a former glamour model, who had taken to breeding and selling giant rabbits, online. Her business now has a global reach, and it was she was the breeder who sent the giant rabbit to America, which later died in transit aboard a United Airlines flight, attracting considerable negative feedback in the press against both United and the breeder. Investigations traced this breeder to their home address, and linked them in to a “pedigree” puppy breeding business.

They were referred to the Local Authority regarding the operation of an unlicensed pet sales business, and HMRC’s Tax Evasion Unit in London.

June also saw a wholesale review of how we “did” intelligence work, and the new officer revamped referral forms and processes to bring them in to line with the National Intelligence Model (NIM), this included the creation of a bespoke 5x5x5 Intelligence Document, a S9 Witness Statement, an intelligence / enforcement referral document as well as the start of research regarding sourcing a Criminal Justice secure email address and Data Protection Registration.

Ongoing long-term project work was also started in June, this involved the identification of traders using Gumtree and Pets4Homes with multiple identities and believed to be operating in the south east of England and further afield.

July 2017 –
Work started on two Kent-based prolific traders, one dealing in rabbits and wallabies and the second ostensibly based on the Island of Sheerness. The major concern with the Sheerness trader is the well known presence of RHVD2, rendering the uncontrolled sale of pet rabbits from that location suspect and highly irresponsible.

Work also started on the creation of a “database” of online traders, starting with those in SE England and London, and intended to develop across the UK as time allowed. In tandem with this was the creation of a database of licensed sites, sourced from Open Source Local Authority Information and Freedom of Information requests.

August 2017 –
August saw the commencement of our a long-term enquiry to identify one of the most prolific “rogue” traders on the internet based in Halifax, who appear to be linked to organised Traveller crime in that area. This enquiry is ongoing, and initial referrals have already been made to the NWCU and RSPCA as well as enquiries with the relevant Local Authorities.

Other work in August related to the establishment of our secure CJSM (Criminal Justice) email address, which allows us to make contact with the Police and other enforcement bodies in a secure fashion, thus allowing for a free passage of intelligence information, and registration of THE RWAF with the Information Commissioner for Data Protection purposes, which allows us to handle certain sensitive data.

September 2017 –
September saw enquiries commenced in to the activities of traders in Kent, Essex, Suffolk and Wiltshire. An urgent referral was forwarded to the AWO regarding a female breeder operating on Facebook, who appeared to be selling rabbits via that platform despite having had RHVD2 diagnosed in her animals. An urgent intelligence referral was made to Wiltshire Trading Standards and the RSPCA, once the breeder’s last known address had been identified.

October 2017 –
Work began on investigations in to the activities of a Leeds based trader, who has been identified as a prolific breeder and advertiser and a further Kent-based trader, who again is a prolific advertiser and sells using her own website.

October also saw work begin on a project identifying vendors of rabbit hutches, both online and in shops, offering products claiming to be authorised and recommended by the RWAF. To date two traders have been referred to local Trading Standards teams and the Advertising Standards Authority for making misleading claims in their advertising.

November 2017 –
Work continued regarding online and physical sellers around the South East, this included investigations regarding an urgent RWAF Management referral, following complaints about a breeder, who had been seen selling rabbits at a Pet Fair in the Thames Valley area, and keeping them in atrocious conditions. This seller was traced to Kent, where they run a Rare Breeds Centre from a Farm, the animals there are also being kept in suspect conditions.

This trader had claimed to the organisers of the Pet Fair that she held a Pet Shop Licence, this has however been shown to be a false claim. A full referral has been made to her local authority, HMRC and the RSPCA. In addition to this workstream, a further enquiry has arisen from Open Source monitoring of the Facebook Rabbit Sales account, leading to a woman in Herne Bay, Kent who is running a rabbit breeding, sales and accessories website from her home address. This individual has been referred to her local authority, Canterbury City Council and to HMRC.

December 2017 –
Following a complaint from a member of the public regarding an online seller (using Gumtree), an individual based in Wood Green, an investigation has been launched to identify and refer the individual as a matter of urgency. In his sales photos he can be seen mistreating one of his rabbits, holding it vertically by the ears, and the conditions in which it and other rabbits are depicted fall well short of basic Animal Welfare Standards.

Enquiries have linked this individual to the sale of Chickens as well as rabbits via a second online sales platform, once again the conditions depicted are atrocious and urgent action is needed to intervene from an animal welfare standpoint. As such this is the officer’s priority investigation for December, although initial intelligence regarding his believed location and phone number(s) has already been passed to the RSPCA and the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

December has also seen the start of a work-stream to identify Romanian online traders, who are believed to be involved in the sale of pet rabbit breeds for food, an issue that has been mooted via social media for a few months, and appears to have become an issue to fuel the demand for rabbit meat amongst the Roma Gypsy community in the UK.

In addition December has also seen the identified trader records moving north and west from the South East where resources have been concentrated for the first six months of the AWO’s tenure with the RWAF.

Conclusion –
This report covers the period 28/05/2017 to 31/12/2017, which spans the current tenure of the Animal Welfare Officer / Investigator employed by the RWAF as part of the Capone Campaign.

The Campaign funds the officer for 8 hours per week, and this has meant that prioritisation of workloads has been a major factor of the latter half of 2017’s activities. The RWAF’s intelligence and investigation capability has had to be reviewed, and updated, making the function suitable to operate alongside and integrate with the intelligence and investigation functions of other Animal Welfare charities and enforcement agencies; hence we now have Data Protection Registration, CJSM Secure Emails, and utilise National Intelligence Model referral forms, Magistrates’ Court Act compliant statements and the like.

In addition to this ongoing work, investigations have been instigated, in particular with regard to “urgent” cases, raised either by concerned members of the public / RWAF Management, or through issues being identified by the AWO. Six of these have been completed and referred to the appropriate local authorities, and nine intelligence referral packs have been passed to other enforcement / animal welfare agencies.

In addition to this, the AWO has also fielded enquiries relating to ongoing animal welfare issues, and provided input to government animal welfare legislation consultations.

It is anticipated, now that the lion’s share of the overhaul of the administration of the function has been completed, that 2018 will see an exponential increase in investigation and intelligence work generated by the AWO.

Bunnies of the Year Competition 2017

(Open only to current members of the RWAF)

Our annual Bunny of the Year competition has been running for several years and last year we changed this to the ‘Bunnies of the Year competition’ to reflect the RWAFs belief that rabbits should only be kept in neutered pairs or compatible groups. As such only photos of two or more rabbits can be entered into this competition.

This year’s competition has 4 categories:
· Youngsters – 2 or more rabbits under 4 years old
· Older bunnies – 2 or more rabbits over 4 years of age
· Rescue bunnies – 2 or more rescue bunnies together. (You may also send a max of 100 words about each rabbit and their history)
· Happy bunnies – 2 or more bunnies binkying, playing, digging, snuggling, grooming each other etc.
Prizes are being awarded from 1st – 3rd in each category, and will consist of:

Youngsters category

1st place: They will receive a deluxe connection kit worth nearly £200 (donated by Runaround) 1 x 2kg Excel Junior Rabbit Nuggets, 1 x Long Stem Feeding Hay, 1 x Mountain Meadow Herbs, 1 x Country Garden Herbs, 1 x Apple Snacks and 1 x Gnaw Sticks (donated by Burgess Pet Care), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet Foods), a Binky Trio (binky bell, boredom ball and treat bag – donated by The Binky Shop), and a Pet Remedy Atomiser (donated by Unex Design Ltd).
2nd place: 1 x 2kg Excel Junior nuggets (donated by Burgess Pet Care), a Happy Bunny Club box (donated by The Happy Bunny Club), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods), a refillable Pet Remedy mini spray and a carton of 12 individual calming Pet Remedy wipes (donated by Unex Design Ltd).
3rd place: 1 x Mountain Meadow Herbs, 1 x Country Garden Herbs, 1 x Apple Snacks and 1 x Gnaw Sticks (donated by Burgess Pet Care), 1 x 1.1kg Oxbow Orchard Grass Hay (donated by Petlife International), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods), and a refillable Pet Remedy mini spray (donated by Unex Design Ltd).

Older bunnies category:

1st place: 1 x 2kg Excel Mature Rabbit Nuggets, 1 x Long Stem Feeding Hay, 1 x Mountain Meadow Herbs, 1 x Country Garden Herbs, 1 x Apple Snacks and 1 x Gnaw Sticks (donated by Burgess Pet Care), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods), a selection of Runaround goodies to include T-shirt, coasters and keyrings (donated by Runaround), a medium natural Binky table (donated by The Binky Shop), and a Pet Remedy Plug Diffuser pack (donated by Unex Design Ltd).
2nd place: 1 x 2kg Excel Mature rabbit nuggets (donated by Burgess Pet Care), a Happy Bunny Club box (donated by The Happy Bunny Club), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods), a refillable Pet Remedy mini spray and a carton of 12 individual calming Pet Remedy wipes (donated by Unex Design Ltd).
3rd place: 1 x Mountain Meadow Herbs, 1 x Country Garden Herbs, 1 x Apple Snacks and 1 x Gnaw Sticks (donated by Burgess Pet Care), 1 x 425g Oxbow Oat Hay (donated by Petlife International), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods), a refillable Pet Remedy mini spray and a carton of 12 individual calming Pet Remedy wipes (donated by Unex Design Ltd).

Rescue bunnies category:
1st place:  1 x 1.5kg Excel Natures Blend Nuggets, 1 x Long Stem Feeding Hay, 1 x Mountain Meadow Herbs, 1 x Country Garden Herbs, 1 x Apple Snacks and 1 x Gnaw Sticks (donated by Burgess Pet Care), a wooden rabbit hideout (donated by Hop Inn), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods), a Binky Trio (binky bell, boredom ball and treat bag – donated by The Binky Shop), a selection of Runaround goodies to include T-shirt, coasters and keyrings (donated by Runaround), and a 200ml Pet Remedy calming spray (donated by Unex Design Ltd).
2rd place: 1 x 1.5kg Excel Natures Blend nuggets (donated by Burgess Pet Care), a Happy Bunny Club box (donated by The Happy Bunny Club), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods), a refillable Pet Remedy mini spray and a carton of 12 individual calming Pet Remedy wipes (donated by Unex Design Ltd).
3rd place: 1 x Mountain Meadow Herbs, 1 x Country Garden Herbs, 1 x Apple Snacks and 1 x Gnaw Sticks (donated by Burgess Pet Care), 1 x Oxbow Baked peppermint Treats (donated by Petlife International), 1 year’s supply of Selective Naturals Grain Free Rabbit Food (for one rabbit, based on feeding guidelines – donated by Supreme Pet foods), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods), and a refillable Pet Remedy mini spray (donated by Unex Design Ltd).

Happy bunnies category:

1st place  1 x 1.5kg Excel Natures Blend Nuggets, 1 x Long Stem Feeding Hay, 1 x Mountain Meadow Herbs, 1 x Country Garden Herbs, 1 x Apple Snacks and 1 x Gnaw Sticks (donated by Burgess Pet Care), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods), a selection of Runaround goodies to include T-shirt, coasters and keyrings (donated by Runaround), a medium natural Binky table (donated by The Binky Shop), and a carton of 12 individual calming Pet Remedy wipes (donated by Unex Design Ltd).
2nd place:  1 x 1.5kg Excel Natures Blend Nuggets (donated by Burgess Pet Care), a Happy Bunny Club box (donated by The Happy Bunny Club), 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods) and a carton of 12 individual calming Pet Remedy wipes (donated by Unex Design Ltd).
3rd place:  1 x Mountain Meadow Herbs, 1 x Country Garden Herbs, 1 x Apple Snacks and 1 x Gnaw Sticks (donated by Burgess Pet Care), 1 year’s supply of Science Selective (for one rabbit, based on feeding guidelines – donated by Supreme Pet foods) and 1 x 400g hand-packed Selective Timothy Hay (donated by Supreme Pet foods).

Not only could you win some amazing prizes, but your rabbits could be crowned ‘Bunnies of the Year 2017’, and may feature on the cover of the Spring 2018 Rabbiting On.
To raise vital funds for the important work that the RWAF does, there is a small entry fee of £2 per photograph entered. You can enter as many photos as you like.

Photos can be entered as prints of digital images (preferably saved on a CD). Please set your camera to the maximum image quality to ensure that the resulting file is large and detailed enough to be reproduced in Rabbiting On. Save the digital photos at 300dpi, and at least postcard size. Make sure that your name, address, RWAF membership number and the rabbit’s names are on the CD.
If you send prints please stick a label on the back of each photo listing the information above.

Send your photos/CDs and entry fees to:

Bunnies of the Year 2017,
RWAF,
Enigma House,
Culmhead Business Park,
Taunton,
Somerset,
TA3 7DY

Please make cheques payable to: The Rabbit Welfare Fund.
Regrettably we are unable to return photos or CDs, so please do not send your only copies.

You can also enter your photos by emailing them. Firstly please ensure you visit
https://shop.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/product/bunnies-of-the-year-competition/ to pay the entry fee for each of your photos, then visit https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/about-the-rwaf/photo-submissions/ to upload your photos. You must include your name, address, RWAF membership number, the rabbits’ names, category entered and the payment transaction number the shop will generate when you pay for the entries.

The closing date for entries is the 30th December 2017 and the winners will be announced in the Spring 2018 Rabbiting On.

All of the photos entered that aren’t fortunate enough to be amongst the winners will be considered for our Pawprints, It’s my Bunny and Star Bunny pages in future issues of Rabbiting On. They may also be used to illustrate features in Rabbiting On, used RWAF literature and may even be a future Rabbiting On front cover star.

We would like to extend our thanks to the companies who have generously donated prizes for this competition.
Prizes will be posted out from the companies direct to the winners and can only be posted to UK postal addresses.
The RWAF and prize donators reserve the right to offer substitute prizes without prior notice.

Hot Tips For Keeping Rabbits Warm This Winter

Amongst our members and supporters there is a huge wealth of knowledge, so we asked everyone to share their tips. Some are well tried and tested, but others are ingenious and we wonder how we hadn’t thought of them already!

This advice is for rabbits who are in good body condition. Those who are old or thin may need even more care and we advise owners of such bunnies to bring them in for the winter.

Keeping rabbits warm is important, because in the wild they would live in underground burrows where the temperature changes slightly between summer and winter. By keeping them above ground we are subjecting them to extremes of temperature changes and we need to help them stay warm and dry. Damp and draughts can be deadly to bunnies at this time of year.

We always recommend that rabbits are kept in pairs, and there is no nicer way to keep warm than by snuggling up to your friend.

Companionship is often overlooked, and can be even more important in the winter months. Naturally, because of the dark nights we are less inclined to spend time in the garden, so we see less of our rabbits who are kept outdoors. You must make sure you check them regularly (at least 3 times a day, but more is always better) and check that the hutch or shed is not leaking, that their bed is dry, and that they always have hay and water.

To stop water bottles or bowls freezing:

Cable tie a plant pot to the inside of the hutch and put the water bottle in there. Once the hutch is insulated it reduces the risk of the bottle freezing.

Lift water bowls off the floor of the shed or hutch, and place a Snugglesafe underneath to stop it freezing.

Wrap bottles with bubble wrap, a thermal sock or glove.

For keeping hutches and runs warm:

Use a tarpaulin with eyelets so it can be secured in place over the hutch and run.

Put old blankets or duvets over the hutch and run, but under the tarp for extra insulation. (Make sure the bunnies can not nibble any of it)

Buy a Snugglesafe heat pad to use overnight.

Use silver backed beach mats to insulate the hutch and run.

Put wind breaks up around the hutch and run.

Line sheds to create a double wall and an extra layer of insulation.

Add Perspex sheets to the front of hutches and runs to keep them weather-proof but allow the bunnies to see out. If you do this make sure there is still good ventilation, perhaps leave a small gap along the top.

Add a cardboard box with a small hole to the bedroom area and fill it with dry straw or hay.

Add a low wattage heater to a shed, but make sure the rabbits can’t chew the cable!

Make sure bedding is kept warm and dry. Straw is warmer than hay so makes a better bedding, but nothing is warm if it’s wet. Your cleaning schedule needs to be scrupulous in the winter and don’t be stingy—make sure you provide a deep bedding of something like shavings or Megazorb under the straw.

Remember, that even in bad weather rabbits will need to exercise every day. It is not acceptable to keep them locked in a hutch because you are not able to provide a protected exercise area for them, so some forward planning now may be needed.

A tarpaulin gives them shelter in their run

A hutch attached to a safe exercise run means that rabbits can shelter in the hutch or exercise in the run when they please. At the very least add a tarpaulin cover to protect them from the rain and snow, and add a hiding place. (One per bunny)

Garden sheds offer a great alternative to a traditional rabbit hutch because they can be well insulated and the rabbits are nice and dry inside as well as having room to move around. It’s also easier for the owners to feed and clean out inside a garden shed in wet weather. Exercise runs can still be attached to a shed, and can still be covered by a tarpaulin.

The easiest thing to do would be to bring the hutch into an unused shed, garage (as long as the garage has a window and is not being used for a car as those exhaust fumes are very dangerous) or a conservatory. Lots of owners bring their rabbits in and keep them as house rabbits over the winter months. It’s fine to winter house rabbits and summer garden rabbits, as long as you do not embark on this and then abandon it mid-way: if you decide to do it, you will have to stick with it because it would be cruel to bring them in and let them moult their winter coat, only to put them outdoors again before spring. If you are going to do this then first of all bring them into a room with no heating and acclimatise them gradually. Remember that they may find household noises like the TV and washing machine scary so take your time. They will not be used to the artificial lights and extra ‘daylight’ either so make sure they have somewhere to hide out while they adjust.

Top tip: If bringing rabbits indoors do it gradually over a period of weeks. First of all bring them into a cold, quiet room and give them plenty of places to hide. Use their own litter tray and toys so that they have a familiar smell.

When to take action: By cold we mean if the temperature falls below zero; that is when insulating hutches and sheds and items such as Snugglesafe can be used for best effect—but of course lots of the tips relate to weather proofing and they can be used in wet and windy weather regardless of the temperature.

RVHD2 Update November 2017

This supersedes earlier advice
 There are two strains of RVHD, known as RVHD1 and RVHD2.  Both strains are lethal and you must vaccinate to protect your rabbits.  RVHD2 has been in the UK since 2013 and over time appears to be overtaking classic RVHD as the primary strain.

RVHD vaccines are very effective. Your rabbits can currently be protected against RHD1 using the Nobivac Myxomatosis-RHD vaccine with a booster every 12 months. Both strains of RVHD are covered by vaccination any time from ten weeks (Filavac) or RHD2 can be prevented from 30 days (Eravac) of age. The separate RVHD2 vaccine is given every 6-12 months. You should consult your vet for the best combination currently available for your rabbit(s).

It’s very important to clean and disinfect anything that may be carrying the viruses, including water bottles, bowls, bedding and housing.  This means that boarding and rescue rabbits, even with up to date vaccinations, may potentially be a risk, and establishments should take suitable precautions, as should vets who may have infected rabbits brought to them for treatment. Anything that has been touched by an unknown rabbit should be thoroughly cleaned and treated with virucidal agents. In high risk situations foot covers or foot dips may be wise measures.

If you are about to obtain a young rabbit that hasn’t yet been vaccinated:

  • Follow the advice given in the vaccinations section
  • Don’t use second-hand hutches or equipment without finding out what happened to the previous occupant.

FAQ on Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 1 and 2 Background:

For background, whilst the “classic” RVHD has been present in the UK for decades, variant RHVD (also known as RHVD2 or RHDV variant) was first noted in 2010 in France, and has subsequently been identified in the UK (OIE Technical Disease Cards, updated July 2015; Abrantes et al, 2012; Dalton et al, 2012; Westcott and Choudry, 2014). This virus has some differences from the classic RVHD. In particularly it may affect rabbits of any age, as opposed to RVHD1, which is rarely if ever seen in rabbits under 8-10 weeks of age.

It has also been reported that the variant gives rise to lower mortalities than classical RVHD, this is not necessarily borne out by reports (Abrantes et al, 2013), and this may be thought to be due to be the case due to its phylogenetic placement alongside non-pathogenic strains.

Mortality may vary from collection to collection, and possibly from breed to breed. The only vaccine for rabbits initially available with a UK License was Nobivac Myxo-RHD (MSD Animal Health), which was made available in 2012. Not long after that, the other 3 vaccines against RHVD on the UK market ceased to be available.

This vaccine does not appear to offer protection against RVHD2, and neither do the previous vaccine brands available in the UK. However, RHD1 and Myxo remained the most significant health threats which could be vaccinated against, and so coverage with this product remains a priority. Work from Italy and France, however, suggests that, with our reservoir of wild rabbits, we can expect to see RHD2 starting to predominate over RHD1 in the next 5 years or so.

Previously there were three vaccines (Filavac VHD K C+V, Cunivak RHD and Cunipravac RHD-2 Variant) that initially had a Special Import or Special Treatment Certificate from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, on the basis of a clear need to do so given the current disease status. That need now having been firmly established, Filavac VHD K C+V, and Eravac VHD are now licensed. Practices should check availability of these products directly with their wholesalers. Owners should check with their practices which vaccines they hold, and what the protocol for vaccinating rabbits is at the practice in question.

Stocks are sometimes very variable, and practices are advised to contact wholesalers directly for information on stock availability. I would still be interested in any other practitioners findings regarding reports of suspected or confirmed RHD1 and 2.

 FAQs

Is vaccination necessary?

This will obviously involve a risk assessment of the individual rabbit(s), but the wide geographical range of the disease, and the reported losses of several hundred rabbits throughout the UK, as well as molecular testing confirmation of cause of death in many sampled, suggests that vaccination is strongly advisable.

Moredun Institute has advised RWAF that cases have been confirmed throughout the UK, so you cannot assume you are in a ‘safe’ area. Additionally we believe that RVHD2 will be significantly under reported. Because RHD2 doesn’t always look like classic RHD1, a rabbit could be taken into hospital looking ill, but nobody would necessarily think to treat that potentially infectious case for RHD2

Do existing RHD1 vaccines work? Because the mortality rate is lower with RHD2, any test using a small number of rabbits could easily show protection just because none of them were going to die anyway. There is some anecdotal evidence that RHD1 vaccines have some short term effect, but nothing peer reviewed. Le Gall-Recule (2013) showed that cross immunity between RHD1 and 2 was, at best, partial.

Do RHD2 vaccines work? Le Minor et al (2013) showed that Filavac produced good immunity (full protection) against RHD2 in challenge studies. (15èmes Journées de la Recherche Cunicole, 19-20 novembre 2013, Le Mans, France)

How will you get it from your vet?

Please only go through your vets, rather than contacting wholesalers directly.

What dose regime is suggested?

Standard advice with immunological products not licensed for simultaneous administration is to space them out by at least 2 weeks, and this is the regime we advise with both vaccines.

The duration of immunity for Filavac has been established at at least 12 months, in laboratory conditions in healthy rabbits. The manufacturer’s advice is to administer a single dose of the vaccine, followed by annual boosters in low risk situations, and 6 monthly in the case of breeding does at high risk. In the UK, I would suggest that high risk situations include rescue centres and breeders, unless they have a strict quarantine policy, and those rabbits which have greater contact with wild rabbits, as well as any geographical location where cases have been reported recently. All other rabbits are likely to fall into the lower risk category, requiring annual re-vaccination. The duration of immunity has not been confirmed in the case of Eravac, but this is expected to be updated shortly.

What does the vaccine cost?

Here at the RWAF we are not able to monitor or affect the prices charged by veterinary practices. It’s worth pointing out that the price of the vaccine may vary widely between practices due to pricing structures, and due to the caseload of rabbits that they see. If they are able to make use of larger vaccine vials, the cost may be shared across more rabbits and reduced, but this is not often possible, as it requires enough rabbits to be seen in a 2 hour window during which the vial may be used.

What if I buried my pet rabbit and now wonder if it was RVHD 2, will the ground be infected and a risk to my other rabbits? (How should bodies be disposed of?)

There is not enough information out there to know the correct answer to this. We know it can live for 200 days in ideal conditions, so there is in theory a potential risk but we are speculating here. The best way to dispose of the body of any rabbit that died a sudden or unexplained death is to ask your vet to get it cremated for you. Double wrap them in plastic, and disinfect the outside, before taking to your vet, to reduce the risk of disease spread.

Once rabbits have recovered from RVHD2 do they still carry it? Do they still shed? Can I bond to another rabbit safely without risking them?

There is not enough information known about RVHD2 to know the correct answer to this with any certainty. In theory they should be safe to bond after 200 days, in practice it may be safe sooner than this, but we really don’t know.

Can you recommend a cleaning protocol?

90% of any disinfection is cleaning, that is the most important aspect. After thorough cleaning of the area to remove any scale or residue, use Ark-Klens , which is a benzalkonium chloride disinfectant and as such it should be effective against EC and myxi, to routinely disinfect the housing. Periodically use Virkon (as an inorganic peroxygen compound) to kill any other viruses.   Anigene HLD4V has been confirmed as effective against RVHD2 at a dilution of 1:50. It is important that the correct dilution is used”.  Note: Other benzalkonium chloride disinfectants and inorganic peroxygen compounds may be available, in addition to those named above.

Other than vaccination can I prevent my rabbit getting RHD? Will they get it from hay?

They are very unlikely to get RHD (1 or 2) or Myxomatosis from hay or barn dried grass. Risk / benefit analysis would be in the favour of feeding these foods. Foraged foods may potentially carry RVHD. Try to obtain plants from areas out of the reach of wild rabbits, and do not collect forage from areas of known wild rabbit RVHD infection. Biosecurity advice was given in the webinar (link above) but summarised here: Use foot dips or change footwear between going outside, especially into areas frequented by wild rabbits Quarantine new animals, feed them last, use new equipment such as bottles / bowls for them. Barrier nurse any suspicious cases Try to exclude wild rabbits and unless they can be excluded from the garden consider stopping the practice of moving pens around the garden and even consider a double fence round rabbit runs.

What are the risks of “over-vaccination” and vaccine ingredients?

Vaccinating with an RHD 1 and 2 vaccine (Filavac), 1-2 times per year, on top of an existing RVHD1 and Myxomatosis vaccine (Nobivac), obviously increases the vaccine frequency and amount given to each rabbit. This is not perfect, but the alternative is missing out one of these vaccines, and the risk of “over-vaccination” is considered lower than the risk of insufficient protection. Filavac is an inactivated, adjuvanted vaccine, and so cannot lead to clinical RVHD in the animal. Eravac covers only RHD2, and so there is less concern about “over-vaccination” with this product. Concerns are often raised about vaccine ingredients (adjuvants and excipients) such as aluminium hydroxide and sodium metabisulphite. This is too large a topic to discuss here, but, without dismissing these concerns out of hand, and after weighing the risks against the benefits, vaccination has a strongly net positive benefit against the diseases discussed here. There are known vaccine side effects discussed in the data sheets for these vaccines. They are usually limited to small local transient skin reactions, and transient mild lethargy. Oil based vaccines such as Eravac carry a known risk of skin and subcutaneous tissue damage, and great care must be taken to ensure no vaccine enters the intradermal route, to minimise this risk, as well as taking care not to accidentally self-inject. The frequency of vaccination, and a risk:benefit analysis for each individual, should be discussed between client and veterinary surgeon before deciding on an appropriate regime and vaccination plan. There is a risk to any animal (or person) to having any vaccination, which is why animals (or people) should only be vaccinated if they are healthy. For further general details on companion animals, the BSAVA and WSAVA vaccine guidelines should be consulted. Note that under their definitions, in the UK and mainland Europe, RHD2 would be considered a “core” vaccination.

https://www.bsava.com/Resources/Positionstatements/Vaccination.aspx http://www.wsava.org/guidelines/vaccination-guidelines Titre testing against this strain is not commercially available, at least at present in the UK. It’s also worth being aware that other countries are slightly ahead of us in arranging vaccine importation and use for domestic rabbits. In Holland, vaccination has been underway with Filavac for several months before its use in the UK, and they also use the Nobivac Myxo-RHD vaccine.

Refs: Joana Abrantes, Wessel van der Loo, Jacques Le Pendu and Pedro J Esteves (2012) Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) and rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV): a review Veterinary Research 2012, 43:12 doi:10.1186/1297-9716-43-12 Kevin P. Dalton, Inés Nicieza, Ana Balseiro, María A. Muguerza, Joan M. Rosell, Rosa Casais, Ángel L. Álvarez, and Francisco Parra(2012) Variant Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus in Young Rabbits, Spain Emerg Infect Dis. 2012 Dec; 18(12): 2009–2012. doi: 10.3201/eid1812.120341 D. G. Westcott and B. Choudhury Rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus 2-like variant in Great Britain Veterinary Record doi:10.1136/vr.102830 Joana Abrantes, Ana M. Lopes, Kevin P. Dalton, Pedro Melo, Jorge J. Correia, Margarida Ramada, Paulo C. Alves,Francisco Parra, and Pedro J. Esteves New Variant of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus, Portugal, 2012–2013 Emerg Infect Dis. 2013 Nov; 19(11): 1900–1902. doi: 10.3201/eid1911.130908 Detection of a new variant of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus in France G. Le Gall-Reculé et al February 5, 2011 | Veterinary Record | 137-138 doi: 10.1136/vr.d697 Emergence of a new lagovirus related to Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus Ghislaine Le Gall-Reculé et al (2013) Veterinary Research 2013 44:81 DOI: 10.1186/1297-9716-44-81

Other useful sources of information: http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1005087 http://www.iucn-whsg.org/RabbitHemorrhagicDiseaseInEurope https://www.harcourt-brown.co.uk/articles/infectious-disease/rabbit-haemorrhagic-disease Webinar: http://therabbitvet.com/webinar/vhd-rhd-2-update-rabbit-haemorrhagic-disease

 

PASSIVE SMOKING IN THE RABBIT

By Richard Saunders, RWAF Veterinary Adviser

(First published in Rabbiting On Magazine, Winter 2014)

Photo: C Burley

The dangers of passive smoking are now well understood in humans. And those dangers are worst of all in those who cannot evade it. And whilst smoking in enclosed public spaces is now illegal, smoking in the home still occurs, and children continue to be exposed to it. The same threat exists to our pets, including rabbits, if they share that airspace.

Only 15% of cigarette smoke is actually inhaled by the smoker

Exposure to smoke

When owners smoke, they expose their pets to over 4,000 different toxins including 40 known cancer-causing substances and carbon monoxide. Only 15% of cigarette smoke is actually inhaled by the smoker – the rest ends up in the air exposing people and pets to the dangers of passive smoking. Obviously, pets, including houserabbits, inhale the toxic air. However, they potentially absorb dangerous chemicals through the mouth and gut when they groom themselves because the toxins land on their fur.

There are three main risk issues:

  • Irritation to the airways (and damage to the mechanisms that protect the airways from other problems)
  • Cancers
  • Effects on the heart.

To these we can also add the potential for skin, mouth or gut irritation from residues collecting on the coat. In addition, I am always asked about inhaled allergens in rabbits, and the idea of ‘hay fever’ or asthma occurring, and this article is a good point to discuss it.

Airway effects

Houserabbits with little or no access to fresh air are likely to be at greater risk from effects on the airways and lungs, and associated illness through passive smoking, than outdoor rabbits. This is simply because of limited fresh air. The potent mix of irritant and toxic chemicals in inhaled air full of cigarette smoke can irritate and inflame any part of the respiratory tract from the nose to the furthermost point in the lungs (the alveoli, where oxygen is taken up into the bloodstream). At the nose end, this may cause upsetting but not life-threatening sneezing. At the alveoli end it may seriously affect the rabbit’s ability to take up oxygen and get rid of waste carbon dioxide. And in the middle, it can irritate the airways. This can cause severe difficulty breathing, and can, by damaging the lining of the airways, impair the rabbit’s natural defences against infection. Given the high incidence of bacterial infection in rabbit respiratory tracts, they need all their defences intact!

Photo: R Lamb

 

Houserabbits with little or no access to fresh air are likely to be at greater risk from effects on the airways

Secondary Pasteurella or other bacteria may cause pneumonia or other bacterial infections. Similar problems occur in hutch rabbits due to irritation to the airways from dusty or resinous bedding and ammonia from their urine. The tiny hairs that help waft mucus and foreign material up and out of the lungs can be killed by tobacco smoke and ammonia. The mucus layer which exists to protect the airways can become thick, less easily moved out, and prone to accumulating, affecting oxygen uptake. These effects are due to the other chemicals present in cigarettes, not the nicotine, and therefore should not be an issue with e-cigarettes. However, the latter often have assorted flavourings and scents present, and those may be potentially irritant. Similar problems may potentially occur with air fresheners, incense, or other environmental contamination. It’s probably worth mentioning that birds are exquisitely sensitive to inhaled chemicals (hence canaries in the coal mine!), and can die rapidly from exposure to a number of household chemicals. Rabbits are not as potentially sensitive to such things.

Effects on the heart and arteries

Photo: S Brough

 

Smokers need to be made aware that passive smoking is as dangerous to pets as it is to people

One paper (Torok et al, 2000) showed that passive smoking affected the ability of rabbit arteries to relax, which, particularly in conjunction with thickening of arteries, could be fatal. Rabbits with kidney failure may develop stiff, thickened arteries as a result of calcium being laid down in their walls, and the extra effects of the smoke could tip them over the edge. This effect is mainly due to nicotine, as opposed to the assorted other chemicals present, and is therefore an issue in the use of e-cigarettes.

Cancers

Studies have been carried out in America on birds, dogs and cats where it was found that all three are susceptible to cancers. Rod Straw, a pet oncology (cancer) expert from the University of Queensland, said an earlier study had found that passive smoking could be linked to lung cancer in dogs. “It is interesting that they have found this link and it could be a good impetus for people not to smoke,” he said. Although no specific work has been carried out on rabbits (other than as a laboratory model) passive smoking has been proved to affect birds, dogs and cats and there is no reason why houserabbits should not also suffer the consequences of their owners’ habits. The generally greater life expectancy of large parrots, cats, and some dogs means that rabbits are perhaps at less risk of this, and the main cause of lung cancers in rabbits is the secondary spread from uterine tumours in unneutered females.

Photo: J O’Callaghan

 

Some rabbits struggle to eat hay due to dental issues, but all rabbits should have ample good quality hay at all times

E-cigarettes

As Judith Brown said on behalf of the RWAF in 2006, “Smokers need to be made aware that passive smoking is as dangerous to pets as it is to people. By not exposing rabbits to the dangers of passive smoking, owners can insure that they keep vets bills down. Not to mention that it makes for a happier rabbit.” Whilst I can’t better that comment, there is one additional subject that has arisen since 2006, and that is “vaping” or e-cigarettes. Whilst these are possibly better than cigarettes for human health, and their ‘cleaner’ content means that many harmful chemicals are absent from e-cigarettes, they still contain nicotine, which has effects on the heart. In addition, one e-cigarette unit contains the equivalent amount of nicotine to more than a whole packet of traditional cigarettes. This is only a problem if an inquisitive rabbit decides to chew one and ingest some of the liquid, but it would be VERY wise to keep them out of the range of rabbits, as there have been deaths in dogs from this situation.

Allergies

Whilst on the general topic of respiratory health, we vets often get queries about the possibility of a rabbit having allergic respiratory tract disease: ‘hay fever’ or asthma, for example. This is not impossible, of course, and we see the occasional lower respiratory allergic disease, similar to human or other animal ‘asthma’. Upper respiratory allergic disease appears extremely unusual indeed, and it is far more likely that any problem with nasal discharge or sneezing is due to infection in the nasal cavity/sinuses (although there is some debate about the exact anatomical distinctions here). ‘Hay fever’ is such an unfortunate term, as it can lead to rabbits being inappropriately deprived of hay in the belief that they may react to it badly. Whilst there are some rabbits who struggle to eat hay due to dental issues, there is no other justification for not providing ample, good quality hay at all times. Any problems with hay and the respiratory tract are more likely to be due to moulds and dust present in poor quality hays than to allergies.

Reference:

Physiol Res. 2000;49(1):135-41.
Passive smoking impairs endothelium-dependent relaxation of isolated rabbit arteries.
Török J,Gvozdjáková A, Kucharská J, Balazovjech I, Kyselá S, Simko F, Gvozdják J.

 

Introducing a new rabbit after an outbreak of RVHD2

“How long should I leave it before introducing a new rabbit after an outbreak of RHD2”

We are getting asked this question, or a variation of it very regularly. This is a really difficult question to answer, for several reasons.

The science:

Firstly, the virus is incredibly resilient in the environment, at least in ideal experimental conditions eg in organ suspensions held at 4C, where it can survive for greater than 7 months. In less artificial conditions eg cool, not dry, protected from UV light, and in/on organic material, eg carcasses, it has been shown to survive for at least 3 months (as the experiment stopped at that point, it could survive for longer than this). Less optimal conditions, where the virus is cooled but kept dry, give survival times of less than one month.

Another study showed excretion of virus for 2 months in rabbits which recovered from the virus.

As a result, quarantine periods of between a month and 7 months have commonly been suggested before exposing a new rabbit to previously infected or in contact rabbits, or environments where the virus has been shed, and it is difficult to propose a one size fits all exact period of time to guarantee biosecurity without suggesting a potentially significantly excessive duration.

In practice:

We would suggest at least 2 months before bringing a rabbit into contact with the survivors of an outbreak.

We would suggest thorough cleaning and disinfection of any non-porous inanimate objects or surfaces in contact with infected animals, and either disposal of or cleaning following soaking in disinfectant for porous objects. Cleaning of cracks and corners of hutches etc is vital. Anigene and Virkon are both considered suitable for this type of cleaning, but make sure you follow their instructions.

Grass and earth are difficult to disinfect, but exposure to high temperatures and UV light in sunlight should inactivate it within approximately a month (although particular care should be taken if there are microclimates of moist cool conditions with organic material present: faeces, food, hay etc should be removed to allow exposure of the surfaces).

A period of at least 3 months is probably sufficient to eliminate the virus in bodies or protected suitable organic material (eg parts of bodies) in all but experimentally perfect conditions, and so a widely used period of 4 months is understandable.

However, this needs to be balanced against the welfare issues of sole or unsuitably housed rabbits, and the risk can be reduced (although never to zero, as no vaccine is 100% protective) by vaccination with a suitable RHD2 vaccine.

Summary:

It is impossible to give a reply that is suitable for everyone and you should discuss your own situation with your vet. However, our general advice is:
Make sure all rabbits are vaccinated against RVHD2

Thorughly clean the area

Wait at least 2 months before introducing another (vaccinated) rabbit

RVHD2 update, August 2017

 For the latest advice please see this post https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rvhd2-update-november-2017/

Cases of new variant rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD2) continue to be reported on a regular basis. Several laboratories will undertake PCR testing for RHD2 and it is now possible to test samples from live animals, making it quicker and easier to diagnose and more likely to get owner agreement for testing. However, these are PCR tests which depend on the virus being present in the blood or shed into urine and faeces, and so a negative is not conclusive, although a positive is. Liver remains the best sample for testing in the post mortem rabbit.

During 2016, in the absence of an effective UK-licenced vaccine to protect against RHD2, we arranged for the import of a number of RHD2 vaccines from around Europe. Filavac VHD K C+V, manufactured by Filavie, has been the main vaccine imported, primarily due to its proven efficacy, safety and availability in single dose vials. In the ten months Filavac was being imported through the Special Import scheme, 3420 special import certificates (SIC) were granted, making it the second most granted SIC over that period. Based on an earlier Freedom of Information Act request, we estimate that this accounts for nearly 100,000 doses of the vaccine, almost certainly making it the most imported medicine of 2016 by some significant margin.

In October 2016, Eravac RHD2 became the first RHD2 vaccine to receive an EU-wide licence, making it available in the UK without the need for an import licence. This has now been followed by Filavac, which received its UK licence in April 2017. The fact that two separate companies have gone to the trouble and expense of getting their products licenced indicates that they believe there to be sufficient clinical need and ongoing product demand to make this investment worthwhile.

We anticipate that Filavac will become the main product used in UK veterinary practices due to its availability in single dose vials and information on efficacy and vaccination protocol for pet rabbits, requiring only a single booster every 12m in normal circumstances. Eravac is only available in multi-dose vials, and the vaccine is oil adjuvanted, presenting a risk to the user in the event of accidental self-injection. Its vaccination protocol and efficacy data is also less clear from its EU authorisation, with a booster currently recommended by the manufacturer every 6 months.

While in most circumstances we believe that Filavac is the more appropriate choice, it is still not perfect for use in the UK alongside Nobivac myxo-rhd, the only licenced recombinant vaccine against myxomatosis and classic RHD. The Filavac is not only effective against RHD2; it is a dual vaccine which also includes protection against classic RHD. This means that rabbits will receive duplicate vaccines against classic RHD when they are vaccinated according to the protocols for each product. While the benefits are thought to outweigh the risks, it is nevertheless not ideal. Multiple vet visits is also more likely to reduce owner compliance. The ideal situation would be the development of a single vaccine incorporating protection against myxomatosis, classic RHD and RHD2, allowing full protection without multiple visits or duplication of agents. Alternatively, a vaccine combining myxomatosis with RHD2 rather than classic RHD would provide cover for the increasingly prevalent and dominant strain reported in the UK.All recent reports of strain specific testing for RHD received by the RWAF have been for type 2, and so it is concluded that this has become the most prevalent virus strain now.

Now there are two RHD2 vaccines authorised for use in the UK, our priority is to continue raising awareness of RHD2 and the availability/selection of vaccines among veterinary professionals and pharmaceutical companies. We believe that RHD2 is a real and continuing threat to pet rabbits and this view is validated by two companies now producing an RHD2 vaccine for the UK market. We therefore aim to ensure that the UK’s pet rabbits are protected against RHD2 as well as myxomatosis and classic RHD in the most effective and straightforward manner, ideally in a single vaccine to maximise owner compliance and minimise rabbit stress.

In the past few years, anecdotally we have also observed an increasing number of reports of rabbits vaccinated with Nobivac myxo-rhd contracting serious cases of myxomatosis, with more than may be expected dying as a result. Whether this is a result of mutating strains which are not covered as effectively by the existing vaccine, or whether there are other reasons (such as latent RHD2 infection) for insufficient immune response is not yet understood. If further work is to be undertaken to create a new recombinant vaccine incorporating RHD2, would urge that the efficacy of the myxomatosis element of the vaccine be considered as part of this review.

 

Please also read our post from January on RVHD2 & Filavac with FAQs