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

Flystrike

One of the biggest dangers of the summer for rabbits is flystrike.

Generally we think of it happening when rabbits have dirty bottoms, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Blowflies (bluebottles and greenbottles) can lay their eggs anywhere on a rabbit’s body. The eggs are tiny and hard to spot and they are laid deep in the fur so that makes it even trickier! Owners should examine their rabbits at least once a day, especially in warm weather.

The flies will lay eggs anywhere they smell blood or dirt, so wounds are a target, but dirty or wet bottoms are the usual place to find the problem. Rabbits with a poor diet, that are overweight or have mobility problems are most often at risk. .

What you need to do

  • Check your rabbits daily throughout the year and twice daily in warm weather.
  • Check your rabbits’ diet is high in fibre and low in carbohydrates. This means the main food should be hay or grass and they should eat about their own size in this every day. They should also get a small amount of leafy greens and an eggcup full per rabbit per day of nuggets.
  • If any of your rabbits are overweight their health is in danger for many reasons and flystrike is one of these, so talk to your vet about a healthy diet so that your rabbits can lose weight.
  • If any of your rabbits seem to be having problems with movement see your vet. There are medicines that can be given that will help them to be more mobile and better able to keep themselves clean
  • Clean out your rabbits’ home every day. Remove wet or dirty bedding and replace it with fresh. Once a week give your rabbits’ home a really thorough clean and disinfect. Dry it thoroughly before refilling with clean bedding
  • If your rabbits are at risk then treat them with Rearguard. This is applied to your rabbit’s body every couple of months. It inhibits the development of maggots from fly eggs. Insect repellents/insecticides containing Permethrins can be used, to deter and kill flies, but always take your vet’s advice on such treatments, to avoid using those which contain Fipronil, which is toxic to rabbits You can’t rely on this alone, you still need to check your rabbits daily.
  • Look into planting things that repel flies around your rabbits’ hutch and run.
  • Buy a mosquito net from a camping shop and drape that over your rabbits’ hutch and run.

Indoor rabbits are at risk too, so don’t be complacent.

What to do if your rabbit has fly eggs or maggots

This is an emergency your rabbit needs to see the vet immediately, evening, weekend, holiday, it doesn’t matter, you cannot wait

Don’t wash your rabbit. Your vet will need to clip the fur and wet fur is almost impossible to clip.
Pick off any maggots you can see but don’t let that delay you getting your rabbit to your vet.
If you’re very lucky and treatment takes place in time it’s possible your rabbit may be saved, but unfortunately in some cases it’s kinder to let them go. Take your vet’s advice on this

Remember, prevention is always better than cure

Summer 17 Campaign Update

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

Rabbit Interactive CPD

Our popular ‘Rabbit Interactive’ CPD (continuing professional development), which is sponsored by Burgess Pet Care, is rolling out some ‘road shows’ later this year. There is still a huge demand for airway management and dentistry education and we are very proud to have the only Vet CPD provided by Specialists. We will be issuing vets with certificates to show they have passed the course and we hope it will give owners reassurance to see these certificates in practice and know that their vets are up to date with the best techniques.

This is in addition to the ‘rabbit friendly’ vet list which is on our website. Make sure you ask your vet if they are rabbit friendly and if they have joined the list.

Our website

Talking of our website, we have been working on a new one for a while now and by the time you get this issue of Rabbiting On the new website should be live. There are lots of sources of information out there and it can be hard to know who to believe. Our website is checked by our Education Team, headed up by Dr Richard Saunders, and thanks also to Dr Elisabetta Mancinelli and Dr Brigitte Lord for their help. So you can rest assured it is evidence based, correct and up to date. We were very honoured to have the wonderful Dr Emily Blackwell write the handling and transport sections of the new website for us. We can’t mention the website without
thanking Reena and Nitesh for their brilliance and patience. We’re pretty impressed with it, if we do say so ourselves, and hope you are too!

Lizzie’s Top Tips

Those of you who have been members for a long time might remember Lizzie Smith, who was one of the

Lizzie is delighted to be involved with the RWAF again

founding members of the then BHRA. Lizzie has recently returned from Malaysia where she set up a new campus for Newcastle University. Lizzie has a huge amount of experience with marketing and social media, and now that she is back in the UK we have been fortunate enough to benefit from her expertise with some new campaigns. The first one was our take on an Easter campaign, which involved making the reality of rabbit ownership in to 10 facts, so that owners were aware of the amount of time, expense and space involved in caring for them properly. The campaign was a great success with 2091 shares and a whopping 344,111 people reached! Huge thanks to Lizzie from us all at RWAF. We have more campaigns in the pipeline so please keep sharing and helping us to spread the right messages.

Lizzie says “I am absolutely delighted to be back working with the RWAF team again after spending time abroad. The RWAF is an organisation that is very close to my heart so I am really looking forward to helping to develop more social media campaigns and to working with you, our members, in order to help to educate more rabbit owners and to spread the word that a Hutch is Not Enough!”

The problems with ‘short-faced’ pets – it’s not just a dog problem

In recent months the issue of health problems in short-faced or brachycephalic dogs has been highlighted to the public, in the media and following high profile events like this year’s Crufts. However, now three major animal welfare charities have united to send the message that this problem is not limited to dogs alone.
International Cat Care (iCatCare), the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) and the RSPCA have come together to raise awareness that breeding cats and rabbits with exaggerated flat faces can cause health and welfare problems, as in dogs.

Photos of short-faced breeds superimposed onto ‘normal animals’ are shocking across every species

Short-faced cats like Persians can have all the same issues as dogs – breathing and dental problems, skin fold infections and also problems giving birth, to name a few. Claire Bessant, chief executive of iCatCare, said, “It is very depressing to see the life which has been deliberately dealt to some breeds of cats because of a human desire to develop a certain look. I urge cat lovers to speak out and help others to understand that this is not something we should be doing to cats, and not something we should be tolerating. One of the best and most beautifully naturally designed animals – the cat – would not normally have any of these problems; we have created them through selective breeding. We should not be encouraging people to breed these cats by calling them ‘cute’, by being amused at their facial characteristics, or by the fact that they snore – rather we need to understand that this is human intervention that is wholly detrimental to the welfare of the cats and is simply cruel. International Cat Care takes an ethical view of all cat breeds and our website (http://icatcare.org/advice/cat-breeds) outlines the problems that exist for some breeds, including very flat-faced cats in the Persians and Exotic breeds. Our stance is that we should never deliberately breed cats for any feature or characteristic that impairs their welfare.”

Sadly, rabbits have also fallen foul of the human desire for shorter, ‘cuter’ faces. Richard Saunders, head vet at the RWAF, said “Breeds like the Netherland dwarf and the popular Lionhead breed have become more and more brachycephalic. In rabbits this is disastrous. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their whole lives and must line up exactly to wear down evenly. The short face means the bottom jaw is longer than the top one, just the same as in bulldogs and pugs, and the teeth do not line up. Teeth soon overgrow, causing chronic pain, lacerated mouths, abscesses and in many cases, death. The tear duct is also distorted (as it is in brachycephalic cats) and the rabbits often have tears and even pus overflowing onto their faces. Hand in hand with the short faces come the lop ears, rather than the wild, natural upright ears. These rabbits have a high level of middle ear infections and can’t communicate with other rabbits normally, leading to behavioural problems.

“We would like to see an end to selection for “cute” faces and lop ears, and to preferentially breed rabbits with a more “wild type” face shape, which is associated with far fewer genetically induced diseases.”

RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Richards said, “Dogs who have been bred to have short, flat faces often have narrow nostrils and abnormally-developed windpipes. They can suffer severe breathing problems and many have difficulty enjoying a walk or playing. The RSPCA believes there is still much to be done to protect the future health of dogs and that all those who breed dogs should prioritise health, welfare and temperament over appearance when choosing which animals to breed. For help when choosing a dog, please use the RSPCA/AWF Puppy Contract, and if you’re worried about the health of a particular puppy, contact a vet for advice.

“We are very concerned that these issues are now being seen in other species and would urge everyone concerned, from breeders to buyers, to do what they can to reduce the demand for such extremes.”

Emma Milne, vet and long-time brachy campaigner, is a patron of the RWAF and an ambassador for iCatCare. She said, “It’s been over 100 years since the first veterinary paper on the problems of brachycephaly in dogs. We MUST learn from what we have done to these animals and stop it in other species right now. These charities are world leaders in welfare science and the fact they have united to highlight this issue speaks volumes. I hope people listen.”

Meet our Intern placement

Vikki will be working with the RWAF for three months

We are very excited to have Vikki Neville with us for three months starting in April as an intern. Vikki is a PhD student at Bristol University studying Clinical Veterinary Science, specifically focusing on animal emotions. Her work is well respected and ground breaking and we are honoured that she has chosen to spend her placement with us. Vikki has two rabbits of her own and is dedicated to improving welfare. Vikki has a lot of ideas for her time with us; one of them will involve contacting rescue centres and getting some information on relinquishment. If you do hear from Vikki we would be really grateful if you could help her.

Vikki says “I’m really excited to undertake an internship with the RWAF. I’m really passionate about rabbit welfare and hope that my work over the next three months will contribute to the RWAF’s great work in improving the lives of companion rabbits in the UK.”

Yay Richard!

Richard has made a huge contribution to improving domestic rabbit health and welfare

We wanted to take a moment to sing the praises of our resident Vet Specialist Adviser, Richard Saunders.

As many of you will know, Richard has made a huge contribution to improving domestic rabbit health and welfare in too many ways even to count.

One of Richard’s most notable achievements – so notable that it’s been recognised with nominations for both a CEVA and a Pet Plan award – is his trailblazing work to bring the RVHD2 vaccine to the UK. Richard hopped through hoops to make this happen and as a result around 70,000 rabbits have been protected against this fatal disease in the UK already. This is all thanks to Richard’s tireless efforts.

We are a small organisation and Richard’s contribution as a vastly knowledgeable and passionate vet is vital. On a day to day basis he supports vets and members with queries on difficult cases, deals with

press enquiries and checks applications for our Rabbit Friendly Vet List. He also writes and reviews articles for Rabbiting On

Richard sits on several working groups looking into long term welfare issues and his input helps shape the strategy of the RWAF. Richard is basically magnificent. We are so grateful for all his efforts and wanted to share that with all our lovely supporters.

THANK YOU RICHARD!

Peppa the BBC rabbit

BBC Trust Me I’m A Vet final setup

Meet Peppa. He is a four-year-old male rabbit who was rescued by a lovely family in Bristol. You may have seen our appeal for a single rabbit via social media, and Peppa’s family answered our call! This was for a BBC programme featuring rabbits, dogs and cats, which will be aired this Summer. Peppa’s family had recently adopted him and knew that they wanted to improve his life but of course for new rabbit owners this can be a bit daunting. RWAF had the great pleasure of working with Dr
Nicola Rooney from Bristol School of Veterinary Science on this project. We started off by health checking and neutering Peppa, and letting him settle down. In the mean time we started to look for a suitable partner for him, and inevitably we ended up meeting the lovely Alice at Windwhistle Warren, who was able to pick the perfect match in the form of a young black lop, Betsy. On the day that Peppa went off to Alice to be paired up, the exciting job of transforming the housing in to something more suitable commenced. We really wanted to do a good job of this because it was such a great opportunity to get the messages and ideas out to other rabbit owners, so the cost of all of this was met by the RWF. Here are a few photos of the transformation – and you can read more about it on our website.

Planning application update

We mentioned this in the last issue, and you may have already heard, but we are delighted that the planning application for a rabbit breeding farm in Crowland,
Lincolnshire has been refused.

This was an issue that stirred the welfare community, with rescues, organisations and individuals voicing their disapproval.

The RWAF quickly invested in the advice of Savill’s planning consultants and on 17th January we raised a formal objection to South Holland District Council, challenging
specific parts of the application. We understood that we had to raise a watertight case because the application was a second attempt, with the developers having overcome the grounds on which the first was declined. We are always aware that even with moral protests being raised, cases like this often go against us because welfare arguments are not valid planning objections. Instead, we used some of our funds to employ a specialist, so that we targeted our objections on the particulars of the application. Having read the refusal letter it looks like our objection hit the spot and it’s fantastic that our voice has been heard.

This has cost us around £700 but we think it was money well spent, and it was the only way to do the objection justice.

There is already a rabbit welfare crisis in the UK and we do not need any more commercial breeders. Everyone can do their bit to help. Please remember, always adopt, don’t shop.

RVHD2 & Filavac with FAQs

RVHD 2 – FAQ – updated January 2017

Please also see this update (August 2017)

We are pleased to note that it is now possible to order Filavac VHD K C + V from 3 UK wholesalers, NVS, Centaur and Henry Schein Animal Health Although there have been some teething problems with establishing the supply chain and there are currently some shortages, everything is now in place and the high demand from rabbit owners ought to be able to be met in the next few weeks. There was a lot of media activity following an interview that I did with The Telegraph in July 2016, and lots of vets are reporting an increase in demand for this new vaccine.

We are being asked by rabbit owners many times every day which vets stock the vaccine as their own doesn’t. Obviously we don’t know the answer to this, but it indicates that some practices may be losing rabbit owning clients if they don’t, so if you are one of those practices we urge you to consider stocking it. If you have confirmed RVHD2 cases, or cases that are suspected of being RVHD in rabbits up to date with their Nobivac vaccination, as well as informing MSD, we’d be grateful if you would let us know please, and ask the owner to contact one or both of the two Facebook groups tracking the spread of reported cases of RVHD. These are https://www.facebook.com/groups/MyxomatosismapfortheUK/ which is using a map to show where reported cases have occurred and a newer group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1744958082388756/ – you can also post there if you have the vaccine in stock to let owners know.

Because we have received a large volume of questions from vets about both the vaccine and the illness below is information from a document compiled by our Specialist Veterinary Adviser Mr Richard Saunders BSc (Hons), BVSc, MSB, CBiol, DZooMed (Mammalian), MRCVS, RCVS Specialist in Zoo and Wildlife Medicine . Questions from clients may be covered in this webinar given by Mr Saunders http://therabbitvet.com/webinar/vhdrhd-2-update-rabbit-haemorrhagic-disease

You are invited also to join our Facebook group for vets and VNs This is a closed group and you will be asked for your registration number with RCVS in order to gain membership.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/115492551808078/

Our next RWAF Veterinary Conference will be at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh. We will send further details in future emails. We also intend to begin a programme of roadshows where we will send experts to various parts of the country to work hands-on with vets and VNs on identified topics. We have been asked already about airways management and dental treatment of rabbits and also about CT scanning. These sessions will be with small groups of approximately10 professionals so that they can be given proper attention and will they will receive CPD certification. We may invite a group of practices to send vets or VNs, or we may work with a single practice, depending on demand. We will be able to give fuller details soon.

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 currently available with a UK License is 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 remain the most significant health threats which can 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.

However, there are now 4 vaccines available in the EU which have been licensed or are undergoing licensing for efficacy against RVHD2.

Three of these vaccines (Filavac VHD K C+V, Cunivak RHD and Cunipravac RHD-2 Variant) now have 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.

In particular, Filavac VHD K C+V is available through a UK wholesaler, precluding the need to order it directly from France, but note that the veterinary practice ordering it still needs to obtain an SIC from the VMD. At present, stocks are available through three wholesalers, NVS, Henry Schein, and Centaur, but availability is very variable, and practices are advised to contact wholesalers directly for information on stock availability. There is no reason why other wholesalers cannot stock this product, and practices tied to a specific wholesaler may want to consider encouraging them to stock it.

The Cunivak RHD is no longer available, and we do not anticipate re-ordering this product.

The Cunipravac may be obtained by ordering directly from the manufacturers. However, it is only available in relatively large vial sizes, making it impractical for practice use.

I would still be interested in any other practitioners findings regarding this situation, in particular whether they have seen dead or dying rabbits with suspected RVHD1 and/or 2, especially if they have gross PM, histopathology and, especially differential testing as performed by the Moredun Institute, Edinburgh.

This webinar may be of interest:
http://therabbitvet.com/webinar/vhd-rhd-2-update-rabbit-haemorrhagic-disease

Richard Saunders
Veterinary Adviser, Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, Enigma House, Culmhead Business Centre, Taunton, Somerset TA3 7DY

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

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. The wholesalers will be
overwhelmed with requests for information otherwise, and it cannot be obtained directly from them in any case. Your vets will need their own licence, which, now all the info is on the VMD site and is approved, should be straightforward to do. However, this is not as simple as writing a prescription, and your vet may not see enough rabbits for this to be a practical option for them.

What dose regime is suggested?

Please remember that the use of these products is both off licence (although under the Cascade), and subject to the VMD’s directions on importation of immunological products. As a result, although the manufacturers of the Filavac product suggest that vaccination can be at the same time as the Nobivac RHD-Myxo, as long as it is not in the same site or the same syringe, standard advice with immunological products not licensed for simultaneous administration is to space them out by at least 2 weeks.

The duration of immunity 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.

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.

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 Cunipravac RHD2 Variant carry a known risk of significant skin and subcutaneous tissue damage, and great care must be taken to ensure no vaccine enters the intradermal route, to minimise this risk.

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.

Where can I send samples to get RVHD2 confirmed?

The following labs currently offer testing for RHD1 and 2. The OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) guidelines suggest that liver is the best sample by far, but that spleen and blood are also good tissues to sample, as the virus becomes widespread throughout the body via the blood. The use of swabs to obtain samples from the tissues is possible, but to avoid false results, plain swabs (ie NOT in bacteriology medium such as agar gel or charcoal based material), with metal or plastic handles, not wood, should be used.

The use of faeces or urine samples or conjunctival swabs is less well evaluated, and we would not currently recommend testing via these methods when a test that is validated in the live animal (blood) is available

http://www.moredun.org.uk/…/rabbit-haemorrhagic-disease-vir…

http://www.battlab.com/PCRTests.pdf

http://www.palsvetlab.co.uk

Batt Laboratories, University of Warwick Science Park, The Venture Centre
Sir William Lyons Road, Coventry, CV4 7EZ
Tel: 0247 6323275 Fax: 0871 7505323

Testing on tissue samples for Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease. The PCR has a price of £45 and includes differentiation between RHDV1 and RHDV2. For live animals we recommend conjunctival swabs, urine and/or faeces. Blood is also possible, but mainly in case of suspect viraemia. For dead animals liver sample can also be submitted (without formalin). Turnaround time is 2-4 working days.

We offer RHDV test (conventional PCR) followed by sequencing for RHDV1/RHDV2 discrimination.

We run the test whenever is required, we don’t have specified turnaround time, however there is the option to run it with urgency if you (or another clinician) suspects an outbreak. In this case the best option is to e-mail or phone me directly, so I can confirm the likely test date.

Moredun Research Institute
Pentlands Science Park
Bush Loan, Penicuik
EH26 0PZ, Scotland UK
Ph: +44-131-4456128 Fax: +44-131-4456111

In case of an outbreak they should be able to confirm presence/absence of RHDV within 3-4 days, however they might require an additional week to confirm the type

They are happy to accept samples from private vets as well as from APHA (or SAC in Scotland. Accepted samples are liver (validated) spleen and blood (appropriate organs according to OIE, however we have not validated it for these). Fresh tissues should be sent in virus transport media if possible. Frozen samples also accepted. There is written confirmation from the HSE that we are not required to have a SAPO licence if we handle these samples for diagnostic purposes, however I would recommend to send them as biological substance category B at minimum.

The PCR costs £ 39.60/sample plus VAT (price will change on the 1st of April to £40.39+VAT). They can invoice the practices directly if we are given all the relevant information with the submission form. The most important information is a contact e-mail where I can send the test report (or a fax number if an e-mail is not available).

What about Epravac?

“The recent licensing of EPRAVAC RHD2 vaccine for use in the UK is important in that it further recognises the concerns of the regulatory authorities and drug companies that RHD2 is a serious health and welfare concern to UK rabbits. However, there are a few caveats here, related to its origin as a vaccine for meat rabbits. The vaccine duration of action has not been determined, as meat rabbits are typically slaughtered very early in life. In fact, the product characteristics state: “Vaccinate only fattening rabbits. No information is available on the safety and efficacy in other categories such as breeding or pet rabbits.”

In addition, the vaccine is oil adjuvanted, necessitating the following user warning:

*Eravac is an emulsion containing mineral oil. Accidental injection may cause severe pain and selling, particularly if injected into a joint or finger – this could result in the loss of the finger if prompt medical attention is not given. If someone is accidentally injected with this product, they must seek medical attention immediately even if only a very small amount is injected. The package leaflet should be shown to the doctor. If pain persists for more than 12 hours after medical examination, the doctor should be contacted again.*

For these reasons, we feel that other vaccines, such as Filavac, covering RHD2 are preferable for the pet and rabbit population in the UK. As ever, rabbit owners are urged to discuss the specifics of their rabbit’s care with their own vets, and those vets are welcome to contact RWAF for further discussion should they wish to.”

Charities unite to highlight brachy health issues

Charities unite to highlight brachy health issues in cats and rabbits; it’s not just dogs we need to worry about. In recent months the issue of health problems in short-faced or brachycephalic dogs has been highlighted to the public, in the media and following high profile events like this year’s Crufts. This week however, three major animal welfare charities have united to send the message that this problem is not limited to dogs alone. International Cat Care (iCatCare), the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) and the RSPCA have come together to raise awareness that breeding cats and rabbits with exaggerated flat faces can cause health and welfare problems, as in dogs. Short-faced cats like Persians can have all the same issues as dogs – breathing and dental problems, skin fold infections and problems giving birth to name a few.

Claire Bessant, chief executive of iCatCare, said,

“It is very depressing to see the life which has been deliberately dealt to some breeds of cats because of a human desire to develop a certain look. I urge cat lovers to speak out and help others to understand that this is not something we should be doing to cats, and not something we should be tolerating. One of the best and most beautifully naturally designed animals – the cat – would not normally have any of these problems; we have created them through selective breeding. We should not be encouraging people to breed these cats by calling them ‘cute’, by being amused at their facial characteristics, or by the fact that they snore – rather we need to understand that this is human intervention that is wholly detrimental to the welfare of the cats and is simply cruel. International Cat Care takes an ethical view of all cat breeds and our website (http://icatcare.org/advice/cat-breeds) outlines the problems that exist for some breeds, including very flat-faced cats in the Persians and Exotic breeds.Our stance is that we should never deliberately breed cats for any feature or characteristic that impairs their welfare.”

Sadly, rabbits have also fallen foul of the human desire for shorter, ‘cuter’ faces. Richard Saunders, head vet at RWAF, said,

“Breeds like the Netherland dwarf and the popular Lionhead breed have become more and more brachycephalic. In rabbits this is disastrous. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously throughout their whole lives and must line up exactly to wear down evenly. The short face means the bottom jaw is longer than the top one, just the same as in bulldogs and pugs and the teeth do not line up. Teeth soon overgrow causing chronic pain, lacerated mouths, abscesses and in many cases death. The tear duct is also distorted (as it is in brachycephalic cats) and the rabbits often have tears and even pus overflowing onto their faces. Hand in hand with the short faces come the lop ears, rather than the wild, natural upright ears. These rabbits have a high level of middle ear infections and can’t communicate with other rabbits normally, leading to behavioural problems. We would like to see an end to selection for “cute” faces and lop ears, and to preferentially breed rabbits with a more “wild type” face shape, which is associated with far fewer genetically induced diseases.”

RSPCA dog welfare expert Lisa Richards said:

“Dogs who have been bred to have short, flat faces often have narrow nostrils and abnormally-developed windpipes. They can suffer severe breathing problems and many have difficulty enjoying a walk or playing. The RSPCA believes there is still much to be done to protect the future health of dogs and that all those who breed dogs should prioritise health, welfare and temperament over appearance when choosing which animals to breed. For help when choosing a dog, please use the RSPCA/AWF Puppy Contract and if you’re worried about the health of a particular puppy, contact a vet for advice. We are very concerned that these issues are now being seen in other species and would urge everyone concerned, from breeders to buyers, to do what they can to reduce the demand for such extremes.”

Emma Milne, vet and long-time brachy campaigner, is a patron of RWAF and an ambassador for iCatCare. She said,

“It’s been over 100 years since the first veterinary paper on the problems of brachycephaly in dogs. We MUST learn from what we have done to these animals and stop it in other species right now. These charities are world leaders in welfare science and the fact they have united to highlight this issue speaks volumes. I hope people listen.”

Photographs of short-faced breeds superimposed onto ‘normal animals’ are shocking across every species;