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 has now overtaken classic RVHD as the primary strain.
Vaccination is very effective. See our vaccinations page for details.
What RVHD does
RVHD1 is a swift and efficient killer – almost all unvaccinated rabbits who catch RVHD1 die within a day or two. The virus causes massive internal bleeding. Some rabbits bleed from the nose and back passage before death, while others die so quickly that there may be no outward sign of disease at all. Owners often think their rabbit has died of “fright”, a heart attack” or (in summer) “heatstroke”. Most cases are never diagnosed: RVHD is often only suspected when several rabbits die in quick succession, and a post-mortem examination is needed to diagnose the illness.
RVHD2 is often fatal, although some rabbits have recovered with veterinary care. What makes it more dangerous in some ways is that it has a longer period in which the rabbit is infectious, which results in the disease spreading more widely. The strain can also be less easily recognised because there is often no visible bleeding, so rabbits can simply be found dead or ill with no obvious cause.
Due to the lack of obvious symptoms, owners often do not realise their rabbit has an infectious disease and this results in:
The rabbit not being given treatment early enough.
Precautions not being taken to contain the infection.
How can pet rabbits catch RVHD?
Both strains of RVHD are spread by direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly via their urine or faeces. The viruses can survive for months in the environment and are terrifyingly easy to bring home to your pets. They survive cold very well.
Hay may have been in contact with infected wild rabbits as grass grows in the field.
Birds or insects may transport the virus on their feet (or in their droppings) to your rabbit grazing on the lawn.
The virus may be blown in the wind.
You might bring the virus home on your feet or your other pets’ feet (or car wheels) from infected wild rabbit droppings.
You could bring the virus home on your hands or clothes.
Both strains of RVHD have been recorded all over the UK. All pet rabbits should be vaccinated against both strains. There is no way of predicting where the next outbreak will strike and no practical way of shielding your pet rabbits from all the possible sources of infection. Vaccination is the only way to be safe.
How can I protect my rabbits against RVHD?
RVHD vaccines are very effective. Your rabbits can currently be protected against both strains of RVHD.
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 rescuing 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 an unknown rabbit has touched should be thoroughly cleaned and treated with virus-killing 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: