By Natalie Shearer, Animal Friends Volunteer
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD) is a highly contagious, resistant and deadly disease that every rabbit owner needs to be aware of – it can infect both wild and domestic rabbits. While it is not contagious to humans or other domestic animals, it can be inadvertently spread by people, dogs and cats.
An infected rabbit can shed the disease through urine, feces and secretions from their mouth, nose or eyes. Both living and deceased rabbits are contagious and anything that contacts an infected rabbit, such as a dog, an insect or a person, can transmit the disease. It is considered a “sticky” virus, meaning it can remain on surfaces such as shoes, clothing, animals or other items for several months. It can also withstand both freezing and elevated temperatures. The virus can cause death within three to five days, sometimes without the rabbit showing symptoms. It is 90% fatal, but rabbits who do survive can still shed the virus for 45 days.
Symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Bleeding from the nose, mouth or genital area
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy
- Body temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden death
There have not been any reported outbreaks of RHDV2, which is the second variant of the virus, in Pennsylvania. However, it is only a matter of time before RHDV2 finds its way to our region. Animal Friends has been proactive by quarantining any incoming rabbits that have been found as strays or housed outside for 14 days prior to introducing them to the rest of our rabbit residents. All rabbits are also given flea prevention upon admittance.
If you have dogs or cats, talk to your veterinarian about flea prevention and be proactive by having your rabbit vaccinated for RHD. There are several rabbit-savvy vets in the area that offer the vaccine. If your vet does not offer the vaccine, talk to them to see if they would be willing to offer it. Otherwise, contact one of the vets in the area that do offer the vaccine.
The most important things when owning a rabbit is to have a vet who has experience with rabbits and to know your rabbit. If your rabbit has any abnormal behavior, take them to the vet as soon as possible. Rabbits can live 10 to 14 years and it is up to you to make sure they have a long, healthy and happy life.
Veterinarians that currently offer the vaccine:
Dr. Jennilee Morrison | 412.343.4200
Bethel Park Animal Clinic
Dr. Marina Siegert, Dr. Lara Backus, Dr. Heather Goldstein, Dr. Jacqueline Saint-Onge | 412.595.7843
North Boros Veterinary Clinic
Dr. Robert Wagner | 412.897.2426
Pittsburgh Spay and Vaccination Clinic
Dr. Thomas Wiles| 412.798.8770
West Liberty Animal Hospital
Dr. David P. Dorn | 412.341.3383