Written by:  

Dr. Michelle Hessell, Associate DVM, The WellPet Center Veterinary Hospital

Until 2021, there were no licensed vaccines for rabbits in the United States.  Unfortunately, in 2020 an outbreak of Rabbit Hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV2), which had been present in Europe and Australia for decades, started in New Mexico and spread rapidly across the US. This virus is very stable in the environment and can live up to 3 months in carcasses of deceased rabbits, fabric, and other organic material. The virus is shed in feces and bodily fluids of affected rabbits. It can be spread from shoes or other objects that have come in contact with contaminated feces and fluids, and through biting insects like mosquitoes, flies, and fleas. Infected rabbits can develop fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, breathing difficulties, and bleeding from body cavities. Often the only symptom is sudden death. It is estimated that 75% of unvaccinated domestic rabbits that contract this disease will die from it.

Due to the severity and ease of spread between domestic and wild rabbits, the USDA has authorized emergency production of a vaccine for RHDV2. This vaccine can be started as early as 4 weeks of age. It requires two doses 3 weeks apart and then repeated annually. A rabbit is fully protected 2 weeks post the second injection. It is a very effective vaccine with few side effects. Since treatment options basically consist of supportive care, prevention is truly the best option. 

If you have any questions about this disease or starting the vaccine series please don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Michelle Hessell at The WellPet Center Veterinary Hospital in Katy, Texas.