Everything You Need to Know About RHDV2 in Rabbits

Like most pets, there are certain species-specific diseases that you’ll need to know about when bringing a new pet into your life, and Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) in rabbits is a big one.  

But before you put on your worrywart pants, just know that RHDV2 is preventable.  

We know…the name “RHDV2” just sounds scary, but educating yourself on what it is, and how to prevent it, can save your bunny’s life and stop the spread of this deadly virus.   

So…lucky for you, we’re here to give you the lowdown on this nasty rabbit-only virus. (And no, it’s not transmissible to humans or other pets…whew!) 

What is RHDV2 in Rabbits? 

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHDV2) is a deadly virus that can kill rabbits within 12 hours of contact. It’s also known as Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD) and VHD, but the most commonly used terminology is RHDV2. 

According to the USDA, “In February 2020, animal health officials detected rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus serotype 2 (RHDV2) for the third time in the United States, since 2018. Since that detection, RHDV2 has spread to multiple states across the Southwest.” 

Previously RHDV2 in rabbits, it was considered a foreign rabbit disease, but the spread has continued to grow.  

When a rabbit contracts the disease (more on how soon) the virus attacks its internal organs, and the bunny begins to hemorrhage and eventually bleed to death. Rabbits can live with RHDV2 anywhere from 12 hours up to two weeks from the onset.   

What Are the Symptoms of RHDV2 in Rabbits? 

At this point, you’re probably wondering what to look for if you’re monitoring your bunnies for RHDV2.  In most cases, infected rabbits will die quickly, and often the only observable symptom is bleeding from the nose. In fact, bleeding is a major symptom, hence the term hemorrhagicWith that being said, there are a few other things to keep an eye out for.

RHDV2 Symptoms  

  • Swelling  
  • Bloody eyes 
  • Fatigue 
  • Trouble breathing 
  • Skin yellowing 
  • Decrease in appetite 
  • Bleeding from the nose or even their bottoms 

Unfortunately, the onset of these symptoms can be extremely quick and symptoms can easily be missed. Instead, rabbits often perish before symptoms are accurately identified.  

How is RHDV2 Spread? 

Like most nasty viruses, the disease is spread through air droplets, direct contact with infected rabbits or their bodily fluids, contaminated objects, water, and food.  

In truth, the virus can easily be spread through contact of any and all bodily fluids between rabbits, including feces.  What’s worse, animals (other than rabbits) that have been in contact with the virus can act as a host and carry the virus to uninfected rabbits.  

For example, a bird that may have come in contact with infected rabbit feces can infect a healthy rabbit by transferring the virus to something as simple as a food dish or water tray. Even insects can transmit the virus from one rabbit to another (think: mosquitos).  

And, of course, we can transmit RHDV2 from rabbit to rabbit through contact with the virus (like on our shoes, for example). 

Lastly, rabbits can contract the virus through infected rabbit fur and meat. So, as you can see, it’s a nasty virus with many modes of transmission. 

How Soon Will Symptoms of RHDV2 Show up After Exposure? 

The incubation period for RHDV2 can be anywhere from 1 to 5 days from the time your bunny has been exposed to the virus. 

In other words, it only takes a few days (and in some cases a few hours) before an infected rabbit shows signs of RHDV2.    

Can Rabbits Survive RHDV2? 

Unfortunately, infected rabbits will perish about 70-90% of the time. It’s an aggressive virus that leaves very little room for recovery once contracted. And, again, infected bunnies will usually pass away within a few days after contracting the virus.  

How to Prevent RHDV2 in Rabbits from Spreading 

Since the virus is so deadly, the most important thing for any rabbit owner to do is to practice good biosecurity measures in order to prevent RHDV2. This means it’s extremely important to keep things clean, especially after coming in contact with rabbits that are not a part of your household (like rabbits at the fair, wild rabbits, and neighbor rabbits that may live nearby).  

Always wash up, and change clothes if you’re at all concerned about exposure risk.  

Other things you can do to prevent spreading RHDV2 include:  

  • Quarantine new buns before introducing them to your resident rabbit. 
  • Refrain from participating in fairs, shows, exhibits, etc.  
  • Buying rabbits from breeders you know and trust. 
  • Regularly clean and disinfect your rabbit’s hutch and surroundings.  
  • Supervise your rabbit outdoors (if you take your bun on walks or for garden grazing).  
  • Keep rabbit social events to a minimum or create tight-knit groups of rabbits that are known to be healthy for hoppy hours.  
  • Consult a vet the second you think something is off about your rabbit’s health (especially if they’re bleeding from the nose or other orifice).  
  • As tempting as it may be, don’t play with wild bunnies…we know, it’s hard to pass up a cute rabbit nest full of buns in the garden. But it’s best for everyone if you just leave them be.  
But…the most important thing you can do is get your rabbit vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available in your area.  

    Yes! There is a vaccine for RHDV2, but it’s not available everywhere…yet.  

    RHDV2 Vaccine

    As of the writing of this post, there are only a few states that have approved the vaccine. So keep yourself apprised of the development and acceptance of the vaccine in your state.  

    It’s also important to note that the disease is not very prominent in the US, so at this point, practicing preventative measures should help keep your rabbit healthy and stop the spread.  

    If you're in Washington state, the RHDV2 vaccine has been approved. You can read more about it here.

    How to Get Rid of the Virus  

    Because the virus is so hearty, it’s a bit challenging to eradicate because it’s actually resistant to extreme temps.  

    What’s worse, the virus can survive outside of a rabbit’s body, in the environment, for about 3 months. With that being said, research is still being conducted on the timeframe.  

    In the meantime, here’s what you can do to get rid of RHDV2: 

    • Sanitize everything that has come into contact with an infected rabbit with 10% bleach in water.  
    • Keep in touch with your favorite rabbit vet to stay ahead of the virus, and to have a go-to knowledge base for treatments and prevention.  
    • If feasible, simply destroy all current cages and equipment…otherwise, disinfect as best you can.  

    Can my Rabbits Contract RHDV2 from Hay? 

    Since RHDV2 is extremely contagious, you may be wondering if your rabbits can pick up the virus from outside sources, like hay.  

    While it’s possible to transmit the virus from a wild rabbit in a hayfield to a domestic rabbit in your home, if you know and trust your hay provider, you have a better understanding of where your buns get their feed and, of course, peace of mind.

    At Andy by Anderson Hay, we actively monitor current levels of RHDV2 across the country. To date, Washington State has had one reported case in King County, which is not where our farms or our packaging facility are located.

    Our Safety Precautions

    We take the care and health of your rabbit seriously, and we take extra precautions when it comes to the storing, handling and packaging of our hay.

    • Safe Storage: We make sure that all the hay that we use for Andy by Anderson Hay is secured while it's being stored so that local wildlife can't access the hay.
    • Biosecurity Measures: In our packaging facility we take biosecurity precautions to make sure that our employees don't track any outside pathogens in.
    • Quarantine: By the time our hay reaches your doorstep, it has been stored and packaged for at least three months, which is the quarantine timeframe recommended by experts.

    To see how transmission is in your area, view the USDA's interactive map.

    Amanda is an accomplished freelance agricultural writer who owns and operates a small farm in Wisconsin with her husband and spunky border collie. Amanda is laser-focused on raising healthy rabbits, goats, and pasture-raised poultry.