VHD is widespread in the wild rabbit population but is easily preventable by vaccination for domestic rabbits...
VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) is also known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) or Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD) and is a highly contagious pathogen that is usually fatal. It was first seen in the 1980s in China and has been widespread in the wild rabbit population in Britain since 1992. It is less common in the USA with only four outbreaks reported since 2000.
The virus is spread in many ways:-
- direct contact with infected rabbits
- contact with infected urine, faeces and secretions
- contact with a carrier (flies, mosquitos, fleas and predators such as foxes, birds and ferrets)
- contact with clothing, shoes, cage, bedding, water and food bowls i.e. anything that an infected rabbit has been in contact with
The virus causes blood clots to form in the rabbit's organs such as lungs, heart and kidneys. Rabbits exhibit symptoms between 1 and 3 days after infection with death following between 1 and 2 days. Rabbits under 8 weeks old rarely die of the disease, either because they have acquired an immunity from their mother or because their immune systems are not developed sufficiently to produce the blood clots which kill.
As this disease kills so quickly, some rabbits exhibit no symptoms before death but symptoms include:
- high temperature
- bleeding from nose and bottom
- difficulty breathing
Some rabbits may scream or cry shortly before dying.
Prevention / Treatment
There are two vaccines available in the UK, Cylap and Lapinject. Both contain inactivated strains of VHD.
Rabbits can be vaccinated from 6 weeks old and need a booster every year.
There are no known treatments for VHD at present.