Dr. Cynthia Matro
Many of the articles I write deal with pet dogs and cats, but I am also interested in many other types of companion animals, including pet rabbits.
Pet rabbits need checkups and monitoring of the health of their teeth, skin, coat, nutrition, and nail care. In August, a relatively new disease in rabbits was identified at a local rabbit facility in Fayette County. Recent developments and the development of this infectious disease, known as RHDV-2, have caused concern for owners of lagomorphs (rabbits).
Pet rabbit owners have been told for years that there is no need for vaccines for their fluffy mates, but this has recently changed with the development of a vaccine for a disease called RHVD2, or rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus type 2.
RHVD2 is caused by a virus in the family of viruses known as the pathogenic calcivirus. This new strain of RHVD was first found in 2010 in France. In 2018, the virus was found in rabbits in Ohio. Another case was detected in 2018 in Washington state. As of 2020, the virus, which is often fatal before any signs appear, has spread throughout the southwestern United States and Mexico.
The highly contagious virus (among rabbits) affects the liver, causing liver cells called hepatocytes to die rapidly. This can lead to a condition called DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation), which causes the body to use clotting factors that leads to massive internal bleeding. Hepatic encephalopathy (brain effects from a buildup of toxins in the blood) can also occur. Another effect is nephritis, which means the kidneys can also be affected by RHVD2.
Signs of the virus are usually not noticed, as rabbits die quickly from the condition. Once rabbits are infected, there is no known cure. Controlling the virus is challenging because people can unknowingly carry the virus on their shoes and clothing if they have walked in an area with blood, secretions, carcasses, food, or water from an infected rabbit, even long after the rabbit has been infected. Die. Owners who walk in areas where infected wild rabbits have been, can carry an active virus on their shoes; If a wild rabbit dies as a result of the virus, the area in which it died and decomposed could have viral organisms that remain infectious through conditions of heat and freezing for up to 3-4 months.
Products like Clorox household wipes do not kill or inactivate the virus. Disinfection requires a 10% solution of bleach (this is a really strong solution) and at least 10 minutes of contact time before rinsing. Disinfection also requires that the area be thoroughly cleaned of all organic matter and animal remains that have died from the virus.
Mortality rates range from 70-100%. This means that for every 10 infected rabbits, 7-10 of them die – that is, if they are not vaccinated. The vaccine appears to provide good immune protection. I have vaccinated pet rabbits this year and so far, I have not seen any reactions in the vaccinated rabbits and none of the vaccinated pets have contracted viruses.
In rabbits that do not die quickly, symptoms of RHDV2 are serious and include fever, lethargy, internal bleeding, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, blue-tinged gums, and organ failure. RT-qPCR and ELISA tests are commonly used to identify the virus in infected rabbits. Liver samples can also be used post-mortem or post-mortem for virus identification.
Vaccination of rabbits from 30 days ago helps prevent infection. Most owners do not buy or adopt their rabbits until they are 8 weeks old so it is important to see a vet, soon after adoption, who looks after their rabbits and carries the RHDV2 vaccine. If you have a pet rabbit, make sure that you do not introduce any new rabbits into your home, without the need for a long quarantine period. If a pet rabbit has died, ask your vet to evaluate your pet’s body for the cause of death, and be sure to follow your vet’s advice regarding disinfection and waiting periods before introducing new rabbits into your home.
Fortunately, humans do not become infected with this virus. While there is no danger to humans who own rabbits, both domestic and wild rabbits are at risk.
The conclusion is:
- If your pet shows any sign of illness, go to the vet who sees rabbits regularly.
- Vaccinate rabbits twice in the first year and then annually.
- When introducing new rabbits, the quarantine period should be of 30 days, in order to inoculate and nurture new rabbits before introducing new arrivals to your flock or colony.
Rabbit owners can find a lot of great information about caring for rabbits at: www.rabbit.org
Dr. Cynthia Marrow is a veterinarian at Elwood Animal Hospital in Elwood and Chippewa Animal Hospital in Chippewa. She writes a bi-monthly column on pet care and health issues. If you have a topic you’d like to address, email [email protected]
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