A rabbit listens between nibbles in the Grady Kettle Hole Forest at the UW–Madison Arboretum

UW Veterinary Care introduces the Rabbit Vaccine against highly contagious and fatal diseases

Rabbit listening among nibbles in the Grady Kettle-Hall Forest at the UW-Madison Arboretum. Photo: Brice Richter

Researchers and clinicians are sounding the alarm as the deadly rabbit bleeding disease, RHDV2, is spreading across the United States. disease of rabbits.

The clinic is one of about a dozen animal hospitals in the state that offer the vaccine and is part of a growing nationwide effort to encourage rabbit owners to ask for vaccinations. UW . veterinary care The RHDV2 vaccine is offered Friday every three weeks by the Species Health Service. We welcome rabbit patients in Wisconsin; Owners do not need to be previous customers with UW Veterinary Care to make an appointment.

RHDV2 is a highly contagious foreign animal disease that likely originated in Europe. It infects both domestic and wild rabbits but does not spread to other species or humans.

The first strain of rabbit hemorrhagic disease was discovered around 2010. Since then, it has moved to North America and mutated into the form of the virus that now wreaks havoc in American wild rabbit populations, particularly in the West. The USDA expedited distribution of the vaccine, granting emergency permission in September 2021 to address the problem and limit the spread of disease to commercially-reared and domesticated rabbits.

Among the most popular pets in America, rabbits are ranked third after dogs and cats, with an estimated three million rabbits as pets in American homes.

Kurt Sladky, a veterinarian and clinical professor of animal medicine and special species health at the University of Washington College of Veterinary Medicine, believes the virus is likely in Wisconsin even though there have been no cases detected.

“Some wild rabbits, if they are found dead and suspected to have disease, are sent to well-equipped labs for diagnosis, such as the National Wildlife Health Center here in Madison,” says Sladky. “But there is no easy way to find and keep track of how many died in the wild.”

Sladky describes the disease as devastating. Once rabbits are infected with the virus, they will usually bleed to death. With the strains of the virus currently circulating, veterinarians and public health officials expect the mortality rate to be very high – killing 70 to 100 percent of infected rabbits.

The virus spreads easily through contact with body secretions such as saliva, urine, and blood. It can live for up to a month on surfaces such as clothing or grass blades, which increases its transmissibility.

“Your rabbit can become infected through urine, feces, and blood…even a fly can land on a carcass with the virus and pass it on to another rabbit if the fly’s feet come into contact with another rabbit’s nose,” says Sladky. “It’s very easy to transfer rabbits to rabbits.”

Sladky warns that pet rabbits are becoming vulnerable due to the numerous virus outbreaks and their staying power. The global spread of the disease is believed to have occurred through methods such as rabbit shows and meat production chains. For this reason, special-species physicians at UW Veterinary Care have required access to the vaccine as quickly as possible for their patients. In 2021, the hospital saw nearly 800 visits to rabbit patients.

The US Department of Agriculture and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Commerce and Consumer Protection have teamed up to allow a two-dose series of shots produced by Medgene Labs, a South Dakota company. A vaccine similar to the one successfully developed in Europe. Studies show that the vaccine produced in the United States is very effective. It consists of an initial dose, a booster dose after three to four weeks and an annual booster.

In addition to vaccination, Sladky recommends other steps to protect pet rabbits. Although the weather gets hot and outdoor exercise may be ideal, pet rabbits should refrain from going outside – or at least until they are fully protected by the RHDV2 vaccine. In addition, rabbit owners should purchase hay, an essential component of a rabbit’s diet, from well-known, well-known sources. Ultimately, preventing access to other rabbits, especially hares, remains key.

“We are trying to make customers aware that an important contagious disease in rabbits is spreading from one country to another,” says Sladky. “You should think about the ways your pet rabbit could be exposed and the possible consequences.”

For more information about rabbit vaccination clinics, call UW Veterinary Care at 608-263-7600.

Alice Amanat

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