Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) – Important Information and Frequently Asked Questions

Written by Oxbow

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April 17, 2020🞄

New RHDV2 Info & Updates: 7/2/20

New RHDV2 Info & Updates: 6/2/2020

New RHDV2 Info & Updates: 4/30/20

Please watch the below video for new information and updates from Dr. Kohles:

We have received a number of questions regarding the recently confirmed cases of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.  We would like to assure all pet parents that Dr. Kohles, our veterinarian on staff, is working with the entire veterinary community to remain in close contact with those on the front lines to better understand this dangerous disease and its potential impact on both domestic and wild populations of rabbits in North America.  As we continue to learn more, we would like to provide some additional information and address some frequently asked questions as they relate to RHDV2 and its potential impact on domestic and wild populations of rabbits in North America.

How is RHDV2 different from RHDV1?

RHDV1 has been around since the 1980s and was identified in the US in 2000. RHDV2 first emerged in France in 2010 and was first confirmed in North America in the Vancouver area In 2018. The most important difference between the two viruses is that, unlike RHDV1, RHDV2 has been confirmed to affect both domesticated rabbits AND our wild populations of North American rabbits (e.g. cottontails and jackrabbits).

How is RHDV2 spread?

RHDV2 can be spread through direct contact or exposure to an infected rabbit’s excretions or blood. The virus can also survive and spread from contact with carcasses, food, water, and any contaminated materials. People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes.  Learn more about the spread of RHDV2 from the USDA here.

Where have cases of RHDV2 been confirmed in North America?

  • Delta and Vancouver Island, Canada – February 2018
  • Ohio – September 2018
  • Orcas Island, Washington – 2019
  • Pennsylvania – 2019
  • New York City, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas – 2020

Is there a vaccine for RHDV2 and is it available in the U.S.?

There is a vaccine for RHDV2 currently being used in Europe where the disease has been a more endemic outbreak for a longer period of time.  To date, no vaccine is currently available in the U.S.  Veterinarians are working with the USDA to evaluate the process of potentially bringing the vaccination into the United States.  With that being said, it is important to note that the risk in most areas of the United States remains extremely low.  If/when the vaccine becomes available in the future, we would suggest consulting with your veterinarian to discuss if the use of such a vaccine is the right decision for your pet(s).

What should I do to keep my rabbit(s) safe?

It’s important to note that risk to domestic populations of rabbits in most parts of the United States remains extremely low.  With that said, there are measures all rabbit owners can and should take to keep their animals healthy from RHDV2.  These measures include:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after interacting with your rabbits.
  • Do not introduce new rabbits from unknown or untrusted sources.
  • If you bring new rabbits into your home, keep them separated from your existing rabbits.
  • Practice good cleaning and sanitation measures in an around your rabbit’s habitat.
  • Don’t share equipment, toys, or materials with other owners.
  • If you have outside time with your rabbit, make sure it’s during the day and supervised.
  • Eliminate possible contact with wild rabbits such as cottontails or jackrabbits through monitoring and the use of protective fencing, xpens, etc.
  • Avoid social gatherings such as “hoppy hours” that involve your animals coming into contact with other rabbits.
  • Pay close attention to you rabbit and contact your veterinarian right away if you notice any potential symptoms.
  • Do not touch any dead wild rabbits you may encounter in your local area.  If you see multiple dead wild rabbits, report it to your state wildlife officials.

How long can RHDV2 survive in the environment?

At present, the data in the research relevant to this remains mixed. Current estimates from the USDA indicate that RHDV2 could theoretically remain viable on a carrier for up to 3 months under ideal environmental conditions.

Should I be worried about my rabbits contracting RHDV2 from the hay I purchase?

The risk of your rabbits contracting RHDV2 from the hay you purchase from a trusted manufacturer are very low.  Unlike other potential sources, a trusted manufacturer will be much more likely to have the appropriate quality and safety measures in place to ensure the best practices to keep any transmission risk as low as possible.  While RHD can be transmitted via fomite (non-living objects), this transmission would require the presence of an infected animal in a hay field, as well as specific environmental conditions which supported the stability of the virus.

What is Oxbow doing to ensure your products are safe?

From a product perspective, please know that all Oxbow hay currently in the marketplace is from the 2019 growing season.  As we mentioned, current estimates from the USDA indicate that RHDV2 could theoretically remain viable on a carrier for up to 3 months under ideal environmental conditions.  Looking at the timing of the recently confirmed cases, we can assure you that no Oxbow hay in the marketplace is currently at risk for carrying RHDV2.

The veterinary and public health communities are working diligently to expand our understanding about RHDV2.  In the meantime, it is our responsibility to use the best and most complete information available to make recommendations when it comes to helping pet parents protect their pets.  Based on the available information, please know that the transmission of RHDV2 from a packaged product such as hay or food remains exceedingly unlikely, even with rabbits from native populations testing positive.  While RHDV2 can be transmitted via fomite (i.e. non-living objects), this transmission would require a number of specific and unlikely circumstances for the virus to be present and remain stable.

Even with the extremely low risk, we will continue to practice extreme caution when it comes to product safety regarding RHDV2.   As we look to the future, we are currently evaluating additional safeguards to ensure that all of the hay we source in the coming months has been processed in a manner that minimizes the chance of Oxbow hay carrying RHDV2 to the greatest degree possible.