Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) is a fatal disease of domestic and wild rabbits, including hares, jackrabbits, and cottontails. RHD has not been shown to affect people or other mammals.
RHD is caused by a calicivirus, and there are several strains of RHD virus which cause disease:
- RHD Virus Serotype 1 (RHDV1) is highly contagious and affects domestic rabbits.
- RHD Virus Serotype 2 (RHDV2) is highly contagious and affects both domestic and wild rabbits.
There is no known cure or treatment for this disease. Outbreaks of RHDV2 have been reported in domestic and wild rabbits in the U.S., including an isolated case in domestic rabbits in Pennsylvania, confirmed at the National Veterinary Service Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Two rabbits were sampled and reported positive, one on August 9, 2022, and one on August 10, 2022, from the same Fayette County premises.
The virus causing RHD can be transmitted by direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly through carcasses, food, water, insects, and any contaminated materials. It is very resistant to extreme temperatures.
Infected rabbits often show few clinical signs and die within six to 24 hours after the onset of fever. They may have blood visible around the nose and other orifices due to internal hemorrhaging.
According to the USDA, the morbidity rate is 30% to 100%, and mortality rate is 40% to 100%.
Preventing the Spread
To prevent the spread of RHD, pet owners and others should take the following precautions:
- Do not touch any dead wild rabbits you may see.
- If you see more than one dead wild rabbit, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission at 717-787-4250, or call the regional commission office serving your area.
- Do not release domestic rabbits into the wild. If your rabbits appear ill or die suddenly, contact your veterinarian.
- Animal shelter or wildlife rescue volunteers should contact their facility's veterinarian if rabbits die or appear ill.
- Anyone working with rabbits should practice good biosecurity. This includes washing hands before and after working with rabbits and not sharing equipment with other owners.
What to Do if You Suspect RHD
Rabbit owners who have questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians.
Veterinarians who suspect RHD cases should immediately contact the department's Bureau of Animal Health at 717-772-2852, option 1. Veterinarians can call this line 24/7.
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Notices in the Pennsylvania Bulletin:
EPA Disinfectants for Use Against Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus
UPenn Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease: Assessing the Threat (PDF)