Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Outbreak
By Theresa Murillo, DVM
All Pets Animal Hospital
According to the Fish and Wildlife Services of Arizona and other neighboring states, an outbreak of Rabbit Hemorrhagic disease is currently taking place. The states experiencing this outbreak include Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Texas, with additional reports on the East coast, in the Pacific Northwest and in Mexico. This is the most recent outbreak since 2010. Due to the presence of positive cases surrounding California, we at All Pets Animal Hospital, wanted to get the latest information out to owners with rabbits who may be at risk.
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease is a viral contagious infection that can infect domestic rabbits, as well as wild rabbits. The disease is considered a foreign animal disease and of high significance due to its rapid spread through animal populations, though it is not a risk to people or other domestic animals. The virus is dangerous and can attack the liver and spleen, causing serious infection in domestic rabbits. Those that are affected more severely may not show any signs prior to acute death. Other less serious signs include reduced appetite, lethargy and fever. You may also see bloody nasal discharge or listlessness. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this disease, but you should contact your veterinarian for supportive care treatments. While there is a vaccine for prevention of this disease, it is not available in the United States at this time.
So, the best thing we can do right now is prevention! Just like everything else in our lives currently, practice social distancing for your rabbits, too! To protect your rabbits from disease, it is recommended to limit exposure between wildlife and your pet. According to the Arizona Game and Fish Services “Rabbit owners should practice good biosecurity measures to protect their animals from this disease, such as washing your hands before and after working with rabbits and not sharing equipment with other owners. Rabbit owners should also avoid contact with wild or feral rabbits.” Consider housing your rabbit indoors only and ensuring your pets food and supplies are not contacted by wildlife, insects, birds or other rodents; so store your hay and food materials and wash/ disinfect anything that may have exposure. Because the virus is so hardy, proper disinfectants include 10% bleach products- use for appropriate contact times, but be sure to rinse and properly dry out to reduce noxious airway irritants of cleaning products for your rabbits.
Shedding and transmission of this disease is significant and sets this disease apart from other infectious diseases in wildlife. The government is working diligently during this time to control the outbreak in our neighboring states, so hopefully California will not see any positive cases. However, due to the significant medical risk, it is important to be educated and aware of the risks. Be sure to call us at All Pets Animal Hospital if you are concerned about Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease. If you notice deceased wild rabbits in your neighborhood, you can also contact your veterinarian to report and test for this disease to our state agencies. For additional information, contact us here. You can also directly reach out to APHIS at their Wildlife Services website here.