6 Aug 2016

New Rabbit Disease and Vaccine

Viral haemorrhagic disease – Two strains (RHD1 and RHD

This disease was first noticed in China many years ago but now has an almost world-wide distribution and is seen more and more in the UK. Viral haemorrhagic disease is caused by a virus and, although the incubation period is up to three days, animals may die suddenly without any clinical signs. If there are signs they include anorexia (not eating), fever, apathy and exhaustion. There may be convulsions and coma, difficulty breathing, a mucoid foaming at the mouth or a bloody nasal discharge. Some animals survive this acute phase but die a few weeks later of liver disease and jaundice.

Given the horrendous death experienced by affected rabbits, every rabbit should be vaccinated annually.

In the UK several vaccines are available that contain inactivated haemorrhagic disease virus (VHD). Rabbits should be vaccinated at 2½-3 months of age. Annual boosters are recommended.


Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is one of the worst viruses out there.  It has evolved to survive outside of a host for over 200 days and can live on pretty much any surface at all, this includes shoes, clothes, hay, the feet of wild rodents and birds, grass, dandelion leaves etc.  This means that while direct contact between infected rabbit and uninfected rabbit is the best means for the virus to pass to a new host, it is by far the least common cause of an outbreak in domestic rabbits.  This means that keeping your rabbits indoors just reduces the probability but does NOT become a magical barrier to prevent infection.


Two VHD strains

VHD has two strains, RHD1 and RHD2. RHD1 has long been established in the UK, kills quickly and has a 100 per cent mortality rate, whereas RHD2 is an emerging strain that kills slowly, has a mortality rate between 20 and 50 per cent and also kills baby rabbits.

So what is RHD2? The VHD virus appears to have mutated into a strain which kills the host more slowly, meaning the virus is present in a single rabbit for a longer period of time increasing the rate of infection between animals.  While it does appear to a have a lower mortality rate than RHD1 it is no less dangerous and needs to be vaccinated against.  The vaccine for RHD2 has also been particularly troublesome and we have to show a great debt of thanks to The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund who have been instrumental in getting this vaccine available the UK.  This has only really happened within the last couple of months.

To make matters worse, many vets are not aware of this new strain of RHD.  We have been aware of concerned rabbit owners,  contacting vets about RHD2, only to be told that they have been covered for the disease with the standard Myxo-RHD vaccine.  THIS IS NOT CORRECT.  This vaccine only covers RDH1 and DOES NOT protect against RHD2.  Rabbits which were up to date with their Nobiva Myxo-RHD vaccine have been confirmed to die from RHD2 under pathology.


RHD2 vaccine is not readily available and requires a special import permit. We have applied for this and have the first lot of vaccines in. We would advise concerned rabbit owners to contact us regarding vaccinating their rabbits.



Filed under: News

Latest News


What You’re Saying

Excellent veterinary practice – very caring and also accommodating with appointments.

Angie Westlake

Our practices

Gordon House Vet Centre, Camberley

Elm Cottage Vet Centre, Frimley Green