We have had 4 rabbits in Weymouth die of Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (VHD 2) this November. The usual combined vaccine against myxomatosis and VHD1 will NOT protect your rabbit against VHD2. VHD2 is a highly infectious and often fatal disease of rabbits. Both VHD1 & VHD2 are caused by a related virus, but where VHD1 is nearly always rapidly fatal, VHD2 has a slower onset. The symptoms of VHD2 can be rather non-specific, from listlessness, lack of apetite & a bit off-colour, to sudden, unexplained death. Up to 20% of infected rabbits will die, with death occuring over several days. Unlike VHD1, baby rabbits under the age of 6 weeks seem to get no immunity to VHD2 from their mothers.
Both types of VHD are transmitted by direct contact with secretions from the nose and mouth of infected rabbits. They can also be transmitted indirectly by exposure to contaminated objects or via equipment & clothing. Insects, rodents & birds may also be able to spread the virus. VHD can survive freezing conditions and can persist in the environment for a long time.
The best protection for your pet rabbit is vaccination. A combined annual vaccination against myxomatosis and VHD1 is commonly given but although VHD2 has been known about for some time, we have not had it in Dorset and most of our rabbit owners have not asked for the vaccination. Since the recent deaths in Weymouth have been confirmed as VHD2, all rabbits belonging to our members of staff have been vaccinated against VHD2 and we would recommend to our clients that they have their pet rabbits vaccinated as well. The vaccine against VHD2 cannot be given at the same time as the myxomatosis/VHD1 vaccine – there must be at least 2 weeks between them.
Other precautions which may help protect your pet rabbit include:
- make sure your garden is not accesible to wild rabbits and other wildlife
- do not handle rabbits in pet shops or other similar environments and ensure you wash hands thoroughly after coming into contact with other rabbits
- buy bedding & food from a reputable pet shop to ensure there is no contamination
- hang insect repellant strips & keep bedding clean and dry to avoid attracting unwanted insects which may carry the disease
- if you have other pets such as cats and dogs, they should be regularly treated for fleas with a veterinary approved product
Vaccination for pet rabbits is the most effective way to protect them. If you would like to discuss this further, or if you would like to make an appointment, our team at Dorchester or Weymouth will be happy to help.