The Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) collective is calling for support to help spread the word about the importance of vaccinations following a deadly outbreak of rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD-2).

RVHD – 2 is a fatal disease that can kill rabbits within hours, with many displaying no symptoms until it is too late.

Rabbits that have previously been vaccinated against RVHD only will not be protected against this strain of RVHD-2, so return visits to vets are being encouraged – even for rabbits that have received a primary course of vaccinations when they were young as boosters are needed to ensure immunity.

How can pet rabbits catch RVHD?

Both strains of RVHD are spread by direct contact with infected rabbits, or indirectly via their urine or faeces. The viruses can survive for months in the environment, and are terrifyingly easy to bring home to your pets. They survive cold very well.
For example:

  • Hay may have been in contact with infected wild rabbits as grass growing in the field.
  • Birds or insects may transport the virus on their feet (or in their droppings) to your rabbit grazing on the lawn.
  • The virus may be blown on the wind.
  • You might bring the virus home on your feet, or your other pets’ feet (or car wheels) from infected wild rabbit droppings.
  • You could bring the virus home on your hands or clothes.

Both strains of RVHD have been recorded all over the UK. All pet rabbits should be vaccinated against both strains. There is no way of predicting where the next outbreak will strike, and no practical way of shielding your pet rabbits from all the possible sources of infection. Vaccination is the only way to be safe.

Richard Saunders is one of the UK’s leading rabbit experts and helps to guide the welfare and health strategy of the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund. He was responsible for getting the vaccine for RVHD-2 into the UK following its initial outbreak – helping save the lives of an estimated 70,000 rabbits.

Dr Saunders said “There are three fatal viral diseases of rabbits that can be vaccinated against: RVHD-1 and RVHD-2 – which kill a high proportion of the rabbits infected, often so quickly there is no warning before finding them dead – and myxomatosis, which can result is a slow and painful death for rabbits suffering the worst forms of infection.

“These diseases can be prevented by vaccination and it is absolutely vital to do this, even if there haven’t been any outbreaks of these diseases in your area yet”

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