RHDV2 - Critical Information & Frequently Asked Questions
Written by Rabbit Hole Hay
With recent outbreaks of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) in New York City, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and most recently in Palm Springs, CA, our team at Rabbit Hole Hay has received multiple phone calls and email questions about any precautions we are taking and where we source our hay.
Before we go any farther, we want to first of all assure our customers that all Rabbit Hole Hay product currently in the marketplace is from our Northern California 2019 growing season. As you will discover in the article below, the USDA estimates the virus can remain stable for up to 3 months. Taking into account the dates of the recently confirmed cases and dates of harvest, we can safely reassure you that no Rabbit Hole Hay product that is available (whether on our website, Amazon, or Chewy) is currently at risk for being a carrier of RHDV2. To date there have been no reported cases of RHDV2 in the Northern California area.
At Rabbit Hole Hay, we are monitoring RHDV2 closely and want to provide you both assurance that our product is safe for your rabbits, as well as provide answers to some of your questions. Additionally you will find links throughout this article that will give you great resources to learn more about RHDV2 and how you can protect your small pet.
What is RHDV?
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV) is a highly contagious and fatal disease that is caused by a calicivirus and, as the name suggests, affects rabbits. Originally RHDV was known as a foreign animal disease found in wild European rabbits.
RHDV was first seen in 1984 in China and since then there has been confirmed cases in 40 other countries. RHDV2, the second strain, started in 2010 in France and quickly spread through Europe along with the Mediterranean, replacing the original strain in many countries.
House Rabbit Society states that RHDV causes necrotizing hepatitis and may cause necrosis of the spleen. There may be internal or externally visible blood hemorrhage. Death occurs from liver failure or hemorrhage due to an impairment in the blood’s ability to clot.
Prior to 2018 RHDV had never been seen in North American native rabbits or hares, but there have now been confirmed cases in the United States. While there had been isolated cases starting in 2018, this more recent outbreak is more widespread, causing concern for both veterinarians as well as pet owners. This outbreak has seen cases New York City, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas (known as the 2020 Southwest outbreaks), some of which have ended in death. The first California case was reported just this week in Palm Springs, where a jackrabbit died from RHDV2 according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
What’s the Difference Between RHDV1 and RHDV2?
RHDV1 and RHDV2 differ in the fact that RHDV1 is known to just infect wild rabbits, while RHDV2 has been confirmed to infect both wild AND domesticated rabbits in North America.
Incubation period: 2-10 Days
Death Rate is high for rabbits exposed (40-100%)
Incubation period: 3-9 Days
Death rate is high for rabbits exposed (5-70%)
Rabbits who are exposed and survive, are carriers and can spread the virus for a minimum of 42 days, if not longer. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has provided a quick fact sheet about RHDV that you can download for reference.
How Does RHDV2 Spread?
The USDA states that the RHDV2 virus is very resistant to extreme temperatures, it can be spread through direct contact or exposure to an infected rabbit’s excretions or blood. The virus can also survive and spread from carcasses, food, water, and any contaminated materials. While it does not impact human health, humans can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes.
What are the Symptoms to Look For?
According to House Rabbit Society, rabbits can contract the virus and not show any symptoms whatsoever. But with those that do show symptoms, they may include:
Loss of appetite
Bleeding from nose, mouth, or rectum
Sadly, this virus is known as a swift and sudden killer with little to no warning. If your rabbit’s sudden death is suspicious, please report it to your veterinarian as a possible case of RHDV2.
Is there a RHDV2 Vaccine?
There is a vaccine for RHDV2 in Europe as the disease has been regularly found there for a longer period of time. As of right now, there is no vaccine available in the United States.
Even so the House Rabbit Society does state that there have been veterinarians near the Northern Border of Washington State and Canada who have successfully worked with their respective regulatory agencies and received special permission to import the European vaccine for certain rabbit vaccination clinics. They also mention that other vets currently seeking to import the vaccine in areas with an RHDV outbreak are required to have a USDA-accredited vet reach out to their State Veterinarian.
It's important that you consult your veterinarian if/when a vaccine becomes available in the future and discuss if using the vaccine is the right decision for your pet(s).
How Long can RHDV2 Survive in the Environment?
While the statements on how long it can stay within the environment are mixed, the USDA states, “The virus can remain stable for 3 months when dried, but exposed RHDV typically doesn’t persist in excretions on surroundings longer than a few weeks and grows less viable over time.”
Should I Be Worried that the Hay I Purchase Could Give My Rabbit RHDV2?
The risk is very low of your rabbits contracting the RHDV2 from the hay you purchase from a trusted producer.
While RHDV2 can be transmitted via non-living objects (known as fomite) like hay, it would require a combination of unique events to occur for hay to become a carrier. This includes an infected animal traveling through the hay field during a time when specific environmental conditions are in place which supported the stability of the virus.
It is also important to note that when you purchase from a trusted manufacturer, there are quality and safety measures in place that will help mitigate the risk of transmission.
How Can I Protect My Rabbit?
Keep your rabbit’s cage or hutch indoors, decreasing the risk of them coming into contact with something outdoors.
If you can’t keep your rabbit’s hutch or cage indoors, invest in protective fencing and continue to monitor them for any disturbances.
When it comes to the inside and outside of your rabbit’s cage or hutch, practice good cleaning and sanitation measures.
Remember to wash your hands thoroughly before handling your rabbits.
Immediately after handling or coming in contact with other rabbits, change your clothes and wash your hands.
Refrain from having bunny time with other rabbits, this will keep your rabbit safe from the possibility of coming into to physical contact with other rabbits.
Don’t touch any dead wild rabbits that you may see in your local area. If you see multiple dead rabbits, report it to your state wildlife officials.
If you volunteer at a shelter in an area with an outbreak, have special clothes and shoes you wear only when working at the shelter.
Consider adopting a “no shoes” in the house policy.
For safe directions on how to disinfect shoes with a disinfectant effective for this virus, click here.
What is Rabbit Hole Hay Doing to Ensure Your Small Pets Safety?
At Rabbit Hole Hay, we are monitoring this virus closely and at this time it has NOT affected our area of the country (Northern California). Additionally, all of our hay is from the 2019 growing season from Northern California and there have been NO reported cases affecting the area of the country where we source our hay.
As mentioned above, the USDA estimates that RHDV2 can remain stable for 3 months. Taking into account the dates of the recently confirmed cases and dates of harvest, we can safely reassure you that no Rabbit Hole Hay product that is available (whether on our website, Amazon, or Chewy) is currently at risk for being a carrier of RHDV2.
Our goal here at Rabbit Hole Hay is to continue to monitor the information coming from health officials carefully to ensure we are following any recommended precautions to keep your small pet safe. We are confident at this time based on the latest available information that the transmission of RHDV2 from a packaged product like our Rabbit Hole Hay, is highly unlikely. While RHDV2 could be transmitted in hay, it would require a rare combination of circumstances for the virus to be present and remain stable.
Even knowing that, we are committed to remaining vigilant both in how we monitor and how we move forward with product safety as it relates to RHDV2. We will be paying close attention to all the hay we source in the coming days and months to ensure it is processed in a way that helps us keep your small pets safe.