Kelly and other rabbit rescuers, shelters and people who live with rabbits have spent an entire year struggling with a strain of rabbit hemorrhagic disease first detected in France in 2010 and quickly made its deadly path across the world. The strain, called RHDV2, is a calicivirus which is transmitted in wild and domestic rabbits as well as in hares and pika. It is not contagious to other mammals, including humans, but it can be found in the home on the shoes, clothing, and paws of cats and dogs and can be airlifted via mosquitoes, flies and other winged insects. If rabbits also live in the house, the results are fatal. Symptoms can include loss of appetite; lethargy; high fever; seizures; nasal, oral or rectal bleeding; difficulty in breathing; and sudden death.
“There is a period of one to five days before an exposed rabbit shows symptoms,” said Daniel Marolda, chief volunteer at Bunny Barn at Long Beach Animal Care Services, which houses abandoned and strayed domestic rabbits. . “Some don’t have symptoms – they die suddenly. We’ve already set up a stray five-day wait and we’ve been careful. “
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the first recorded case of RHDV2 in the United States was detected in September 2018 in Ohio. He has since killed rabbits in areas highlighted on the interactive map on this link. May 13 marks an exact year since the virus entered California, when a wild hare was found dead in Palm Springs.
“Los Angeles County is now seen as a hot spot for RHDV2,” Kelly said. “In addition to killing an unknown number of wild rabbits, RHDV2 has affected 46 households with domestic rabbits in Southern California since July 2020.”
For 12 months, rescues, shelters and people who have rabbits in their homes have faced the growing threat to the creatures in their care.
“Looks like it’s here to stay,” said Caroline Charland, founder of The bunny bouquet. “People have to realize how bad it is. Rabbits have to live indoors like house rabbits anyway due to the heat, parasites, and predators killing them outside. Some people let their rabbits play outside even if they live indoors, but we even suggest not to.
Charland stressed the need to vaccinate domestic rabbits to stop the spread of the disease. No approved vaccine is yet manufactured in the United States, but two European vaccines have been approved for emergency use in states that have confirmed cases of RHDV. The Bunny Bunch, the Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation, the House Rabbit Society and all responsible rescuers vaccinate their adoptable rabbits. Anyone with a rabbit that has not been vaccinated should contact their veterinarian or one of the clinics listed at the end of the article.
Kelly said state-by-state approval of imported vaccines is likely to continue, but expects a national variety to be developed as RHDV2 spreads across the country.
As with COVID-19, rabbit rescuers and roommates have only had one year to deal with an unprecedented illness. The disease tested their ability to care for and feed the rabbits.
“The RHDV2 virus has had a dramatic negative impact on our efforts to save lives,” Kelly said. “It mostly happens up front, because we can’t save abandoned rabbits in parks. Volunteer rabbits and guardians are afraid to touch outdoor rabbits for fear of returning the virus to their own rabbits. On the adoption side, the costs of vaccination against RHDV2 – all our rabbits are vaccinated before adoption -, associated with the skyrocketing cost of sterilization / sterilization of rabbits and veterinary care in general, have had an impact on the number of rabbits we can support financially within our organization, and this in turn reduces the number of rabbits we can save and adopt. We could save more rabbits if we had more rabbit-free foster homes in our homes right now.
People who want to develop or adopt rabbits have new protocols that have been in place for almost a year. Rabbits that come to the Bunny Bunch Shop and Cotton Tail Inn to groom or sit must live completely indoors and be vaccinated for 12 days or more. The same goes for potential adopters wishing to meet their rabbits and those to the rescue. The Bunny Bunch demands that all of its rabbits be vaccinated and quarantined in foster homes for two weeks.
The Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation requires its adopters to receive RHDV2 booster shots for their rabbits each year. The organization had all of its rabbits vaccinated as soon as the imported vaccines were approved for emergency use and is now planning annual booster shots. Instead of a facility, the group has a network of foster homes for the rabbits, which are kept indoors.
“If there was a revolutionary case [of the disease]—No vaccine is 100%, so it is possible – it would impact fewer rabbits than in a larger shelter.
“The best way to protect your rabbits from RHDV2 is to combine vaccination, indoor housing and biosecurity measures.” ~ Los Angeles Rabbit Foundation
All relief organizations offer detailed guidelines for preventing RHDV2 infection. They’re available on their websites, and if you live with a rabbit, they’re pretty much mandatory. Here is an aggregate sample:
- Keep rabbits indoors and don’t let them out for any reason. Rabbits can be trained in the litter box, and one of the rabbit resources in this article offers information on how to protect the house from rabbits. Rabbits can receive sunlight and fresh air through a window or door screen.
- Rabbits can catch the virus even if they live indoors. If you have been hiking in an area where infections have been reported, disinfect your shoes with bleach, hydrogen peroxide Prevail, Accel, Peroxigard and Help. Of course, do not use any of these products near the rabbits themselves or any animal. Wash your clothes in hot water and wash your dog or cat’s paws with soap and water. Dawn detergent is a common pet product.
- Keep your windows screened and get a recommendation for flea medication from your vet for all pets in the house. (To note: There have been Frontline Toxicity Reports for Rabbits.)
- “It’s almost impossible to completely eliminate the risk of RHDV2 because there is no way to remove the virus from the leafy greens needed to feed a rabbit,” Kelly said. If you can’t grow your own vegetables outdoors or indoors, get them from areas with less RHDV2 saturation—consult the map again – or from a local greenhouse. Rinse them well, as always. Also ask the vendor for the source of the hay and alfalfa. Hay, including prepackaged hay, that has been stored for at least 105 days before sale is generally safe. If you buy it fresh, store it for three to four months in a cardboard box or “breathable” container to prevent mold before you give it to your friend.
- All necessary precautions emphasize the idea that preventing your rabbit from being exposed to RHDV2 is not guaranteed. Vaccination is important and adds an essential level of protection. Check with your veterinarian for vaccine availability. The following is a list of local vets who carry the vaccine (Disclaimer: The list is not exhaustive and does not indicate a recommendation from the Long Beach Post.)
- Long Beach Animal Hospital, 3816 E Anaheim St, Long Beach, (562) 434-9966
- Sun Surf Veterinary Hospital, 16571 Pacific Coast Hwy, Sunset Beach, 714-735-7502
- Huntington Beach Animal Hospital, 15021 Edwards Street, Huntington Beach, 714-735-7502
- Point Vicente Animal Hospital, 31270 Palos Verdes Drive West, Rancho Palos Verdes, 310-265-9500
- Westminster Veterinary Group, 6621 Westminster Boulevard, Westminster, 714-899-1100
Visit one of the article links for more information on RHDV2, adoptions and promotion. All adoptions are by appointment.
If you see a dead rabbit whose cause of death is unknown, do not touch it.
For domestic rabbits, contact the California Department of Food and Agriculture at: (909) 947-4462.
For wild rabbits, contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at (916) 358-2790.