Biosecurity measures for avoiding RHDV2 infection in pet rabbits

A virus called Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV1), also known as calici virus, is used as a method of controlling wild rabbit populations in Australia. There are vaccinations available to protect pet and farmed rabbits from this disease.

A recent outbreak of another virus known as RHDV2, for which the origin is unknown and there is no available vaccine, may put pet and farmed rabbit stock at risk in Tasmania. Below are some strategies for protecting your pet and farmed rabbits from RHDV viruses.

Insects and rodents can be vectors. Treat your rabbits regularly for fleas and ensure the conditions of their living environment do not facilitate insect harbouring. For example: regularly clean enclosures to remove faeces and provide fresh, clean, dry bedding material; remove uneaten food daily; apply appropriate screening to stop flies, mosquitos or other insects from entering the enclosures. Speak to your vet for more information about appropriate flea treatment.

Regularly decontaminate materials in contact with your rabbits. All RHDV strains can be spread via contaminated objects like bedding, food, bowls, water dispensers, clothing, cages and other equipment. The virus can survive in the environment for many months (up to 7 months in cooler climates). A 10% bleach or 10% sodium hydroxide solution mixed with water is recommended by the RSPCA for decontaminating equipment.

Limit contact between rabbits. The RHDV2 virus can spread readily between infected and non-infected rabbits through droppings, urine, secretions from the eyes and nose, or during mating. It is recommended to avoid contact with rabbits from other premises, particularly if you can’t guarantee they are healthy and don’t have fleas. 

New animals should be quarantined in a separate enclosure for a period of 10 days before allowing them to contact your stock. This is particularly important for any animals arriving from interstate.

Prevent exposure to wild rabbits. As wild rabbits are likely carriers of RHDV2, efforts should be made to prevent wild rabbits from entering your property where domestic or farmed rabbits are housed. This may involve rabbit-proof fencing and control measures such as baiting, warren destruction or removing harbouring vegetation (see DPIPWE Control Techniques for more information). For further advice and support in conducting rabbit control activities on your property contact Invasive Species Enquiries on 03 6777 2200.

Symptoms of rabbits infected with RHDV viruses can include fever, restlessness, lethargy, appetite loss, nervous signs (convulsion, paralysis, paddling), vocalisations (groans and cries), bleeding from the nose and other orifices. Infected rabbits often die suddenly without obvious symptoms. The RHDV2 can cause death in rabbits as young as 3-4 weeks, whereas the intentionally released RHDV1 viruses generally only effect rabbits older than 12 weeks.

Vaccinations. There is not a specific vaccination for RHDV2.  Contact your vet in relation to the use of existing vaccines to protect your rabbit, or visit the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) website for more information. Note that there is a vaccine available to keep your rabbits safe from the recently released strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus - RHDV1 K5. For more information on how to vaccinate your rabbits against RHDV1 viruses including K5, contact your local vet.

For more information on the release of RHDV1 K5 in Tasmania, visit the Biosecurity Tasmania webpage. To read about the national release of RHDV K5, visit the PestSmart website​.

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