- RHDV1 is used in Australia to control wild rabbit populations
- RHDV2 is a separate virus (most similar to the European RHDV strain) and it is unknown how it arrived in Australia.
- There are many steps you can take to protect your rabbits
- There is a vaccination available for the RHDV1 strains of the virus
- There is currently no specific vaccination for RHDV2 in Australia
About Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus
Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV1-K5), also known as calicivirus, is released every year as an important method of controlling wild rabbit populations in Australia, which, if left unchecked, can rapidly grow and cause significant damage to agricultural land and the natural environment.
Rabbit digging and browsing damage, Macquarie Island (Parks and Wildlife Service)
Your pet rabbit will also be susceptible to this virus.
A different form of the virus, known as RHDV2, was detected in Tasmania in 2017. The origin of RHDV2 in both mainland Australia and Tasmania is unknown, and there is no vaccine currently available in Australia to protect against it. RHDV2 therefore represents a significant threat to domestic rabbit stock in Tasmania.
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 can also die suddenly, without any obvious symptoms.
The RHDV2 virus can cause death in rabbits as young as 3-4 weeks, whereas the intentionally released RHDV1 viruses generally only affect rabbits older than 12 weeks.
Protecting your rabbits
An effective strategy in protecting your rabbits is known as PAT: Protect - Avoid - Treat
Insects and rodents can be vectors
Insects and rodents can spread the virus from infected animals, to healthy animals.
Treat your rabbits regularly for fleas and ensure the conditions of their living environment do not allow insects to occur: regularly clean enclosures to remove faeces and provide fresh, clean, dry bedding material; remove uneaten food daily; apply insect-proof netting to cages. Speak to your vet for more information about appropriate flea treatment.
Insect-proof netting is available to protect rabbits from flies, fleas and mosquitoes. The netting will not only help prevent infection from calicivirus, but also from other insect-borne diseases.
Regularly decontaminate materials in contact with your rabbits
All RHDV strains can be spread via contaminated objects like bedding, hay, food, bowls, water dispensers, clothing, cages and other equipment. The virus can survive in the environment for many months (up to seven months in cooler climates).
A 10% bleach or 10% sodium hydroxide solution mixed with water is recommended by the RSPCA for decontaminating equipment.
If sourcing hay for bedding, check the source of the hay and that it is has been stored away from likely sources of contamination. As a precaution, store the hay for twelve months prior to use.
Limit contact between other domestic rabbits
RHDV spreads readily between infected and non-infected rabbits through droppings, urine, secretions from the eyes and nose, or during mating. Avoid contact with rabbits from other premises, particularly if you can't guarantee that they are healthy, virus-free and don't have fleas.
Quarantine new animals
Because the animals are new to you, you don’t know their exposure risk or health status. Quarantine new animals in a separate enclosure for 10 days before allowing them to be in contact with your stock.
Avoid exposure to wild rabbits
Wild rabbits are likely carriers of RHDV, so try to prevent wild rabbits from entering your property, or areas where domestic or farmed rabbits are housed.
Use rabbit-proof fencing, and/or control measures such as baiting, warren destruction or removing harbouring vegetation (see DPIPWE Control Techniques for more information).
A vaccine (Cylap®) is widely available to protect your rabbit(s) from the existing RHDV1-K5 virus that is released annually. For more information on how to vaccinate your rabbits against RHDV1 viruses (including K5), contact your local vet.
There is not a specific vaccination for RHDV2 approved for use in Australia.