June 2021: Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD), a deadly viral outbreak affecting rabbits, cottontails, and hares in the U.S., has now reached the Bay Area. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife just announced that RHD was identified in a wild jackrabbit in Alameda County. Alameda is the 8th county in California with confirmed RHD; the other counties include Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, and San Diego.

Most rabbits who contract RHD die rapidly without prior warning signs. Rabbits that do not die immediately develop fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, breathing difficulties, blue-colored lips, and bleeding from body cavities. Death of multiple rabbits in the same household is a common feature. Reports estimate that about 75% of unvaccinated domestic rabbits that contract this disease will die from it.

The virus that causes RHD is very stable in the environment and can persist for months in carcasses and on fabric. It is can be easily spread among rabbits by direct contact or by contaminated fomites such as hands, dishes, towels, and cages. The virus can also be spread by biting insects such as mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, and biting flies. Since the virus is present in wild rabbit populations it can be tracked into a home on shoes or other objects that are exposed to dirt. While outdoor rabbits are at increased risk, deaths among indoor-only rabbits have also been reported.

Our best defense against this disease is vaccination. As there is not yet a RHD vaccine manufactured in the U.S., we have imported vaccines from Europe. If your rabbits are yet to be vaccinated, please don’t wait! All healthy rabbits over 30 days of age should be vaccinated yearly against this scourge. In addition to vaccination, we strongly recommend keeping your bunny indoors and using rabbit-safe flea protection monthly.

If you think your pet rabbits may have died from RHD please contact the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) at 209-491-9350. If you see dead cottontail rabbits and jackrabbits in your area please contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) at 916-358-2790. For more information on the deadly RHD outbreak in California see our handout or visit the CDFA’s or CDFW’s websites.

Hilary Stern DVM DABVP

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