Dangerous Rabbit Virus Killing Pet and Wild Rabbits


wild rabbit

Following the novel corona virus which cause COVID-19, and then killer hornets, there’s now a fatal illness affecting rabbits, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease. Unlike some rabbit illnesses, this one affects both domestic and wild species, and it’s heartbreaking. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in February 2020, animal health officials detected rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus serotype 2 (RHDV2) for the third time in the United States, since 2018. Since that detection, RHDV2 has spread to multiple states across the Southwest.

The disease impact is considered an outbreak, though there is no way to discern how many wild rabbits have died or how many domestic rabbits have succumbed, as there is no CDC for pets.

RHDV2, the virus fatal to rabbits, does not impact human health. People can not get sick from this rabbit illness, however by handling a sick rabbit, it’s possible for a person to unwittingly spread it to other rabbits by touch or on clothing or shoes. 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. This hardy virus can also survive and spread from carcasses, food, water, and any contaminated materials.

domestic rabbit

Pet rabbits can be protected. RHD vaccines have not been approved for use in the U.S., but due to the recent outbreak, vaccination has been allowed on a limited emergency basis in affected states. To be effective, vaccines must include antigens for the appropriate serotype, RHDV1 and RHDV2.

Here are biosecurity measures suggested by the USDA:

  • Do not allow pet or wild rabbits to have contact with your domestic rabbits or gain entry to the facility or home.
  • Do not introduce new rabbits from unknown or untrusted sources.
  • Do not add rabbits to your rabbitry from animal shelters or other types of rescue operations. (I express concern about this suggestion, as I do want to see rabbits adopted. Instead, ask the shelter if they’ve experiences RHDV2, and have a veterinarian familiar with rabbits examine the rabbit prior to adoption. And strongly consider veterinary recommendtions).

As for wild rabbits, there’s not much people can do. If you observe a cluster of dead rabbits in your community, do contact state wildlife officials.

This rabbit virus in tragic. A die-off of wild rabbits impacts the ecosystem and environment where they live. And of course, pet parents have a loving bond with pet rabbits.

If tragically a pet rabbit succumbs to the hardy virus,  you need to be careful about how you dispose of a rabbit that has died. A carcass could be a means of spread. Contact your veterinarian or state or federal animal health officials for guidance.