Viral Haemorrhagic Disease, a deadly new rabbit disease capable of killing most of its victims. It's a calicivirus, and causes a very severe hepatitis and total disruption of the blood clotting systems so the rabbit bleeds to death internally.
2. What countries are affected?
Most of Europe (including Great Britain) and many Asian countries have been badly affected. So far, the USA and Canada remain free of VHD, but in a large outbreak in Mexico a few years ago (now eradicated), VHD came within 100km of the Californian border.
3. Why have I never heard of VHD when everyone knows about myxomatosis?
VHD was first recorded in 1984, in China. Since then it has spread back into Europe. It only entered the UK in 1992, so only the most recent rabbit books carry information on it.
4. What happens if a rabbit catches VHD?
Rabbits younger than 8-10 weeks do not become ill at all. In slightly older rabbits, a number of things may happen. Some will just suddenly appear to drop down dead, with no outward sign of anything amiss. Others will have a short period of being very ill before dying: high temperature, anorexia, lethargy, sometimes spasms, difficulty breathing, blue colour to the lips and mucous membranes, bleeding from nose, mouth, anus, and sometimes screams prior to death. 80 - 100% of susceptible rabbits will die of the disease. A very few recover, but in the UK, VHD is a notifiable disease and this results in all rabbits on an affected premises being destroyed, even if the disease itself does not kill them.
5.Can humans or other animals catch VHD?
No. But there is a very similar disease in Hares: European Brown Hare Syndrome.
6. My rabbit lives indoors. Can it still catch VHD?
Yes! The virus itself is very resilient and lasts a long time in the environment. Plus, it only takes a very small number of virus particles to make an infective dose (as little as 100 virions, and if one considers that millions fit on a pin-head, you can appreciate the problem.) VHD is acquired by direct contact with infected rabbits; in water; in food; on people, clothing, objects, vermin, other domestic pets; from birds feet/droppings; airborne.There have been outbreaks recorded (in Austria) where rabbit owners handled someone elses animals incubating the disease and took it home to their own rabbits who then died.
7. What can I do to stop my rabbit getting VHD?
First of all, it seems that pet rabbits living outside with run of the garden are especially at risk. Try to bring him indoors. If that is not possible, make sure his hutch is insect-proofed; don't leave the hutch door open for birds to fly inside. Make sure no vermin go near the hutches or food store. Keep other pets away from your rabbits, especially if they hunt wild rabbits.The above suggestions may reduce the risk a little, but the ONLY reliable way to protect your bunny from VHD is to have him vaccinated. EVERY RABBIT IS AT RISK FROM VHD AND EVERY RABBIT SHOULD BE VACCINATED AND BOOSTERS KEPT UP-TO-DATE. Once he is vaccinated, he is safe, and you can relax and if you wish, allow him to resume his romps in the garden.
8. How do I get my rabbit vaccinated?
In the UK there are two VHD vaccines available. Both are only obtainable from your vet. Most pet owners will want to take their rabbit to the vet for the injection, but if you have a lot of rabbits and your vet knows you well, some will let you buy the vaccine and inject it yourself. The vaccines available are called Cunical (made my Rhone Merieux) and Cylap (made by Websters Animal Health). Both are killed vaccines: there is no danger of vaccination causing the disease itself. Cunical is an aqueous-based vaccine. It needs boosting every 6 months, but even with 2 doses per year usually ends up slightly cheaper than Cylap. Cylap is an oil-based vaccine. It needs boosting every 12 months, and is licensed for use in pregnant does. Being oil-based, though, there is a small risk of a local reaction at the injection site (which should be thoroughly massaged after the injection is given) and because oil is dangerous if injected into the human hand, very few vets would let owners inject this vaccine themselves. Both vaccines come in vials of 10 doses which must be used within 8 hours of opening. If you only have one rabbit, this can work out quite expensive because the other 9 doses are being wasted. Talk to your vet about arranging several pet rabbit owners to have their rabbits vaccinated on the same day, or club together with friends and all troop down to the surgery on one day.
9. How much does VHD vaccination cost?
Prices vary widely across the country. The vaccine itself costs about 10 pounds per vial (Cunical) or 25 pounds per vial (Cylap) to the vet. He will add his own mark-up onto that price and may also charge for the consultation. Show breeders usually end up paying 1.20-1.50 per dose (Cunical) and 2.50 - 4.00 per dose (Cylap) if all doses in the vial are used up. Remember, it is usually cheaper to club together with other rabbit owners, and some practices have arranged mass vaccination sessions whereby one evening is set aside for rabbit owners to bring their animals along to be vaccinated.
10. My vet says that VHD isn't in this part of the country yet. Do my rabbits still need to be vaccinated?
Yes! As of July 1995, the worst-affected areas of the UK have undoubtedly been Southern England, especially Devon and the south-west where hundreds of domestic rabbits have died. VHD has also been reported in coastal counties from Humberside right down through East Anglia, along Kent, the south coast, the West country and up into Wales. We know that wild rabbits are now infected with VHD. And there have been sporadic outbreaks inland, too, where the disease suddenly popped up hundreds of miles from the nearest outbreak (Berkshire; Staffordshire for instance). Birds, hay, people, vehicles are all potential sources of infection which often travel across the country. NO RABBIT IS SAFE, even though obviously the risk is much higher in affected areas.
11. I have a show rabbit. Is he at increased risk?
Any gathering of rabbits increases the risk that one may be carrying infection. All show rabbits should be vaccinated, both for their own protection and to be fair to everyone else.
12. Are there "carriers" of the disease who can infect others but not get sick themselves?
We just don't know. There are conflicting reports on this. Which just serves to underline the fact that every rabbit needs to be vaccinated!
This information has been provided by Linda Dykes. We would welcome any comments or MORE information that you may have. Please send email toMike.W.Daley@cm.cf.ac.uk .