This article will provide a concise overview of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Viral Disease, its characteristics, locations, testing methods and some of the preventative steps that can be taken.
Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 1 is a type of Calicivirus, has been in Europe for many decades or even centuries and affects both wild and domestic rabbits. There are a few different pathogenic strains of the virus but until recently, RVHD1 was thought to be the only type in the UK.
RVHD2 differs in a few key ways as it is unaffected by age and has a longer illness phase with different clinical symptoms. It is also thought to have a lower mortality rate. Little research has been done on RVHD2 and it is highly likely that cases are under reported.
Both viruses are potentially very easily spread and can live in the environment for a long time (RVHD2 up to 200 days in laboratory conditions) Insects, wildlife and scavengers can spread it as well as direct contact with an infected rabbit. Fomites such as bedding, wild plants, shoes and clothing can also carry the virus to new areas. It is currently unknown if biting insects can spread RVHD2.
Due to it being so easily transported, the spread of RVHD can be very quick and strict biosecurity is recommended as well as vaccination.
The current UK vaccine, Nobivac Myxo-RHD offers protection against RVHD1 but is unlikely to offer any for RVHD2 as this virus is antigenically and genetically different from RVHD1. It is recommended that a second vaccination be given to cover RVHD2 and there are a few options:
Eravac has been licensed in the UK for use in ‘fattening’ rabbits. This is an oil based drug with no research showing the possible long term effects and there is currently no recommended vaccination schedule.
Cunivak RHD is currently out of stock and Cunipravac can be ordered via a special import certificate however it is only available in large multi dose bottles.
Filavac RHD K C+Vis available to order from most UK wholesalers and is administered annually or 6 monthly (if considered to be a high risk patient or area). It is vital that the rabbits are still vaccinated with the Nobivac Myxo-RHD as the Filavac vaccine does not give any protection against myxomatosis, however standard immunology advice is to leave at least a 2 week gap between the different vaccinations.
It is important to research all options and discuss with your vet / client. The safety and efficacy of using any other vaccine alongside the Nobivac Myxo RHD has not been studied.
It is not recommended to carry out en-mass vaccination clinics as this could potentially increase the risk of disease spread due to the way RVHD is transmitted.
Testing and Reporting
Its important to consider RVHD2 as a differential diagnosis when dealing with a sick rabbit that doesnt seem to respond to treatment and no obvious reason for the illness is found. PCR testing is now available for live rabbits via the Batt Laboratories in Coventry. For sudden deaths, post mortem liver samples can also be sent here or to the Moredun Research Institute.
Wherever possible, please send samples to either laboratory via the methods outlined on their websites. Please also consider reporting all suspicious deaths to the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund as their Veterinary Advisor is monitoring the spread of this disease.
Good husbandry is paramount and sick rabbits should be barrier nursed. Enhanced cleaning, disinfection and quarantine protocols can be implemented in practice and with owners. Anigene HLD4V is a veterinary grade product that is believed to be effective against RVHD when used at a concentration of 1:50 for soiled conditions.
It is vital to be aware of the risks associated with attending events such as rabbit shows, petting zoos and even rescues. Environmental insect controls should also be in place as it is still unknown if RVHD2 can be spread via insects. Care should also be taken when considering feeding handpicked wild plants.
Keeping Up To Date
There is a great group on Facebook where people can report suspected and confirmed cases of RVHD1 & RVHD2. This links to a UK map and it also holds a wealth of information and support – I recommend everyone to join.
Be wary of other reports and anecdotal stories doing the rounds as they may not be factually accurate. Also, please contact your own vet asap so they are fully aware of the new RVHD2 strain and that they are stocking and advertising the new vaccine to help fight this. We need owners to insist all their vets order in the vaccine to get as many rabbits as possible protected against this fatal disease.
Please know how to keep your rabbits safe and spread the word!
RVHD and Myxomatosis are diseases found throughout the UK and can be fatal to un-vaccinated rabbits. Both outdoor AND indoor rabbits are at risk. RVHD in particular is highly infectious and contagious. It is an air borne virus that can be spread by direct and indirect contact with infected rabbits, food bowls, hutches and even the soles of your shoes. For example – if you, your dog or cat has walked on ground where a VHD infected rabbit has been, you can carry it on your clothes or shoes, your other pets can carry it on fur or feet. The virus can survive in the environment for a long time and can survive cold temperatures far better than you might expect.
“As you may know, over the past year there has been an increasing concern regarding RVHD “new variant 2” becoming a cause of deaths in several outbreaks in the UK. Whilst it has been noted in the UK in research papers (Westcott and Choudhury) for at least 2 years, it has clearly become a significant clinical entity in the past few months.
We (RWAF) have now successfully established an SIC (Special Import Certificate) for a suitable EU member state vaccine, Cunivak RHD, and placed an order for a small number of vaccines to establish an ordering system into the UK.
Vets can order their own supplies from VMD. If they require any further information, they should contact the RWAF at [email protected] and we will pass on any veterinary queries to our vet, Mr Saunders, but they should be aware that he may be dealing with a high volume of email. A more detailed explanation of the above should be available in Vet Times and Vet Record soon.”
What This Means For Owners.
Firstly – please note that NO emails from owners about this topic will be passed to Dr Saunders. he will be dealing with Vet emails only due to the high volume of contact.
So for owners – this means you will need to ask your vets to order in the new vaccine which will take a few weeks for them to sort out. The new Cunivak vaccine is NOT a replacement for the current combo vaccine and will need to be given AS WELL AS the Nobivak one. Its important to note that these vaccines CANNOT be given at the same time and need at least a 2 week gap between them.
In total, your rabbit will now require 2 vaccinations (comprising of 3 injections) per year:
1) Nobivak combo – Just one injection covers them for myxomatosis and RHVD1.
2) Cunivak RHVD – 2 injections 3 weeks apart. This covers them against RHVD2.
You need to leave AT LEAST 2 weeks gap between the different types of vaccines. If you can manage to schedule it so that there is a gap of 4-6 months between vaccines then this would mean your rabbit would have a veterinary health check up approx every 6 months. BUT you don’t HAVE to work to this schedule, just make sure there is at least 2 weeks between vaccines.
Please contact your vets and ask them to start the process of ordering in the new Cunivak RHD vaccine. Most vets will not be aware that they can do this as the information has only just been released. But the quicker you contact them, the quicker they can get up to speed and get the vaccines in stock. If your vets are unsure, please advise them to email [email protected] for more info. As per the RWAF first alert above, this information will be released in veterinary publications in the coming weeks.
If your rabbit is vaccinated with the Nobivac combi vaccine AND the Cunivak vaccine, they will have been vaccinated against Myxo, RHVD1 and RHVD2. As always, no vaccination is 100% effective and it does not mean your pet will not contract the disease. However, it does mean they have a chance to be treated and survive these normally fatal illnesses.
Ok – so we know McVities put profits before people (see the recent round of redundancies just before Christmas time) but apparently they don’t care much for animal welfare either.
Their NEW Christmas ad is out and storming the world as the cutest thing of all time.
McVities Promoting Rabbit Cruelty
This ‘cute’ commercial shows puppies, kittens, bunnies, ducklings and more all looking festive. So what’s wrong with that I hear some say…
Firstly – advertising sweet, baby critters at Christmas time is a sure fire way to get kids in the mood for a new bundle of joy. Xmas lists all over the world will now have livestock added to them (and some Santa’s will have to search very hard indeed for a baby narwhal).
ANIMALS ARE NOT TOYS!
None of the good charities, rescues or veterinary organisations recommend giving pets as presents. In most cases – its a one way ticket to the rescue shelter in the New Year.
Dont Give Pets as Gifts
Secondly – the handling of these poor creatures is awful. Forced to lay on their backs, held by children, wearing clothes and sat in tea cups – do I need to say it again…ANIMALS ARE NOT TOYS! This will ultimately result in some kids (and adults) trying to mis handle their pets to re create a cute photo moment. Stressful for the pet, not fun and not cute.
This nicely leads me on the the third biggest problem. The rabbit. Cute? Yes. Fluffy? Yes. Lots of ‘pester power’ from the children to buy one? Yes. should you buy one? NO!
Rabbits do not make good pets for kids. Period. This particular commercial shows the baby bunny forced to lay on its back on the child’s lap. This is actually called ‘Trancing’ or ‘Tonic Immobility’. It is a hugely stressful state for the rabbit. As a prey species, they pretend to be dead when they think they are being attacked by a predator. They lay there, frozen in fear, heart racing and fearing their death. Still think its cute? Studies have proven that their stress hormone levels also increase at this time (blood cortisol levels). The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund have been tirelessly fighting to get the right info out into the public space to STOP people from handling rabbits this way. This TV ad has successfully put back all their good work by years! Every filming should have a welfare officer on duty to ensure all animals are treated correctly – I wonder if they had one and if so…I wonder what qualifications they hold as clearly many animals were mishandled here.
And lastly – who wants loads of animal hair on their biscuits anyway?
If like me – you feel the McVities Christmas ad promotes cruel mishandling of animals and encourages the sale of innocent creatures, please consider contacting them to politely let them know. I will be boycotting McVities this year and encourage others to do so. #boycottmcvities
“We can confirm that no animals were harmed in the making of the McVitie’s Victoria Christmas ad. We had a professional vet and handlers on set overseeing all the filming to ensure the welfare of the animals was our top priority. The professionals on set have confirmed that in their opinion the rabbit filmed was absolutely not in a state of tonic immobility or “trancing”; the camera angles used in the filming are clearly misleading. However, we understand that the ad could mislead people into thinking that putting a rabbit on its back is recommended, when this is not the case. We have therefore taken the decision to remove this scene in the ad as soon as we can. We’d like to thank anyone who raised this issue with us and would like to remind the public that they should follow professional advice as to how to best handle animals in specific circumstances including from The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund – www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk.”
Runaround is a small family company that hand make all their products in the UK. They provide a series of connecting tunnels, tubes, runs, boxes and hide outs that make the perfect rabbit enclosure.
With welfare firmly placed at the heart of their business, the Runaround system is the enclosure rabbits would choose to live in if they could!
It acts like a natural warren but above ground. As rabbits are prey species they like to know where their edges are to feel secure. This system allows them to have plenty of space but without feeling insecure or overwhelmed by wide open spaces.
It doesn’t matter if your garden is big or small – Runaround will fit any space and can even be used indoors too! You can tailor make it to your requirements and its easy to move and change around as often as you like.
The product is very safe and secure, made with only the best materials. it can be permanently secured in place if preferred and can be attached to existing hutches, sheds, play houses or even your home via a catflap!
The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund are big supporters of this product due to the way it allows the rabbits to express all their natural feelings and emotions in a safe environment. It also fits well with their A Hutch Is Not Enough campaign which tries to get people to ‘think outside of the hutch’ for their pets accommodation.
Lastly – its not just bunnies that can benefit from this type of enclosure. Many species such as guinea pigs, cats, chinchillas, ferrets and more could enjoy this fabulous product.
I applaud the marketing genius behind the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as it has raised both awareness and a whole heap of cash!
However, there is now a darker side to the fun. Some people are choosing to dump the ice water over their ‘beloved’ pet instead.
NOT cool….NOT fun.
This can be very detrimental to the pets health as well as being a big fat shock! Im not going to add links to any of the videos currently doing the rounds as I do not want to give them the time of day and promote them. However they are easily found if you feel the need.
Can you imagine how shocked, upset, angry, confused you would be if you were minding your own business and all of a sudden you were drenched in ice cold water? How would you react?
After the Poundstretchers Prison campaign, that successfully saw the removal of the 2ft rabbit ‘deluxe’ hutch…I decided to check out some other retailers that feel 3ft hutches are suitable for rabbits.
A quick internet search showed that unfortunately, there are still far too many retailers that are happy to sell items that actively promote animal suffering. Here are just a few:
So, if like me…you are still hot under the collar about horror hutches, please consider contacting the retailers and manufacturers that are touting these prisons. As always, be polite but firm. We have seen how powerful social media is so lets continue to use it to help change lives.
All is not lost!!! Check out The Rabbit Welfare Associations ‘Retail Charter’ which highlights some fabulous manufacturers and retailers who have pledged to only sell items that promote animal welfare 🙂 All part of the ‘A Hutch Is Not Enough’ campaign.
As a good friend of mine said… “Together we can make a difference”.
For just £129.99 you too could be the proud owner of a ‘Deluxe’ rabbit prison :/ Oh wait….why would you want to be…
This awful enclosure was spotted in a Pound Stretcher branch a few days ago. They have a specific part of the store called The Pet Hut which stocks all sorts of bits and bobs for your companion animals. Every penny counts…but apparently rabbit welfare does not.
Smaller than a laboratory rabbits enclosure – this horrible prison is being marketed as a top end treat for your cherished pet. Personally – I don’t even think this is a suitable size to house rats in let alone rabbits. It does not allow a rabbit to participate in its 5 Freedoms (breaking points 2, 4 and 5).
Not only is it TINY! (approx 2ft square) the ramps are so steep and it looks like it has a wire bottom floor. Not good. Most average rabbits couldn’t sit in this comfortably let alone live in it with their friend (as rabbits should live in bonded, neutered pairs).
Many complaints have been made to Pound Stretchers facebook page but unfortunately, rather than replying, they are deleting the majority of the comments. Others are e-mailing the head office and a lucky few have received this reply:
“The Rabbit Hutch has been sourced for our stores from a UK supplier. The legal size requirement for this product has been met by the manufacturer as well as the organizations who set the guidelines.
We have made a decision to not purchase this product in the future for our stores.
Thank you for your time.
Sounds like a cop out to me. Interestingly enough, they have not responded to my questions:
1) Will this item be removed from stock immediately or will it be discounted and placed on sale?
2) What resource did you use for the ‘legal size requirement’ and which organisations did you contact?
3) Do you currently stock any other hutches that are 4ft or smaller?
The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund are the UK’s leading source of rabbit advice. Funnily enough, they were not contacted by Pound Stretchers with regards to minimum housing guidelines. They run the ‘A Hutch Is Not Enough‘ campaign which strives to educate manufacturers, retailers and the general public as to what enclosures rabbits need to live a happy and healthy life.
Their current MINIMUM guidelines clearly state that the hutch / cage should be at least 6ft x 2ft x 2ft with full time access to an attached run that should be at least 8ft x 4ft.
If you feel, like I do, that Pound Stretchers are promoting animal cruelty by selling this horrendous rabbit prison then please consider doing one or all of the following:
1) Leave a complaint on their Facebook page
There are 100 lots to view with the star prize being a fabulous bundle of gifts kindly donated by Galens Garden. There are so many different items ranging from key rings, books and clothing to money boxes, boarding vouchers and jewellery!
Rabbits love to play and they show their happiness in a variety of crazy dance moves called binkies! They zoom, run, twist, jump and shake their heads. It is a sign of a truly happy bunny.
They are naturally athletic and your average rabbit will need as much exercise as a pet dog! They can run the length of up to 6 football pitches each day if they have the space to do so. This means its vital your rabbits have very large exercise enclosures that are both long and tall to allow them to show their happiness.
The Rabbit Welfare Association recommends that your rabbits enclosure is a MINIMUM of a 6ft hutch / cage / sleeping area that is permanently attached to an exercise space that is a MINIMUM of 8ft x 4ft.
Flies are not just a buzzy pest….they can cause serious damage to your bunnies!
RWAF Flystrike Poster
Fly strike is also known as Myiasis and is defined as “the presence of larvae of dipterous flies in tissues and organs of the living animal, and the tissue destruction and disorders resulting there from” (Boden, 2001). All very scientific…but basically, flies can lay eggs on bunnies and these quickly hatch out into maggots which eat the bunnies skin and organs 🙁
Initially, rabbits can hide fly strike quite well as the eggs and maggots are usually buried deep in the fur. “Bluebottles (Calliphora) and greenbottles (Lucilla) are attracted to soiled fur or infected skin to lay their eggs” (Harcourt Brown, 2002). The most common site for this to happen is around the rabbit’s anus and scent glands. A rabbit that is overweight, unwell or suffers from joint problems will struggle to keep this area clean. This can then lead to the fur being matted with urine and faeces, which attracts the flies. The eggs that are laid will hatch into larvae (maggots) in approximately 12 hours and will start feeding on external debris. Once this has been consumed, the maggots will continue to eat sound skin and tissue, often tunnelling under the skin layers. Aberrant migration brings the maggots deep under the rabbit’s skin, infiltrating vital organs and can even occlude the rabbit’s airway. This is very uncomfortable for the rabbit and will progressively get more painful as the condition progresses. Initially the rabbit will be very restless, however as time goes on it will become unwell, inappetent and lethargic.
The combination of the sore skin and the maggots creates a very pungent ammonia smell. This is because the maggots release proteolytic enzymes into the tissues to cause cell death and decomposition. These toxins can cause serious shock, septicaemia and if left untreated, will often be fatal.
For treatment to be successful, the rabbit needs to be seen by a Veterinarian as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of the case, the rabbit may have to be hospitalised for intensive therapy and monitoring for a few days. Rapid removal of the eggs and maggots is imperative to stop any further damage. This can be done by shaving the fur off the affected areas and then carefully using forceps to remove the contamination. This can be very time consuming and will need to be repeated a few times to ensure all of the eggs and maggots have been removed. The skin needs to be flushed and cleaned with a sterile saline solution and an antiseptic solution (such as povodine-iodine) and any wounds will need flushing and exploring to make sure that they are also clear of contamination. Non-steroidal pain relief and fluid therapy are vital to help the rabbit combat shock. Not all patients will be well enough to endure a sedation or anaesthetic at this point so care needs to be taken and close monitoring performed. The rabbit will need to be dried well and placed in a clean, warm and quiet area. Sometimes the use of topical creams like Dermasol (by Pfizer) is advised as it promotes healing of areas impaired by the presence of necrotic tissue because it activates the sloughing of devitalised tissue. Intensive nursing will also be vital to the success of the treatment. The rabbit will need regular syringe feeding, medicating and cleaning along with trying to keep its environment warm and as stress free as possible. F10 wound spray with insecticide can be used on the area – helping the wound and protecting from further fly problems too. This can be used daily and is good for disabled rabbits that need daily clean ups (thus washing off any Rearguard etc).
If there is a heavy maggot burden, injections of Ivermectin can be given to kill the maggots but the patient must be very closely monitored as the dying larvae excrete toxins that can be fatal. The final treatment option is surgery for when the maggots have migrated far under the skin. However, such a heavy burden does not have a good prognosis and often euthanasia is the kindest option for severe cases.
WARNING! F10 wound spray is TOXIC to cats. Do NOT use on cats or in households where cats and rabbits have direct contact.
As always, prevention is better than cure and there are a number of things that owners can do to help reduce the risks. Owner awareness of fly strike is vital and they must be able to recognize the signs and know that this is an emergency that needs Veterinary attention as soon as possible.
In general, it is very important that the rabbit is kept in good physical condition. This means that it is fed a balanced diet consisting mainly of good quality hays with a small amount of commercial rabbit pellet and fresh vegetables and herbs. By feeding the correct diet, it reduces the risk of the rabbit becoming overweight and also reduces the risk of over producing caecotrophs which get stuck around the anus. Rabbits that are very young, very old or have health problems such as dental, gut or paralysis issues are more susceptible to fly strike.
Next, it is important that the rabbit is kept in clean, spacious living conditions. Any build up of urine or faeces will attract flies. The rabbit should also have plenty of space to move around and exercise away from its toileting area and uneaten fresh vegetables etc should be removed daily. If housed outdoors, mosquito netting can be used over the hutch and run areas to help reduce the amount of flies that can enter the area. It can also be attached to windows / door areas too. Sticky fly paper can be used outside the hutch but never in an area that the rabbit has access to as it can stick to them and cause terrible damage. If the rabbit is housed indoors, an electric insect killer can be used in the same room as the rabbit is housed and net curtains can be used in the windows to reduce the amount of flies entering the room.
Lastly, a topical treatment can be applied to the rabbit to help prevent fly strike. F10 wound spray with insecticide and Rearguard are examples of these topical treatments. F10 wound spray needs to be applied weekly to the rump and genital area. It is TOXIC to cats so don’t use on cats or in households where the cats and rabbits interact.
The main ingredient in Rearguard is Cyromazine (an insect growth regulator). It is recommended by many Veterinary practices and is widely available in pet shops and online. It should be applied at the start of summer before any flies are seen and gives approximately 8-10 weeks of protection. This product does not repel flies or kill maggots but works by preventing any eggs laid on the rabbit from hatching into maggots. Rearguard can also be applied on rabbits that have been successfully treated for fly strike to help prevent re-occurrence.
The bottle comes with a sponge applicator but I find this often has a sharp spike in the middle. So I wear a pair of disposable latex / nylon gloves and apply the liquid to my hands. I then rub this into the rabbits fur from the middle of the back to the tail and the same on the underside. Its important to get the fur quite wet and apply well around the back legs and genitals.
DO NOT APPLY TO SORE OR BROKEN SKIN.
The bottle says to use the whole bottle per rabbit but I have found that you can often get 2-3 applications out of one bottle for small / medium bunnies. As long as the target area is covered and the fur quite wet then this should be fine.
Re-apply every 8-10 weeks.
See here for more info (WARNING! some contain graphic images):