As in previous years, in 2019 the Dutch Wildlife Health Centre and the Veterinary Faculty at Utrecht University receives reports of dead rabbits all year round. This number increased in August and September.
Post-mortem investigations have identified that Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD, also known as Viral hemorrhagic disease [VHD]) continues to cause deaths in both wild and pet rabbits. There is no treatment available and pet rabbit owners are advised to contact their vet to organise vaccination of their animals.
Findings on post-mortem exam can suggest that an animal died as a result of RHDV infection, however, viral testing is needed to confirm this diagnosis. Such testing has been performed in small numbers of rabbits investigated in Utrecht and has implictaed RHDV-2 in these deaths.
The virus is very infectious; rabbits can become infected by direct (animal to animal) and indirect (animal contact with contaminated urine, faeces, water, feed, clothing or hands) contact. Infectious particles of the RHDV-2 virus have even been recovered from the droppings of birds of prey that have eaten an infected rabbit. The RHD-virus is not infectious for other companion animals such as dogs, cats, guinea pigs or other rodents. Pet rabbits should be vaccinated.
Whilst vaccination of pet rabbits against RHDV-1 and RHDV-2 is not compulsory it is strongly recommended. Rabbit owners should contact their vets for more information. Rabbits being exhibited at shows or that are taken to schools must be vaccinated for RHDV-2.