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Every spring Humane Educators and Rabbit Advocates educate the
public regarding the realities of rabbit care and rabbit
overpopulation issues at animal shelters. This year the job is a
bit harder. After three outbreaks of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease,
RHD, in the U.S. in the past two years, educators must now also
warn potential rabbit caretakers to be on the lookout for, and
protect their rabbits from this dangerous viral disease.

RHD suddenly appeared in China in 1984. In four years it reached
rabbits across three continents, killing ninety percent of the
rabbits it infected within twenty four to forty eight hours of
contact. RHD is an extremely contagious virus transmitted by
direct contact with infected rabbits, or by indirect contact with
objects contaminated by the virus. The virus can live outside a
host for 105 days at 68 and for 2 days at 140. Fatal infection
can cause high fever, lethargy or no symptoms at all. In the
acute form rabbits die due to a massive hemorrhage of at least
one major organ. However there are two other forms of the
disease. In one form, rabbits show some distress and recover.
This is especially true for rabbits under 4 weeks, because
rabbits under this age are not susceptible to the virus. The
mortality rate is low in rabbits between the age of 4 and 8
weeks, as well as in rabbits over 6 years old. Rabbits who
recover become carriers for a period thought to range from 4 to 8

A third symptomology is now being reported from countries that
have experienced repeating epidemics. This is caused by both a
chronic and a subclinical form, characterized by jaundice, weight
loss and lethargy. Death due to liver failure occurs in 2 weeks
with these forms. These forms effect 5% to 10% of infected

The domestic rabbit of the U.S. is an ancestor of the European
Rabbit, the only species that experiences severe illness and
death as a result of infection by RHD. Dr. David Matson, Head of
the Infectious Diseases Section at the Center for Pediatric
Research in Norfolk, Virginia, examined a health survey and
serological evidence gathered by Australian scientists and found
evidence that humans who come in contact with the disease
sometimes develop flu like symptoms. The Center for Disease
Control is monitoring the health of people in the U.S. who come
in contact with the virus. There is additional evidence that
other animals can become infected, and should be monitored if

The first official outbreak of RHD in the U.S. occurred in Iowa
in March of 2000. Two additional outbreaks have occurred. An
outbreak in Utah in August of 2001 claimed the lives of over
4,000 rabbits, primarily through eradication efforts. This
outbreak reached as far east as Illinois where a rabbitry which
had purchased rabbits from the Utah facility lost approximately
300 rabbits, half to the disease. The third outbreak came in
December of 2001 at the Queens Zoo. Eight rabbits were lost in
that incident.

Rabbit caretakers and potential rabbit caretakers are asked to
have rabbits necropsied by their Veterinarian in the event of
sudden and/or unexplained death.

Kind Planet, an internet based humane education program, has
joined with the RHD in the U.S. Coalition to get the word out to
rabbit caretakers and potential rabbit caretakers. The Coalition
is a group working to stop the spread of RHD. Kind Planet urges
people to adopt a rabbit only after careful consideration of the
care it will need throughout it's life span of up to twelve
years. With RHD now in the U.S., rabbit caretakers have the added
responsibility of keeping rabbits safe from this deadly virus.
For additional information please contact us or visit our
websites at   www.kindplanet.org www.vhdcoalition.org 

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