State Veterinarian wants rabbit owners to beware of deadly virus ahead of livestock shows

OLYMPIA, Wash. — In 2018, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease or ‘RHD’ killed hundreds of domestic rabbits on Washington’s westside.

Recently, experts have detected a new variant of the disease, RHDV2, that’s killed a couple pet rabbits.

“This is an extremely fatal disease.” Dr. Amber Itle said.

Dr. Itle is Washington State’s Veterinarian. She said symptoms can range from mild respiratory issues to seizures.

“It’s mostly been reports of neurologic disease and sudden death so seizure activity, and death. This variant happens to impact wild rabbits, so our wild cotton tails, hares, jack rabbits and we didn’t see that before in Washington,” she explained.

Dr. Itle is concerned for Washington’s diverse rabbit population, especially the endangered Pygmy rabbit, found in the Columbia Basin.

“We’re trying to increase that population and make it stable again, so they are actually vaccinating that population to protect them from this virus,” she said.

With county fairs kicking off this summer across Washington, Dr. Itle wants people participating in livestock shows to have fun and keep their pets healthy.

Dr. Itle encouraged owners strengthen biosecurity measures to prevent disease.

“Use your own equipment, use your own brushes for grooming, don’t share anything,” Dr. Itle said owners should be the only people handling their rabbits.

There may be a solution, a vaccine is available under conditional and emergency approval by the USDA.

“It seems to be a very safe product, 45 state veterinarians across the country have approved this they’ve had no mortalities reported and just some mild reactions in some rabbits, but it seems to be very effective,” she said.

RHDV2 is a very hardy virus, Dr. Itle said it can withstand many conditions, and humans can carry it on their clothes or shoes. Birds can even transmit the virus, Dr. Itle said RHDV2 has survived birds’ stomachs.

If you suspect a sick rabbit, Dr. Itle said to isolate it immediately and clean its cage or home.

More on KAPP KVEW: