UW Veterinary Care offers rabbit vaccine against fatal disease

Although the disease is highly transmissible among rabbits, it is not spreadable to other...
Although the disease is highly transmissible among rabbits, it is not spreadable to other species or humans.
Published: May. 7, 2022 at 3:04 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Researchers say a fatal rabbit hemorrhagic disease, RHDV2, is spreading across the U.S.

In response to the outbreak, the UW Veterinary Care Special Species Health Service at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine is offering an emergency-authorized vaccine against the disease for rabbits.

The clinic is one of about a dozen animal hospitals in the state to offer the vaccine and part of a growing effort nationally to encourage rabbit owners to seek vaccination.

UW Veterinary Care offers the RHDV2 vaccine on Fridays every three weeks through the Special Species Health Service.

Any rabbit patients in Wisconsin, and owners do not need to be previously established clients with UW Veterinary Care to get an appointment.

Kurt Sladky, a veterinarian and clinical professor of zoological medicine and special species health at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, believes the virus is likely in Wisconsin despite the lack of detected cases.

“Some wild rabbits, if found dead and suspected of disease, are submitted to laboratories equipped to make the diagnosis, such as the National Wildlife Health Center here in Madison,” Sladky said. “But there’s no easy way to find and track how many have died in the wild.”

Skadly said the disease is devastating. Once rabbits have the virus, they typically bleed to death, with the predicted mortality rate being 70 to 100 percent of infected rabbits.

The virus spreads easily through contact with body secretions such as saliva, urine and blood. It can live up to a month on surfaces.

“Your rabbit could become infected through urine, feces, blood … even a fly could land on a carcass with the virus and transmit it to another rabbit if the fly’s feet make direct contact with the nose of another rabbit,” Sladky said. “It’s so easily transmissible rabbit to rabbit.”

Pet rabbits are also becoming vulnerable, according to Sladky. The disease’s global spread is believed to have stemmed from rabbit shows and meat production chains.

In 2021, UW Veterinary Care saw nearly 800 rabbit patient visits.

In addition to the vaccine, Sladky recommends other steps to protect rabbits. Though the weather is getting warm, rabbits should refrain from exercising outside until they have the RHDV2 vaccine.

Additionally, rabbit owners should purchase food from reputable sources. Contact between rabbits, especially wild rabbits, remains key.

“We’re trying to educate clients that an important infectious disease of rabbits is spreading from state to state,” Sladky said. “You should think about the ways your pet rabbit could become exposed and the potential consequences.”

Although the disease is highly transmissible among rabbits, it is not spreadable to other species or humans.

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