Viral haemorrhagic disease

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"This transmission electron micrograph shows rabbit calicivirus isolated from the liver of an infected rabbit." - source

Rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) is a highly contagious disease that affects only rabbits of the Oryctolagus cuniculus species. VHD is also known as rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD), rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD), rabbit calici-virus disease (RCVD), and viral hemorrhagic disease of rabbits (VHDR).

It is caused by the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV), also known as rabbit calicivirus (RCV).

Clinical manifestations chart for RHDV vs RHDV2.
VHDV2 - Facts Sheet (V1: November 19th, 2015) created by Joe Carey


There are a number of different strains of RHD. Currently RHDV2 (VHD-2), a strain found in France in 2010, is spreading throughout Europe. The UK now has access to the new vaccine (Cunivak RHD) that is effective against the new strain. If you or your vet needs information or has questions please read the new facebook post by The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund.

Zoetis Cylap RCD Vaccine. Protects against RHDV1 and is 'suitable' for protecting rabbits against the new K5 strain. Source.

July 28th, 2016: RVHD2: The UK’s Newest Fatal Rabbit Disease. Registered veterinary nurse Jo Hinde gives a "general overview of the current RVHD2 situation in the UK including information for veterinary professionals and owners regarding prevalence, prevention, vaccination, biosecurity and what to do if you have a sudden rabbit death."

Joe Carey (UK), author of the VHD-2 facts sheet, contacted Dr. Ghislaine Le Gall-Reculé PhD (in charge of research and scientific/technical studies on rabbit and hare caliciviroses & main author of the French research paper) asking about VHD-2. Responce here.

If you are in the Netherlands you can read: "Bunny owners warned of new hemorrhagic disease killing Dutch rabbits" by the NL Times. More Dutch information here. If you find a dead wild rabbit contact the Dutch Wildlife Health Centre (DWHC) to report it.

Australia & New Zealand

Australia also has a number of variants of RHD. There are plans to release RHVD1 (K5 variant made in South Korea) in Spring 2016 or Autumn 2017. You can follow the latest information on the Facebook group: Against K 5 Virus and For a Vaccine to Save Rabbits from RHDV2.

Studies & Papers

North and South America

The source of infection in past American VHD outbreaks is not known. However, these may not be only outbreaks to have happened in the past.

The current status of RHD in the US can be found here.

Notable outbreaks


  • Late 1980s to 1991 - Endemic in Mexico: The source of the Mexican outbreak was traced to the importation, through the United States, of 18 metric tons of rabbit meat from the People's Republic of China to a supermarket chain outside Mexico City. Over 110,000 rabbits died or were destroyed.[1]
  • 2000 - Iowa (US): began 9 Mar 2000 in a backyard rabbitry of 27 pet Palominos and California White rabbits in west central Iowa. 25 of the 27 rabbits died by Apr 6, the rest euthanized, and the outbreak was contained to the single premise. The origin of the outbreak is unknown, and no new rabbits had been introduced over the last two years. Aug 1999 was the last time the rabbits had left the farm and returned.[2][3]
  • 2001 - Cuba: an outbreak was reported Jan 15 in Havana and Havana City province in an operation that produced rabbits for private consumption.[4]
  • 2001 - Utah (US): began 17 Aug 2001 in a rabbitry in Utah County, Utah. 65 of 900 rabbits on the premises had died by Aug 20, and the rest were euthanized.[5] The farm had shipped rabbits to three locations: 3 rabbits to another site in Utah, 3 rabbits to a premise in Yellowstone County, Montana, and 72 rabbits to a location in Mercer County, Illinois. No clinical disease was noted in the second Utah premise; however, both premises were depopulated.

    At the Montana site, the rabbits from Utah were euthanized and buried on the property, and the remaining rabbits were placed under quarantine until final test results from the euthanized Utah rabbits was negative. Two other rabbits (not the Utah origin rabbits) from the Montana premises, while in route to a truck for slaughter, had been co–mingled with rabbits that were on their way to the Montana State Fair. These two Montana rabbits were then placed on a truck carrying 3,600 rabbits in route to California through Idaho; all 3,600 rabbits considered to be contacts were euthanized.[3]
  • 2001 - Illinois (US): an outbreak in Mercer County, Illinois, due to receiving 72 rabbits from infected Utah premises.[3] All rabbits were depopulated (over 3,000[6]).
  • 2001 - New York (US): an outbreak was diagnosed Dec 2001 in the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Two rabbits died - one was positive for RHD. Seven other rabbits were euthanized, and the disease was contained.[3]
  • 2004 - Uruguay: an outbreak was reported 28 Dec 2004 among backyard domestic rabbits in suburban areas of the city of Montevideo, and in adjacent areas in the departments of Canelones and San Jose. This was the first report of RHD in Uruguay and South America. 4,689 rabbits were affected on 45 premises, and 2,820 rabbits died. The remaining 1,869 sick rabbits were culled.[7]
  • 2005 - Cuba: an outbreak was reported 21 Jan 2005 in the Havana city and province. 14,450 affected rabbits and 2,362 rabbit deaths were reported by 28 Dec 2004.[8]
  • 2005 - Indiana (US): began 27 May 2005 in a backyard rabbitry in Vanderburgh County, Indiana. Eight of a group of eleven rabbits that were purchased in Kentucky at a flea market died acutely three days later in Indiana following introduction into the herd. The owner had approximately 200 rabbits in total, nearly half of which also subsequently died.[9]
  • 2008 - Maryland (US): Private residence involving 4 mature pet rabbits.[10]
  • 2010 - Minnesota (US): a facility in Pine County, Minnesota, that received donated pet rabbits for use as a food source at a wildlife center reported an outbreak early Feb 2010.[10] 20 died initially, with more rabbits that were brought in quickly dying rapidly without clinical disease as well. 25 rabbits died or were euthanized, and there was no known further spread. The initial source of the disease is unknown.[11]
  • 2011 - Manitoba (CA): A 1-year-old grey and white neutered male 2.6-kg lop-eared rabbit was seen at a clinic 30 Mar 2011 and died after seizing and going into cardiac arrest with unsuccessful CPR. The body was submitted for necropsy 31 Mar 2011 at the Manitoba Veterinary Diagnostic Services Laboratory. The lop was purchased from a local pet store in the spring of 2010 and was surrendered to the store from a previous unknown owner. Two other rabbits living at the premises remained in good health and tested negative after regularly sharing a cage and litter box with the affected rabbit. The origin of the disease is unknown, but it is speculated that it may be related to the 2010 Minnesota outbreak due to geographical proximity.[10]
  • 2018 - Pennsylvania (US): The USDA confirms that rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHDV1) was found in two "pet rabbits" that died December 7th in Clover Township, Jefferson County. Farm and Dairy reported that "Rabbit owners who have questions about this disease should contact their veterinarians. Veterinarians who suspect RHD cases should immediately contact the department’s Bureau of Animal Health at 717-787-4250."[12][13]


  • 2016 - Three farms near Rimouski (Mont-Joli & Bas-Saint-La), Quebec (Canada): New rabbits were introduced from one farm into another, "small hobby rabbit farms." Start of the outbreak: Aug 13th, 2016. Virus showed 96.2% identity to RHDVb (or RHDV2) isolate (GenBank: KT000337.1) from São Jorge in Azores Islands. Source
  • 2018 - British Columbia (CA): SPCA was contacted about a group of dead rabbits on 18 Feb 2018. Three rabbits were sent to the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford and confirmed to have RHD. On 27 Feb 2018, reports about an unusual number (12) of dead rabbits found in the Rotary Bowl in Nanaimo were reported on. On 2 Mar 2018, Victoria News reports that rabbit haemorrhagic disease was the cause for the deaths around the Vancouver Island University area. The British Columbia Gov't officially warns people "to take precautions." CBC News update. On 17 May 2018, Dr. Jaspinder Komal (Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, Canadian Food Inspection Agency) filed his 4th and last weekly report with OIE-WAHIS. OIE-WAHIS writes about future reporting, "The event cannot be considered resolved, but the situation is sufficiently stable. No more follow-up reports will be sent. Information about this disease will be included in the next six-monthly reports."

    25 Oct 2018: The Ministry of Agriculture reported that the last positive case was detected in early May.
    Since that time, the ministry’s Animal Health Centre has tested 23 rabbits and all have been negative for the disease. No vaccinated animals have contracted the disease, and ministry staff have been hearing that healthy feral European Rabbits have been returning to affected areas.

    - source
Dr. Adrian Walton with Dewdney Animal Hospital Ltd. gives a good overview of the RHD outbreak on Vancouver Island. Near Nanaimo, Canada. February/March 2018.
  • 2018 - Ohio (US): First RHDV2 case reported in USA. The virus was detected in Medina County, Ohio on 19 Sep 2018 and reported by the Ohio DOA and Ohio Veterinary Medical Association on 25 Sep 2018. The rabbits were housed in horse stalls and were at the location for many years with no new rabbits introduced. It's currently not categorized as an outbreak and the farm that had the infected rabbit has been quarantined. Currently the source of the virus is unknown.
The rural household had 5 pet rabbits, not bred or shown. "Three animals had previously been found dead in the last couple of weeks, and the fourth was taken to an exotics vet for diagnosis. A postmortem was done, and the alert and knowledgeable veterinarian knew that a check for RVHD was in order. Contact was made with the OH State Veterinarian's office and samples were sent to Plum Island's Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, where testing revealed RHDV2.

- Pamela Alley (Admin), North Americans RHDV2 Group. Info from Dr. Summers from the Ohio's Veterinarian's Office (Sep 26th, 2018).
    The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) will work with state and federal partners to conduct surveillance of wild rabbits near the location.

    Plum Island's Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory conducted the PCR and ELISA tests and the RHDV2 virus was isolated, twice with ELISA antigen (Ag) detection. OIE-WAHIS)

    29 Sep 2018: Pamela Alley posted a Q & A response from the USDA/APHIS by Donna Karlsons (USDA/APHIS Public Affairs Specialist). FADDL (Plum Island) found that "The whole genome sequencing indicated that the virus was very similar to the one detected in Canada." VIN news service reported that the virus found in Ohio was first identified in France in 2010.

    12 Oct 2018: Twelve rabbits died at the Fairfield County Fair and initially it was thought that the virus had spread to Lancaster, Ohio (210 miles or 338 km). Over 300 rabbits were put under quarantine. The test result found pneumonia... the 12 rabbits were let to die by not giving them antibiotics.

Novel calicivirus variant

  • 2001 - Michigan (US): acute fatalities of the Michigan rabbit calicivirus (MRCV) began 01 Jan 2001 and continued over a 3-week period at a privately owned New Zealand White rabbitry in Michigan. Before this episode, the farm had operated for 1.5 years without disease. Approximately 200 rabbits were kept in a closed barn, and no new rabbits had been acquired in the past 18 months. 65 rabbits died over about 3 weeks.[14] Because the MRCV genome is unique among the lagoviruses and no later outbreaks were reported nor was it identified again, MRCV could be considered an ‘attempt’ at emergence by a new RHDV-like virus.[15]

Further reading

The following are experiences with RHD:


  1. Gregg, DA et al. (1991). Viral haemorrhagic disease of rabbits in Mexico: epidemiology and viral characterization. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  2. United States Department of Agriculture. (2014). Rabbit Calicivirus Disease, Iowa, April 2000 Impact Worksheet. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 United States Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (Calicivirus) in the U.S., 2000–2001. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  4. United States Department of Agriculture. (2014). Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, Cuba, January 2001. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  5. United States Department of Agriculture. (2015). Viral Hemorrhagic Disease of Rabbits, Utah Impact Worksheet, August 28, 2001. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  6. Three Little Ladies Rabbitry. (n.d.). Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease - VHD. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  7. United States Department of Agriculture. (2013). Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD), Uruguay, January 5, 2005 Impact Worksheet. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  8. (2013). Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD), Cuba , February 1, 2005 Impact Worksheet. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  9. United States Department of Agriculture. (2013). Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, Indiana, June 16, 2005 Impact Worksheet. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Embury-Hyatt, C et al. (2012). The first reported case of rabbit hemorrhagic disease in Canada. Retrieved 13 Mar 2017 from
  11. TinysMom. (2010). Outbreak of Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD) in Pine County, MINNESOTA. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  12. Farm and Dairy. (2018). Rare rabbit disease confirmed in western Pennsylvania. Retrieved 12 Dec 2018 from
  13. Pennsylvania Pressroom, Offical news for Pennsylvania state agencies (2018). Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Confirmed in Jefferson County. Retrieved 12 Dec 2018 from
  14. Bergin, IL et al. (2009). Novel Calicivirus Identified in Rabbits, Michigan, USA. Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from
  15. Capucci, L et al. (2017). Increased pathogenicity in rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2). Retrieved 16 Apr 2018 from