Animal Happiness Vet

New Deadly Rabbit Calicivirus Released in WA

New Deadly Rabbit Calicivirus Released in WA

New Deadly Rabbit Calicivirus Released in WA

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This week (1 March, 2017) sees the release of an exotic strain of the rabbit calicivirus in Australia – RHDV1 K5 as part of a national rabbit pest control programme.

Animal Happiness Vet advises the concerned owners of pet rabbits in Perth, Western Australia that vaccination is a crucial part of protecting our much loved pet rabbits from Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease.

There is a lot of fear about caliciviruses and RHD, and a load of (mis)information on the internet. We encourage you to contact us today to discuss the facts and your concerns, and to act to protect your pet rabbit.

Here are the Top 6 facts you should know about RHD:

  1. Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) or Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) or Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD) is a deadly disease of rabbits worldwide that is characterised by massive bleeding in internal organs and cavities. It is caused by viruses (genus: Lagovirus) of the family Caliciviridae (caliciviruses).
    NB: The disease names RHD, VHD and RCD are interchangeable.
  2. The causative viruses are:
    1. RHDV 1 – Original virus released in 1995
    2. RHDV1A – Variant of type 1 isolated in Sydney in 2014
    3. RHDV1 – K5 Variant (release planned in March 2017)
    4. RHDV 2 – First recorded in mid 2015 in Australia, 2010 in Europe
    5. RCV – A1 Non pathogenic virus present in wild population
  3. The one vaccine that is available in Australia to protect pet rabbits from the above viruses is Cylap®. It is only partially protective against RHDV 2. (Hence other control measures are important too – see 5.)
  4. The current Australian Veterinary Association rabbit vaccine recommendation is:
    1. Kittens (young rabbits): 4, 8, 12 weeks of age, then every 6 months.
    2. Adults: 2 vaccinations 1 month apart, then every 6 months.
    3. The 6 monthly protocol is off-label. The vets at Animal Happiness Vet can discuss this further with you at your appointment. NB: We should at least vaccinate once a year which is the label recommendation.
    4. Based on studies conducted so far, giving the vaccine at more frequent intervals does not have negative health effects. Veterinarians need to advise owners that this protocol is off label.
  5. These viruses are transmitted by direct or indirect contact (eg on the soles of your shoes) or by insects. Recommended control measures are:
    1. Vaccination (see 3 and 4. above)
    2. Prevent direct and indirect contact between domestic and wild rabbits:
      1. Keep your pet rabbit indoors and limit contact between and handling of unfamiliar pet rabbits
      2. Rabbit-proof your backyard to prevent access by pest rabbits
      3. Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits.
    3. Good insect control is also important and will help reduce the risks of introduction of both RHDV and myxomatosis*.
      1. Insect control could include insect proofing the hutch or keeping the rabbits indoors.
      2. Control fleas and insects (especially flies) as much as possible both indoors and outdoors – Please contact us for advice on insecticides as some are toxic to rabbits.
      3. Remove uneaten food on a daily basis
    4. All cages and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
      1. Regularly decontaminate equipment and materials including cages, hutches, bowls etc, with either 10% bleach or 10% sodium hydroxide
      2. Decontaminate shoes and clothing after handling rabbits other than your own
      3. Wash hands, with warm soapy water between handling rabbits.
    5. Please contact us promptly if your rabbit is unwell or has passed away
  6. RHDV 2 can affect kittens (ie, young rabbits) and infected adults may only display non-specific signs such as fever, seizures, low blood glucose, anaemia or increases in liver or kidney blood test parameters, but kill other rabbits. Please contact us promptly if your rabbit seems unwell.

*Myxomatosis is a different disease caused by a virus that was introduced to Australia prior to the caliciviruses, also as a method of rabbit pest control. There is no vaccination available in Australia and insect control is the mainstay of infection prevention.

A reliable overview. Frances Harcourt-Brown is a recognised Specialist in Rabbit Medicine and Surgery and author. Accessed 1/3/2017.
The website of the Australian Veterinary Association and the current vaccine recommendations for pet rabbits. Accessed 1/3/2017.
The Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia’s website and the current recommendations on how to protect pet rabbits from RHD infections. Accessed 1/3/2017.
The website of the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Australia. For more local implications of RHDV 2. Accessed 1/3/2017.


By Dr Shan Siah, BSc (Vet Biol), BVMS, MPhil (Vet Path), CertZooMed

Dr Shan Siah was awarded his MPhil (Vet Path) in 2007 by the University of Liverpool with his thesis “Disease Transmission To and From Zoo Animals”, and as Clinical Scholar in Conservation Medicine at Chester Zoo. He has worked as a Research Associate at the School of Population Health, UWA and is a research consultant.

As a veterinary surgeon at Animal Happiness Vet he espouses our values about bringing high standards of veterinary care but with a practical grounding, to keep our pets and clients happy. 

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