Preventing RHDV in Pet Rabbits (and resources to stay up-to-date)

your basic guide to RHDV in rabbits

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is an alarming viral infection that is extremely contagious and deadly. The original strain of the virus, RHDV1, has been known since 1984 and has existed in Europe and spread to Australia in subsequent years. 

The current dominant strain of the virus (RHDV2) is more contagious, but not quite as deadly as the original strain, but it still has a very high fatality rate (it has been measured at anywhere from 50% to 70%+ depending on the rabbit population being studied). RHDV2 was originally detected in 2010 in Europe but has now spread to Australia and North America.

Because this disease has the ability to spread quickly and has severe symptoms (which can often lead to sudden death), you need to be aware of the risks and take steps to prevent RHDV from reaching your rabbit.

Preventive strategies include vaccination when available and keeping rabbits indoors if you live in an area with infected wild rabbit populations. It’s also a good idea to quarantine any new rabbits to be sure they don’t develop symptoms of the disease before allowing them to interact with your healthy rabbits.

What is RHDV?

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) is a serious condition that can cause sudden death in both domestic and wild rabbit populations (including wild cottontail populations in North America). It causes acute liver failure and hemorrhaging in rabbits. 

This viral infection is highly contagious and often results in a sudden onset of symptoms, and, unfortunately, death may occur within hours of the first signs.

Some rabbits may show no symptoms before sudden death, others may present more prolonged symptoms like low appetite or respiratory issues. Symptoms of RHDV can include:

  • Sudden fever
  • Lethargy
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low or no appetite
  • Loss of balance
  • Convulsions 

One of the most alarming aspects of RHDV is its rapid progression. Infected rabbits may die suddenly, often within 12 to 36 hours after the onset of fever.

The virus is transmitted through several methods:

  • Direct contact with infected rabbits.
  • Contaminated food or water.
  • Contact with surfaces or materials such as clothing or shoes that have been exposed to the virus.

RHDV can survive for months in the environment, making regular disinfection and biosecurity measures essential, especially in places and facilities where multiple rabbits are seen (such as animal shelters and veterinary offices)

Why is RHDV so dangerous?

RHDV2, the dominant strain, is known to infect a wide range of rabbit ages, including very young kits, which were previously resilient to the original strain (RHDV1). 

The new strain can also affect other species of rabbits and lagomorphs, including hares and cottontail rabbit species found in North America. This has caused a significant decline in some wild rabbit populations including some protected rabbit species. This decline has many concerned about the overall ecological impacts this can have on local ecosystems.

It’s also important for rabbit caretakers to understand that this variant can spread not only through direct contact with an infected rabbit but also via contaminated materials such as clothing, food, or equipment. The virus can live for a very long time on surfaces and even survive very hot and freezing temperatures.

How can you prevent RHDV in your pet rabbit?

At the moment, there is no cure or specific antiviral treatment for RHDV, including both RHDV1 and RHDV2. Because of that, the best thing that you can do is focus on prevention through vaccination, quarantine, and other measures that prevent the spread of the virus. 

Preventative measures you can take against RHDV include:

  • Vaccination: This is the number one way to protect your rabbit against RHDV. Most areas with reported outbreaks of RHDV now have access to a vaccine, but in the US, the vaccine still in the emergency use stage of development. WabbitWiki has a list of states in the US and the vaccination approval status. You can also consult your veterinarian for any updates on the availability of the RHDV vaccine.
    • Make sure to also get an booster vaccine for your rabbit every year so that they have continued immunity to the disease
  • Isolation: Keep your rabbits isolated from wild rabbits (for example, by keeping your rabbits indoors) and unfamiliar domestic rabbits which could be carriers of RHDV.
  • Hygiene: Maintain strict hygiene practices by regularly cleaning and disinfecting rabbit enclosures. This minimizes the risk of infection from contaminated surfaces. This is especially important if you ever have contact with other rabbits outside of your home.
  • Take off your shoes: Avoid wearing shoes or outdoor/hiking clothing in your home since RHDV can travel on contaminated surfaces.
  • Control of Insects and Rodents: Use measures to control insects and rodents that can potentially spread RHDV. For example, flies that have come into contact with a contaminated rabbit can spread it to a healthy rabbit.
  • Feeding and Foraging: Only provide your rabbits with food and bedding that are safe and free from contamination. Avoid gathering plants from areas where wild rabbits might visit.
  • Travel Precautions: Be cautious when taking your rabbits to different locations, especially areas known to have RHDV outbreaks. Even if your rabbit is not going with you, be sure to wash and disinfect any clothing or shoes that may be carrying the virus.
  • Quarantine: If a new rabbit is introduced to your home, keep them quarantined for 2 weeks and monitor for symptoms of RHDV before allowing contact with your other rabbits.
rabbit vaccination
The best way to prevent RHDV in domestic rabbits is by getting your rabbit vaccinated.

Vaccinating your rabbit

The good news is that there are highly effective RHDV vaccines available for rabbits. In Europe and Australia, pet rabbits can be vaccinated against both the original stain of RHDV1 and the more dominant strain, RHDV2. 

In North America, a new vaccine has been developed for the RHDV2 strain of the virus. This is a recent development based on the 2020 outbreak of the disease that’s been slowly spreading across North America (Especially the Southwest regions). The new RHDV2 vaccine is not available in all states at the time of writing this, so talk to your veterinarian about getting emergency access to the vaccine for your pet rabbits.

Rabbits as young as 10 weeks can receive the RHDV vaccine(s). However, consult your veterinarian about any age recommendations since there are several different vaccines with slightly different effects and availability.

In most cases, your rabbit will get two doses of the vaccine at least 3 weeks apart. When I got the initial vaccine doses, my veterinarian actually recommended 4 weeks apart, so it’s always best to check.

After the initial two doses, you’ll want to get a booster shot for your rabbit annually. This will help them maintain their level of immunity to RHDV.

Your rabbits’ vaccination is a vital protective step. The RHDV2 vaccine has been found to be safe and effective. Regular vaccinations along with strict biosecurity practices can help protect your rabbits from this lethal virus. Please consult with your veterinarian for vaccination schedules and other protective measures to keep your rabbits safe from RHDV.

More information and resources about RHDV outbreaks and prevention

RHDV is a serious disease with ongoing outbreaks. While I hope this article gives you a basic understanding of the illness, I recommend keeping an eye on other, more up-to-date research and information about the current state of RHDV, what you can do to prevent it, and when vaccines will become more widely available.

For more detailed guidelines on these preventative measures and to stay updated on outbreak information, read through and bookmark these resources:

Keep abreast of the latest RHDV outbreak news and guidelines provided by trusted animal health organizations and your local veterinary authorities.


  1. “Calicivirus (RHDV) – rabbit vaccination.” Australian Veterinary Association. August 2022. 
  2. “Ecological Impacts.” 
  3. “Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. 
  4. “Rabbit hemorrhagic disease.” WabbitWiki. February 25, 2024.
  5. “RHDV2 & its Vaccine.” House Rabbit Society. 
  6. “RHDV2 Resources.” Foundation.
  7. Rich, Gary DVM. “Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV).” VCA Animal Hospitals.
  8. “What is rabbit calicivirus and how do I protect my rabbit from rabbit haemorrhagic disease?” RSPCA. March 7, 2023. 

Tips and Tricks Newsletter

If you are new to caring for rabbits, check out the Bunny Lady bimonthly newsletter. Right after you sign up, you’ll receive a FREE pdf rabbit care guidebook. I put together a guide that goes over all the basics of rabbit care so you have it all in one place. Then you will receive tips and tricks about rabbit care straight to your inbox so that you know you’ll be taking excellent care of your new rabbit.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

Recent Posts