Vets urged to protect rabbits against RVHD2

The 13th annual Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) Protect and Prevent campaign is urging vets to raise awareness around the importance of vaccinations to protect rabbits against Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease type 2 (RVHD2) and other fatal diseases.

This year’s RAW will take place between 1 -9 June.

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RVHD2 is a highly infectious strain of RVHD with few or no visible symptoms. It is fatal and can kill within hours. It poses a significant threat to Britain’s rabbit population and outbreaks have been reported across the UK and Ireland.

Protection against RVHD2 requires at least annual vaccination but the most recent sales figures show that only 137,405 vaccinations have been distributed in the last year despite there being 600,000 rabbits in UK households. Campaigners said these numbers suggested a number of vets were still not stocking the necessary vaccines to protect rabbits against RVHD2 and other fatal diseases.

Rabbits who have received the combined vaccination for RVHD and myxomatosis will require a separate vaccination for RVHD2.

BSAVA president, Susan Paterson, said: “This year’s Rabbit Awareness Week highlights the impact of the spread of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease caused by the virus RVHD2. This fatal disease can be easily vaccinated against by local veterinary practices, yet many rabbits remain unvaccinated.

“The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) supports the Rabbit Awareness Week ‘Protect and Prevent’ approach to saving the lives of rabbits in the UK. The BSAVA urges all rabbit owners to get their rabbits vaccinated against this disease and encourages all practices to remind their clients of the importance of doing this.”

RVHD2 often has no symptoms which can make a diagnosis difficult. Post-mortem examinations may be needed to determine the cause of death and vets are being advised that any sudden deaths may be as a result of RVHD.

As well as vaccinating against RVHD2, rabbits must also be vaccinated against myxomatosis and the original RVHD strain.

Richard Saunders, BVSc DZooMed MRCVS, added: “It’s important for vets to be aware of the importance of vaccinating rabbits against all three viral diseases: Myxomatosis, RVHD1 and RVHD2. We certainly don’t want rabbits to go without their annual myxomatosis vaccine: this horrible disease is very much still around. RVHD1 appears to have been overtaken by the new variant, RVHD2, but should still be vaccinated against. RVHD2 is a recent strain of the RVHD virus, which the Nobivac Myxo-RHD vaccine does not cover, and it is, quite literally, everywhere. Transported by inanimate objects as well as animals, it can affect both indoor and outdoor rabbits anywhere in the UK.

“If you wait until you see the first case in your area before recommending vaccination, rabbits will die, when this could be avoided. Remember that rabbit owners are much more likely to bury their dead pets at home than cat and especially dog owners, who generally bring their pets to a vet for cremation, and so we, as a profession, are under-aware of the incidence of the disease out there. RVHD2 is a core vaccination requirement, being endemic in the UK. Additionally, it’s not just a fatal disease, it’s a fatal disease with a reservoir in the wild. We strongly recommend vaccination of rabbits with either Filavac or Eravac in addition to Nobivac Myxo-RHD.”

Alex Thorne, from the team at Burgess Pet Care who organise RAW, said: “Thousands of vets take part in RAW every year and their support is invaluable in helping us to educate rabbit owners and improve the health and wellbeing of rabbits in the UK. This year’s campaign is a matter of life and death and we’re asking veterinary practices to help us save as many lives of rabbits as possible by raising awareness of RVHD2 and the importance of vaccinations.”

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