Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease: An Emerging Wildlife Disease

​​Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHDV2) is a fatal disease in rabbits. It is classified as a foreign animal disease in the United States and is reportable to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). For the first time in the U.S., this disease has been detected in wild rabbits. It has been detected in several states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah) across the Southwest.
map of rhdv2

USDA APHIS link to current map: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/maps/animal-health/rhd

​​In December 2021, RHDV2 was confirmed through lab testing of two pet rabbits from Jefferson County. This was the first case of RHDV2 detected in Kentucky.

What is Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) and why should we be concerned?

  • According to the USDA, “RHDV2 is highly contagious, and, unlike other rabbit hemorrhagic disease viruses, it affects both domestic and wild rabbits. Many times, the only signs of the disease are sudden death and blood-stained noses caused by internal bleeding. Infected rabbits may also develop a fever, be hesitant to eat, or show respiratory or nervous signs."

Does it pose a risk to people or other animals?

  • RHDV2 is not known to affect people or other animals, including dogs and cats.
  • Please do not attempt to pick up rabbit carcasses due to the potential for transmission of other zoonotic diseases (those posing health risks to humans), such as Tularemia.

Is it a concern for Kentucky's native rabbits?

  • Yes. The RHDV2 strain is especially deadly for rabbits, killing up to 80 percent of infected animals. Kentucky is home to species of concern like the Appalachian cottontail and swamp rabbit, whose populations are already declining. Additionally, both wild and domestic rabbits are utilized for recreational activities in Kentucky.
  • Due to the risk for this disease to spill over into wild rabbits, the department has increased its monitoring efforts in the area of the detection and asking for the public to report sick or deceased wild rabbits to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife at 1-800-858-1549 or Info.Center@ky.gov.
  • Residents of a county where RHDV2 has been detected – and counties adjacent to it - who take injured wild rabbits to wildlife rehabilitation centers are advised to contact the centers before arriving to discuss precautions the facility may have in place.
  • Kentucky Fish and Wildlife does not regulate domestic rabbit species.
  • Rabbit owners are encouraged to contact their veterinarian if pet rabbits become ill.

How is it transmitted?

  • It is transmissible through contact with infected rabbits or carcasses, their meat or fur, or contact with contaminated food, water or bedding.
    • RHDV2 persists in the environment for long periods of time.
      • It can survive freezing temperatures and approximately 4 months in dry conditions.

How can we help prevent it in Kentucky?

Movement of infected rabbits and contaminated materials poses the greatest risk of spreading RHDV2 to new areas. Therefore, the potential spread of this virus in Kentucky through the movement of animals for commercial and recreational activities is a serious concern.

The public can help reduce the risk and protect Kentucky's native species by refraining from any rabbit importation in the state and reporting any suspicious rabbit deaths to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

Before reporting any rabbit mortalities, please see the definition of suspicious rabbit mortality (below).

Defining Suspicious Rabbit Mortalities

  • Reports of multiple (more than one) dead rabbits
    • Roadkill or traumatic injury-related deaths should not be included.
    • Orphaned or baby rabbits should not be included.
  • Reports of rabbits dying acutely or within a short period of time
    • Incubation is 1 to 3 days – death occurs quickly.
  • Reports of rabbits with bloody discharge from nose or mouth

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