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. 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

  • 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.”
    • People and other domestic animals are not at risk.
  • Is it a concern for Kentucky’s native rabbits?
    • Yes. 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.
  • 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?

The potential introduction of this virus to Kentucky through the movement of animals for commercial and recreational activities is a serious concern.

Because of the risk of widespread rabbit mortality from RHDV2, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is pursuing emergency regulations to ban the importation of any wild rabbit species alive or dead (i.e., carcass) into Kentucky.  KDFWR does not regulate domestic rabbit species.

We are asking for your help to reduce the risk of introduction 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. A listing of private lands biologists is available on the department’s website. Type “private lands biologists” in the search box. The public should 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.

Please see the definition of suspicious rabbit mortality (below) before reporting any mortalities to local biologists.

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