Rabbit owners are urged to keep a close eye on their pets for signs of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), a highly contagious disease that has appeared in the Western Cape and other parts of South Africa for the first time. This is a deadly disease that is usually transmitted by direct contact with another rabbit. However, the virus is able to withstand extreme temperatures, survive up to four months on objects and material at room temperature and can survive on the decaying tissue of infected carcasses for up to 90 days. It can also surviving freezing for up to eight months.
The Department of Agriculture says this is the first time RHD has been detected in South Africa and it could have a devastating impact on our wild rabbits and hares (such as the endangered Riverine rabbit) as well as domestic rabbits. The death rate is very high. Dogs and cats are not affected.
RHD signs and symptoms
It is important to note that many rabbits do not show symptoms before dying. However, common symptoms include:
• lethargy and appetite loss
• bloody discharge from eyes/nose
• tremors, seizures, paralysis
• blue gums and tongue and yellow discolouration of the skin or eyes
• abnormal or difficulty breathing
Most rabbits die within one to two weeks of showing clinical signs. Should you notice any of these clinical signs, isolate your rabbit and call your veterinarian for advice immediately. Do not take your rabbit to the vet without calling ahead first as this is a highly contagious disease. If your sick rabbit has companion rabbits, remove him/her from the hutch and disinfect the hutch with F10 disinfectant (available from Vets and EberVet Vetshops). Discard all litter and hay in double bags sprayed with F10 on the outside.
Keep your rabbits away from contact with any others. Rabbits who are infected can continue to shed RHD for at least a month after they have recovered from the disease.