Rabbit Calicivirus – is your Rabbit safe?

You’ve probably heard about it already through various forms of media, but we would like to share a bit more information with you. Rabbit Calicivirus, also known as rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD), is a highly infectious and often fatal disease. The infectious agent responsible for the disease is rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV). A new strain of this virus (RHDV1 K5) will be released nationally, as a bio-control measure, in the first week of March 2017, to manage the wild European rabbit population. Unfortunately, this means that both domestic and farmed rabbits may also be affected.

What are the symptoms of RHDV?

RHDV affects the internal organs such as the liver and intestines and may cause internal bleeding. Signs include:

  • fever
  • restlessness
  • lethargy
  • loss of appetite with bleeding from the nose and/or blood on the floor where rabbits are housed.

Often infected rabbits may show no signs and die suddenly. If a pet rabbit is showing signs, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. There is no cure for RHD but affected rabbits can be given supportive treatment.

How does RHDV spread?

All RHDV strains can spread easily from infected rabbits in droppings, urine, secretions from the eyes and nose, and at mating. Spread can also occur from contaminated objects such as food, clothing, cages, equipment, insects (especially flies), birds and rodents.

How can I reduce the risk of my rabbit being exposed to RHDV?

Because the virus can remain in the environment for an extended period and it can be transmitted on objects and biting insects, the following precautions may assist in minimising the risk of infection:

  • Keep your pet rabbit indoors
  • Insect proof their hutch both indoors and outdoors
  • Rabbit-proof your backyard to prevent access by wild rabbits
  • Regularly decontaminate equipment and materials including cages, hutches, bowls etc, with either a 10% bleach solution or a 10% sodium hydroxide solution
  • Limit contact between and handling of unfamiliar pet rabbits
  • Decontaminate hands, shoes and clothing after handling other than your own rabbits
  • Remove uneaten food on a daily basis


Changes to recommended vaccination protocols

An effective vaccine, Cylap® has been available for many years to protect rabbits against the RDHV1 strain of the virus. Please note, there is no specific vaccine available to combat the new strain (RDHV1 K5).The current evidence indicates that vaccination with Cylap® will provide some protection against RHDV1 K5, but until further trials are done, owners are advised that vaccination may not provide full protection.

Owners should seek advice from their veterinarian regarding vaccination protocols as the newly advised vaccine protocol is “off label”.

Vaccination recommendations have changed:

  • Kittens – 4, 8, & 12 weeks of age, then 6 monthly for life
  • Adults – two vaccinations 1 month apart, then 6 monthly for life.

Vaccinations should always be administered to healthy animals, and a risk/benefit discussion should be had with your veterinarian before any vaccine is given.

If your rabbit has had a vaccination in the last 6 months, it is recommended you commence 6 monthly vaccinations. If the vaccination was given more than 6 months ago, it is recommended that a booster vaccination is given before the release of this strain in the first week of March 2017.

For more information, please see the link below for the Biosecurity Bulletin release by the Department of Primary Industries.


It is recommended that all healthy, domestic rabbits are vaccinated, so if you aren’t sure when your rabbit was last vaccinated, please give us a call and we can advise.