Rabbit calicivirus and vaccination

Rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD), also known as haemorrhagic viral disease (RHVD), is a disease that kills rabbits. It was illegally introduced into New Zealand in 1997.  Thirty to eighty percent of animals exposed to the virus will develop the disease. Almost 100% of infected animals will die. 

It is unsure how the virus is transmitted, but at this stage it is assumed that rabbits acquire this highly infectious virus by breathing it in, ingestion, direct contact or through infected urine or faeces. Insects are also able to carry the virus, so isolation from other rabbits is not enough to prevent this nasty disease affecting your rabbit.  The incubation period is 1-3 days and research has shown that rabbits younger than 8 weeks of age are usually resistant to the virus.There are three forms of the disease which, in severe cases, causes bleeding in the lungs, the windpipe, liver, spleen, kidneys and the heart.

Death without any other signs

Depression, anorexia, difficulty breathing, shaking, and death within one to two days.  Other signs may include a foamy or bloody discharge from the nose or anus, nervous signs or rapid death. Rabbits may appear to recover, then die several days later

Mild form – depression, anorexia followed by recovery. These animals become immune from re-infection

Last year Totally Vets had approximately eight rabbit deaths in a two-week period.  A post-mortem examination was carried out at Massey University and confirmed that rabbit calicivirus was the cause of all eight deaths.  Totally Vets would therefore recommend that all pet rabbits be vaccinated, as this disease can be prevented through vaccination.

Rabbits can be vaccinated from 6 weeks old, at which age they will require boosters every 3 to 4 weeks until they are 3 months old. If vaccination commences at 2.5-3 months old, they will not require another booster that year. In order to maintain immunity, it is recommended that all vaccinated rabbits receive an annual booster.  If you would like to make an appointment to vaccinate your rabbit, or would like more information on rabbit calicivirus, please contact Totally Vets at our Feilding branch on 06 323 6161 or pop in to see our friendly reception staff.