Biosecurity recommendations for rabbits
Biosecurity measures are practices intended to reduce the spread of infectious diseases and are essential in protecting animal health. Rabbit breeders and owners are encouraged to adopt the following biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of the spread of many infectious diseases in rabbits, including rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD).
Additional advice is available in the National Farm-Level Biosecurity Planning Guide Proactive Management of Animal Resources.
RHD is a sudden onset, highly contagious and fatal viral disease of lagomorphs (rabbits and hares). There are two main genotypes of the virus, both of which have been reported in Canada. RHDV1 was found in Manitoba in 2011 and has not been identified since. Since then, only RHDV2 has been found in Canada.
RHDV2 affects several species of rabbits and hares, including both captive and feral European rabbits, from which our own domestic rabbits are descended. It also affects several species of wild rabbits and hares that are indigenous to Canada. High rates of illness and death can occur in exposed rabbits.
The virus spreads among rabbits and hares through secretions and excretions including those from runny eyes/noses, saliva, urine, feces as well as contaminated bedding, fur, food and water. It can also be spread by humans, wildlife and insects on contaminated clothing, fur, and other surfaces. The virus can survive for long periods of time in the environment and remain infectious to animals.
The disease does not affect humans and is not known to affect other animals. In Canada RHD is a federally immediately notifiable disease; laboratories are required to notify the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) of suspected or diagnosed of the disease.
Some key biosecurity measures include the following.
People and equipment
- Minimize access to the premises and restrict contact with rabbits to only those people necessary for their care
- Post biosecurity signs to advise visitors that access to the property and animals is restricted
- Lock gates and doors to secure access to animal housing areas
- Require that all essential visitors (for example, veterinarians or service personnel):
- obtain approval before visiting
- understand and implement established biosecurity protocols
- fill out a visitor log
- be accompanied by owner or person responsible for animal
Avoid non-essential visitor contact with rabbits; if this is unavoidable, employ these practices:
- Wash or sanitize hands, clean and disinfect boots and wear clothing dedicated to the farm or premises before caring for rabbits
- Do not share equipment with other rabbit breeders or owners
- Clean and disinfect equipment, waterers, feeders and other items coming into contact with rabbits
- Follow the directions supplied by the disinfectant manufacturer and rinse waterers and feeders thoroughly before refilling
- Avoid travel to areas experiencing disease outbreaks
- Monitor rabbits at least once a day for signs of illness, including:
- difficulty breathing, loss of coordination, reduced appetite, and reduced activity
- bleeding from the nose, blood in the feces, hemorrhages in the eye
- sudden death with few clinical signs
- Consider vaccinating animals against the disease and discuss with a veterinarian
- Prevent rabbits from having contact with other domestic or wild rabbits/hares, and other animals
- Manage and minimize exposure to insects
- Manage and minimize the use of outdoor exercise areas for rabbits
- Consider disease risks when attending rabbit shows or fairs due to exposure to potentially sick animals
- Limit the introduction of new rabbits: rabbits that appear healthy can be infected and pose a risk to resident animals
- Isolate all returning show and new rabbits from contact with resident animals for at least 14 days to ensure they are healthy: to protect specifically against RHD, isolate for 60 days
- During this isolation period, manage rabbits separately:
- provide care for the isolated rabbits only after handling the resident animals
- prevent physical and indirect contact between show and resident animals (e.g. do not use the same equipment)
- closely monitor the health status of isolated and resident animals during the isolation period
- seek veterinary guidance if there are signs of disease
Feed, water, bedding
- Obtain feed from suppliers with quality control programs
- Do not collect and use wild plants as a food source
- Obtain all feed and bedding from RHDV2-free jurisdictions or store hay for at least 8 months prior to use
- Use municipal water sources as surface water sources and shallow wells are not recommended due to the increased risk of contamination
- Protect feed and bedding from contamination by storing them indoors or in tightly sealed containers
- Clean up feed spills
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