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Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) fact sheet

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (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:

RHDV2 affects several species of rabbits and hares, including both captive and feral European rabbits, from which Canada's domestic rabbits are descended. It may infect several species of wild rabbits and hares that are indigenous to Canada.

Risk of rabbit haemorrhagic disease to human health

RHD is not known to cause disease in humans.

Signs of rabbit haemorrhagic disease

After being exposed to the virus, rabbits usually become sick within one to five days. Death is common after a short period of illness. Death may also occur suddenly without signs.

Common clinical signs include:

Chronic cases are less common. Typical signs are

Where rabbit haemorrhagic disease is found

RHD is found in most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Cuba and some parts of Asia and Africa. In the United States, RHD has been found in both wild and domestic rabbit populations, particularly in the western states.

In Canada, RHDV2 has been reported in Quebec and Ontario in captive domestic rabbits, and in both feral and captive domestic rabbits in British Columbia and Alberta.

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease transmission and spread

RHD is caused by a highly contagious virus. It is spread between rabbits through direct contact with saliva, nasal secretions, urine, manure, blood and fur or carcasses of infected rabbits.

It can also be spread by contaminated objects, like food, bedding, water and cages. People can also easily spread the virus to rabbits if it is on their hands, clothing or footwear after being in contact with infected rabbits. The virus can be spread by car tires after travelling through an area where infected rabbits have been.

The virus can also be brought in from other areas or countries through infected live rabbits or items, such as rabbit meat, pelts and Angora rabbit wool.

Although meat from rabbits infected with RHD is not known to cause illness in humans, the handling and movement of their meat can contribute to the spread of the virus to susceptible rabbits. Since the virus is very resistant in the environment and survives temperature extremes, including freezing, anyone handling rabbits or rabbit meat is strongly encouraged to follow good hygiene practices (e.g. wash hands and cook meat thoroughly).

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease diagnosis

RHD should be suspected in rabbits with sudden and unexplained illness and/or death, especially if multiple rabbits are involved or if bleeding from orifices is observed. Rabbit owners should report any suspicious deaths to their veterinarian.

Laboratory tests performed in a Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) or another approved lab are necessary to confirm the disease.

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease prevention through biosecurity

The best way to help prevent RHD is to practice good routine biosecurity, including the following:

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease prevention through vaccination

While the CFIA does not make specific recommendations regarding the use of RHD vaccine, there is a vaccine available in Canada for the prevention and control of this disease. This is in addition to practicing routine biosecurity measures.

In July 2022, the Canadian Centre for Veterinary Biologics (CCVB) licensed an RHD vaccine produced by Filavie, a company based in France. Filavie has designated Ceva Animal Health as their Canadian distributor. Enquiries may be directed to Ceva's customer service at

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease treatment

There is no treatment for the disease.

CFIA's role regarding rabbit haemorrhagic disease

In Canada, RHD is classified as an immediately notifiable disease under the Health of Animals Regulations. Laboratories are required to contact the CFIA for possible or confirmed cases of this disease.

The CFIA regulates the import of rabbits and rabbit products. These regulations are enforced through port-of-entry inspections conducted either by the Canada Border Services Agency or the CFIA.

CFIA regulates the licensure of vaccines for RHD. The CFIA also conducts laboratory diagnostics and research.

CFIA's response to an occurrence of rabbit haemorrhagic disease in Canada

RHD is considered to be present in Canada due to its occurrence in feral populations. When cases of RHD are identified, the CFIA considers several factors to determine the appropriate response, such as:

This process may include engaging with the province involved to collaborate on next steps. Responses may vary from simply recording the incident, to attempts to eliminate the virus from the site involved, where deemed feasible and appropriate.

Additional information

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