News & Press: NZVA media release

Advice for pet owners on protecting their pet rabbits from RHDV1-K5

Tuesday, 6 March 2018  
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The New Zealand Veterinary Association is encouraging rabbit owners to protect their pets from Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD) by vaccinating.

The RHDV1-K5 calicivirus is a Korean variant of the rabbit virus RHDV1. It causes a fatal haemorrhagic disease in the European rabbit.

The NZVA has been advised that RHDV1-K5 will be released in Canterbury, Otago and Marlborough in autumn 2018. It is expected to spread beyond these regions over time.

Pet owners should ensure that they continue to take all available measures to protect their pet rabbits, particularly in areas that are close to populations of wild rabbits.

RHDV1-K5 like other variants of calcivirus infects pet rabbits through contact with diseased wild rabbits, faeces, bedding material and flies.

Pet rabbits should be vaccinated from 10 weeks of age, and boosters given according to your veterinarian's recommendation. Owners of rabbits that have been previously vaccinated, should ensure that booster vaccines are up-to-date, as annual boosters are required to maintain protection.

In addition to vaccination, we also recommend the following biosecurity measures for pet rabbit owners:

  • Control insects (especially flies and fleas) as much as possible both indoors and outdoors. Flies are the main vector through which the virus is spread.
  • Remove uneaten food on a daily basis.
  • Keep your pet rabbit indoors where possible.
  • Rabbit-proof your backyard to prevent access by wild rabbits.
  • Regularly decontaminate equipment and materials (e.g. cages, hutches, bowls) with either 10% bleach or 10% sodium hydroxide. 10 minutes' contact time is required, then rinse off.
  • Limit contact with and handling of unfamiliar pet rabbits.
  • Use good biosecurity measures (e.g. wash hands, shoes, clothing) after handling other people’s rabbits.
  • Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to your rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits.

Please speak to your veterinarian for more advice and support.