RHD in rabbits

What is RHD in Rabbits?

An illness of the beloved pet is a great burden for animal lovers. This is the case, for example, when your rabbit becomes infected with the RHD virus. The hemorrhagic disease causes great concern to pet lovers, especially during the summer months. After all, it is usually fatal and goes undetected. But what exactly is RHD in rabbits? What are the symptoms and protective measures you need to know?

In our rabbit guide you will learn interesting facts about the rabbit disease RHD.

RHD in rabbits: Brief overview

Everything you need to know about RHD in rabbits explained in 30 seconds:

Explanation: RHD stands for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease, a viral disease in domestic and wild rabbits that is almost always fatal.

Transmission: Infected rabbits and animate and inanimate vectors transmit the RHD virus.

Course and symptoms: – Peracute course: sudden death. –

Acute course: possibly high fever, respiratory problems and bloody nasal discharge. – Protracted course: Fever, apathy, no appetite.

Therapy: It is not currently possible to treat RHD. Prophylaxis: Available vaccines protect rabbits from the dangerous viral disease.

RHD – what is it?

RHD is the abbreviation for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease. So-called caliciviruses cause the infectious disease in wild and domestic rabbits. The disease causes bleeding into many organs such as the lungs, kidneys, intestines, bladder and skin. Between 80 and 100 percent of infected quadrupeds die.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is also known as China disease because the disease was first described in China. It has since spread worldwide. It is suspected that the virus was also introduced to Western Europe and thus also to Germany through breeding animals, rabbit wool or rabbit meat.

The disease occurs in two variants. There is the classic variant RHD, which first appeared in Germany in 1984. In 2010, the variant of the virus known as RHD-2 was added, which was detected in Germany for the first time in 2013. In RHD-2, in contrast to the classic variant, kittens under ten weeks of age also become ill.
Transmission: How do rabbits get RHD?

Rabbits can become infected with the two variants of the pathogen in different ways. They become infected through direct contact with infected animals or the disease is transmitted by animate or inanimate vectors. Inanimate vectors include, for example, contaminated green fodder or infected bedding. Animate vectors include stinging insects. Flies are also considered disease vectors.

Both variants are harmless to humans. Transmission of the pathogen occurs mainly in the warm season or in summer. However, it occurs throughout the year.

RHD is transmitted, for example, by:

Stinging insects

Signs of disease: What are symptoms of RHD in rabbits?

The problem with the RHD virus is that rabbits usually show no symptoms until shortly before they die. Even in the last hours of life, pet owners often notice only mild signs of illness, such as diarrhea or a general malaise. The latter may be indicated by the rabbit appearing listless. Animal friends are surprised and disturbed by the sudden death of the animals accordingly. After all, the deceased rabbit was an apparently fit animal.

It is important for you as a rabbit owner to know that the Chinese disease has probably also infected other rabbits. Breeders can often observe a real mass mortality after a death. Here they observe in some cases symptoms such as high fever or an undertemperature, which begins shortly before the death of the animals. Refusal to eat, gasping for air or convulsions are also possible.
The courses of RHD:

The courses are somewhat different for RHD and RHD-2 disease:

Course of RHD virus:
- Most often, animals contract the classic viral variant peracutely. The pet owners often find their rabbits already dead in the cage.
- Rarely, the animals become acutely ill with high-grade respiratory problems, bloody nasal discharge and bloody feces and urine.
- Also rare is the protracted (delayed) form of the RHD virus. Here the animals are apathetic, have fever and no appetite.
The protracted form of the RHD 2 virus:
- Peracute and acute forms of the disease are also possible with this virus variant.
- The protracted form occurs quite frequently. The rabbits usually die after about a week due to bleeding and liver damage.

Therapy: How to treat against Chinese disease?

There is currently no treatment for diseased animals. Even if the animals suffer from a protracted course, they usually die after a few days from bleeding disorders and liver failure despite supportive measures. That is why prophylactic vaccination is important.
What does acute help for RHD in rabbits look like?

If your rabbit is ill with the RHD virus and shows the protracted course, it needs fast and professional help. Infusions should strengthen your four-legged friend and intensive treatment and care should stabilize his organism. The administration of antibiotics prevents secondary bacterial infections and increases the chance of survival.

In case of a far advanced infection, this medical care is usually not sufficient. Even if it is the worst news imaginable, pet owners should consider euthanizing the animal quickly in consultation with the attending veterinarian. This will save it unnecessary suffering and allow it to pass away peacefully, which is ultimately what every owner wants for their rabbit.


It is imperative that you separate animals that are already ill from other rabbits. Quarantine is an effective measure to protect other four-legged friends.

Prophylaxis: Have your rabbit vaccinated with the RHD vaccine!

The most effective protection against RHD or RHD-2 infection in your rabbits is still early vaccination. Vaccination arms your little one if the disease spreads locally. Since Chinese disease spreads very quickly, it is important to have this vaccination done early. The full effect of the vaccine will only be seen after a few days.

What vaccines are available against RHD in rabbits?

There are vaccines against RHD and RHD-2 and a vaccine that additionally protects against myxomatosis in rabbits. According to the approval, the vaccines repel both variants of the RHD virus. Veterinarians advocate regular vaccination of rabbits according to vaccination recommendations. Every rabbit should be protected against the disease by vaccination at all times.


If your animals have not yet been vaccinated against the dangerous Chinese disease, make an appointment directly with your veterinarian for a consultation! He will give you information about the disease and explain and recommend possible vaccinations.

FAQ – other frequently asked questions about RHD in rabbits

How many days is the incubation period for RHD?

The incubation period is the time between infection with a pathogen and the appearance of the first signs of disease. The incubation period for RHD is one to three days, i.e. 24 to 72 hours.

What measures can you take to protect your rabbit from RHD?

Besides vaccination, you can try to protect your animals from biting insects. You can put insect screens on windows or cover outdoor enclosures with mosquito nets to keep the insects out. Be careful not to feed your animals meadow greens when wild rabbits are roaming these meadows. Outdoor enclosures should be secured in a way that prevents contact with wild rabbits.

Can dogs also get RHD?

No, dogs do not get RHD, just like humans, because the RHD virus only affects rabbits.

Can you bury a rabbit that has died of RHD in the garden?

No, you should never bury a rabbit that has died of RHD in the garden, because the virus can last for many years and in the worst case it can infect other rabbits by accessing wild animals.

Similar Posts