You may have recently read about a new threat to rabbits wild and domestic – rabbit hemorrhagic disease, also known as RHDV2. A fatal virus, RHDV2 is not associated in any way with coronavirus, and only impacts species of rabbits and hares – it cannot be spread to other animal species or humans.

The virus surfaced in the wild rabbit population in early 2020, when a rabbit in New Mexico tested positive for the disease. Since February, RHDV2 has spread quickly into rabbit populations across Arizona, California, Nevada, Texas, and Colorado. And recently, a wild rabbit tested positive for the disease in Larimer County.

RHDV2 is extremely resilient, and is spread to rabbits through direct contact, through the feces or blood of an infected rabbit, or through food or water sources that have come into contact with the virus. It can also be spread by humans (via handling, or transmission from clothing or shoes) or other animals that have contact with an affected rabbit and then interact with healthy rabbit.

According to Larimer Humane Society’s supervising veterinarian, Dr. Lindsey Gapstur, “Due to the highly contagious and fatal characteristics of this disease, we recommend ensuring that pet rabbits do not have any direct or indirect contact with wild rabbits.” Owners of domestic rabbits can help protect their pets by following prevention and cleaning protocols, including:

  • Avoid contact with wild or feral rabbits whether alive or dead.
  • Keep domestic rabbits isolated from interacting with wild rabbits, birds, or other wildlife that may be able to spread the virus.
  • Ensure other domestic pets who may be exposed to wild rabbits avoid contact with pet rabbits.
  • Wash hands before and after contact with domestic rabbits.
  • Limit visitors coming into contact with your pet rabbit without protective clothing.
  • Sanitize all equipment, tools, and supplies used in the care of your rabbit.
  • Ensure your rabbit’s feed and bedding materials are safely stored away from opportunities for virus transmission.

If you are the owner of a domestic rabbit, your veterinarian may have additional information for you regarding the prevention of RHDV2, and can provide specific advice based on your pet’s specific situation and needs.

At Larimer Humane Society, we practice rigorous cleaning and biosecurity measures to keep all animals safe and healthy. Our team of experts is keeping a pulse on RHDV2, and other diseases, to maintain wellness within our shelter population and to inform community members about issues that may impact their treasured companions.

Additional information on RHDV2 is available through the Colorado Department of Agriculture.