Three Little Ladies Rabbitry, Jersey Wooly
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Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease - VHD

What Is VHD?

Rabbit Viral Hemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is a highly contagious disease caused by a calicivirus. In essence it is the rabbit equivalent of the Ebola virus. It only affects rabbits of the Oryctolagus cuniculus species. Rabbits included in this specie include both wild hares and domesticated rabbits of European descent. This would include all domesticated rabbits in the United States but it does not include wild US rabbits such as cottontails and snowshow hares. The disease is highly contagious, and generally kills within 24-48 hours. Often the rabbits show no symptoms. The ability of blood to clot is eliminated and the animal bleeds to death.

Part of the- confusion of VHD is that it is referred to by many different names. These include several other acronyms: RHD (Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease), RCV (Rabbit Calicivirus), and RCD (Rabbit Calicivirus Disease). VHD was first appeared in 1984 in China. Since then it has been seen in Mexico, Europe, Israel, Australia and New Zealand.

History of VHD in United States

2000. The first case of VHD was reported to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service (APHIS). The affected rabbits lived on a farm in Crawford County, Iowa. They consisted of 27 Palominos and Californians. Of the twenty-seven rabbits in the rabbitry, twenty-five died. The State of Iowa purchased and euthanized the remaining two rabbits. This outbreak was contained and the source of the disease unknown.

2001 (August). A second outbreak was confirmed by the USDA’s Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL). This time it was found in Utah County, Utah. Unfortunately, another rabbitry in Mercer County, IL received 72 rabbits from the infected Utah rabbitry. Over 3,000 rabbits had to be euthanized in conjunction with this outbreak.

2001 (December). VHD hit the US a second time in 2001. This is the third US Outbreak. The striking difference between this outbreak and the previous two, was that this one did not occur in a rural area. An exotics animal facility in Flushings (Queens) NY was the site of this outbreak. Another difference was that this particular facility was open to the public.

2005. A fourth outbreak was confirmed. This time it was at a private residence in Vanderburgh County, Indiana. The location raised the animals primarily as a food source for reptiles. 200 of the rabbits at the site died within a 10 day period. The remaining were euthanized to prevent further spread of the disease.

Symptoms of VHD

Symptoms do not often appear as a result of this disease. When symptims do occur they show in three ways:

peracute - Only symptom is a suddenly dead animal

acute -

  • lethargic
  • depressed
  • fever
  • off-feed
  • bloody discharge
  • Signs of pain
  • spasms

subacute- rabbits show far less sever signs. They may survive. If so they become a carrier of the disease. Infective material can remain in urine and feces for up to 30 days or longer and the animal may be a carrier for even longer.


The disease is transmitted in multiple ways, which makes it highly contagious. It can be moved by both animate and inanimate objects. It can be trasmitted by clothing shows, dogs, birds, people, tires and infected animals. It is a hardy disease not known to by affected by either heat or cold.


There are several ways to help prevent this disease from getting into your rabbitry. All of them are good husbandry practices.

  • Keep your rabbitry clean
  • Quarantine all new animals and animals returning from a show
  • Disinfect with bleach
  • Keep rabbits away from other animals
  • When you have an ill animal quarantine it, and do not touch other animals until you have disinfected your hands

At this time the United States does not offer a VHD vaccine. However, there are two VHD vaccine options in the UK. The vaccine can be administered by a veterinarian or for larger herds the vaccine can be purchased.


VHD is highly contagious. Hopefully it never affects your herd. Immediate action is necessary when symptoms occur. Good husbandry techniques will assist in the prevention of this deadly disease.

Rob Usakowski
Three Little Ladies Rabbitry