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Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease in Tennessee

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In April 2021, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture enacted new import requirements to protect rabbits from Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD), a reportable Foreign Animal Disease. The virus only affects rabbits and pickas and is not contagious to any other animals or humans. On January 28, 2022, the Tennessee State Veterinarian confirmed RHD was detected in two domesticated rabbits in one East Tennessee location.

One of the samples tested was from a pet rabbit that was brought to the UT Veterinary Medical Center as an emergency patient. While awaiting test results, the veterinary medical center did not admit any rabbits into the hospital out of an abundance of caution. At the present time, the veterinary medical center is not admitting rabbits while the areas are being disinfected. Updates will be posted here.

In November, a US-based vaccine was given Emergency Use Authorization by the state veterinarian to be used on rabbits in the state of Tennessee. Contact your veterinarian regarding getting your rabbit vaccinated against RHD. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is compiling a list of veterinarians who are approved to administer the RHDV2 vaccine.

According to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, rabbits, hares, and pikas entering Tennessee from another state must have a health certificate from the state of origin to enter. The certificate is valid for 30 days. Animals from states with a confirmed case of RHDV2 in the past eight months are required to have a health certificate within 72 hours of entry.

Dr. Cheryl Greenacre, an exotic companion animal specialist at UTCVM, answers questions about the disease that is highly contagious to rabbits.

What is Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD)?

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is a highly contagious, often fatal disease of pet and wild rabbits caused by a Calicivirus, specifically RHDV-2. The current outbreak of the disease in the United States started in March 2020 in the southwestern U.S. and has rapidly spread to more than 11 states. RHD virus infects only rabbits (both wild rabbits and pet rabbits), and is not known to infect other pets, other livestock, or humans. Affected rabbits can be found dead with no signs, or they may be weak or have blood coming from the nose. Mortality is often 100% within days of exposure.

Why Should We Be Concerned?

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is a reportable foreign animal disease in the United States. In March 2020, an outbreak of RHDV-2 was detected in wild and pet/domestic rabbits in New Mexico and by March 2021 it had spread to Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. It has also been reported in Mexico. Tennessee has three wild rabbit species: the Eastern Cottontail rabbit, the Swamp rabbit, and the Appalachian Cottontail rabbit. The disease would also affect domestic rabbits kept as pets, for show, or as livestock. As of February 4, 2022, 18 states states have confirmed cases of RHDV-2.

What can you do to protect Tennessee’s rabbits?

If you find dead wild rabbits, do not touch them, and call your local Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) Office. Our nearest TWRA office is in Morristown at 423-587-7037, or 800-332-0900.

If you find dead or dying domestic pet, show or livestock rabbits, immediately call your veterinarian, the University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center, or the State Veterinarian’s Office in Nashville at (615) 837-5120. Do not transport rabbits from one state to another.

It is important that you do not touch dead rabbits as this is a highly contagious disease. The disease is not known to infect humans or animals other than rabbits, but the highly contagious nature of this virus makes it very easily spread to other rabbits even months later. The RHDV-2 virus is very resistant to extreme temperatures and can survive in the environment for months. The virus spreads to live rabbits through direct contact with infected live rabbits, but also through indirect contact with contaminated materials such as dead rabbits, pelts, hay, food, water, carriers, caging, bedding, towels, or people’s clothing. Other animals can also spread the virus without becoming infected including birds of prey or other carnivores that feed on a dead rabbit carcasses, or rodents that may contaminate food or bedding. People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing or shoes. Keep domestic rabbits away from direct or indirect contact with wild rabbits.

How Do I Find Out More Information?

APHIS has information about cleaning and disinfection your area and additional information about the disease.

How do I prevent the spread of disease?

A vaccine is now available in the United States. Contact your veterinarian regarding getting your rabbit vaccinated against RHD. In November, a US-based vaccine was given Emergency Use Authorization by the state veterinarian to be used on rabbits in the state of Tennessee.

  • A vaccine is now available in the United States. Contact your veterinarian regarding getting your rabbit vaccinated against RHD. In November, a US-based vaccine was given Emergency Use Authorization by the state veterinarian to be used on rabbits in the state of Tennessee.
  • RHDV-2 is NOT a public health concern ; people and other animals cannot get RHD.
  • House rabbits indoors if possible
  • Do not allow pet, feral, or wild rabbits to come in contact with your rabbits or gain entry to the facility or home.
  • Always wash your hands with warm soapy water between pens and before and after entering your rabbit area.
  • Keep a closed rabbitry. Do not introduce new rabbits from unknown or untrusted sources.
  • If you bring new rabbits into your facility or home, keep them separated from your existing rabbits. Use separate equipment for newly acquired or sick rabbits to avoid spreading disease.
  • Control flies, rats, cats, dogs, birds, etc. that can physically move the virus around on their feet or body.
  • Do not collect outdoor forage and browse to feed rabbits since it may be contaminated.
  • Remove brush, grass, weeds, trash, and debris from the rabbitry to reduce rodents.
  • Protect feed from contamination by flies, birds, rodents, etc.
  • Remove and properly dispose (i.e. bury or incinerate) of dead rabbits promptly.
  • When moving rabbits or restocking pens disinfect all equipment and cages with 10% bleach mixed with water or other approved products. Properly dispose of bedding. Items made of wood are difficult to disinfect and best discarded.
  • Breeders should review their biosecurity plans for gaps and all rabbit owners should establish a working relationship with a veterinarian to review biosecurity practices for identification and closure of possible gaps.