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1. Do you think it’s important for bunny owners who live in areas that don’t have wild bunnies and are not in an area where there has been the virus to get vaccinated anyways? If so, I’d like to be able to convey these reasons to local bunny owners and give assurance to myself that I’m not unnecessarily vaccinating my own bun.

This virus has spread quickly through the wild rabbits of the western US, and it is now moving eastward. Eventually it will be everywhere throughout the US, Canada and Mexico. The virus has been present in most countries for many years and they have been vaccinating rabbits against it for a long time. This is not going away and eventually all rabbits in the US will need to be vaccinated. We have been vaccinating dogs and cats for years against viruses like Distemper and Parvovirus. It’s a similar situation. 

2. Is it okay for a fully RHDV2 vaccinated rabbit to go outdoors to romp for exercise (under supervision) in an endemic area? non-endemic area?

The vaccine is extremely effective at protecting rabbits against the virus. Yes, vaccinated rabbits can go outdoors to play in endemic and non-endemic areas. 

3. Do you recommend one or two shots of Medgene vaccine for previously vaccinated rabbits with Filavac / Eravac? Can you explain why some veterinarians are giving differing advice about this?

The Medgene vaccine is a new vaccine and it is a different type of vaccine than the Eravac and Filavac. They don’t know yet whether the Medgene will be as effective as a single injection a year after a rabbit gets Eravac or Filavac. Medgene is currently researching that. Their recommendation is for veterinarians to use their judgment. If it’s an indoor rabbit and the risk is low in that area, then boostering with a single Medgene dose should be fine. If it’s a rabbit that goes outdoors, or lives in an area with numerous cases or lots of cottontails, then best to give the 2 vaccine series of the Medgene when switching over. 

4. Many of the recent RHDV2 confirmations (Seattle, Ontario 2x, Kansas, Orange County, FL) have been in indoor-only rabbits. How might you explain this, when one would think outdoor rabbits would be more exposed to the disease? Should those living in RHDV2 endemic areas take any additional special precautions compared to those who live in non-endemic RHDV2 areas?

Outdoor rabbits are definitely much more likely to be infected than indoor rabbits. But a large percentage of pet rabbits in the US are kept primarily indoors. Maybe we are seeing higher numbers of indoor rabbits being reported if the outdoor pet rabbits are not getting tested when they die. 

If your rabbit is not getting vaccinated yearly then you should definitely take all precautions: take your shoes off before entering house, keep fleas, mosquitoes and flies out, avoid associating with other rabbits and especially avoid wild rabbits. The problem is that you cannot prevent the virus from entering your home on greens or on cat/dog feet. 

5. What do you think is the real risk of RHDV2 being transmitted to rabbits via greens/veggies and via hay?

I think it is a real risk, and along with insects or tracking the virus in on our feet, these are probably the main causes for indoor only rabbits getting infected. Vaccination will protect rabbits from the virus if it is present on hay or greens. 

6. Do you think RHDV2 vaccination should become mandatory in the US once the domestic Medgene vaccine is fully FDA-licensed (proven safe and efficacious)? 

It won’t become mandatory. The only vaccine that is currently required by law for dogs and cats is the Rabies vaccine. This is because the disease is deadly to humans. The other vaccines that dogs and cats get are administered regularly by all veterinarians because the diseases they prevent can be deadly to dogs and cats. But I do believe that all rabbits should get vaccinated.  

7. Are there any instances where you would NOT recommend vaccination for RHDV2 for a rabbit, indoor or outdoor?

If a rabbit is actively ill, then it is best to wait until it has recovered. If a rabbit has significant kidney disease or advanced cancer then we may not want to vaccinate it. If a rabbit has heart disease that is well controlled on medications, or has a chronic upper respiratory infection, they can be vaccinated. 

8. Are there any cleaning solutions other than Rescue that I can use to clean my home and rabbit’s area to protect against the virus?

1:10 dilution of household bleach or potassium peroxymonosulfate (1% Virkon-S by DuPont).

9. Why does the price of the vaccine vary from vet to vet? Is it necessary for my vet to perform a wellness exam or can I just ask for the vaccine to save money?

Reasons for price differences: 

Cost for the vet to acquire the vaccine. Exporting the Filavac and Eravac has been expensive. 

Area the vet is located. Costs are higher in cities than in suburban or rural areas. 

Quality of the veterinarian. Higher quality and more knowledgeable vets are often going to charge more than someone who sees only a couple rabbits a week. And these vets are going to be better at finding diseases in the early stages. 

A wellness exam is strongly recommended at least once a year, then twice a year in older rabbits (9yrs and older). The wellness exams allow the vet to find problems that the owner may be unaware of like dental disease, obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc. Also, we don’t want to vaccinate a sick rabbit. Rabbits are really good at hiding illnesses. As veterinarians we are required to perform annual exams in order to treat or prescribe. For young healthy rabbits that have had a normal exam within the past year, it is fine for them to receive the vaccine without getting another exam. For geriatric rabbits it is ideal to check bloodwork and x-rays to make sure they don’t have any illnesses before vaccinating. Vaccines make the immune system work, and if a rabbit is fighting something off, then anything that can affect the immune system can hasten an underlying illness. 

10. Should rescues be responsible for vaccinating their rabbits before being adopted and in foster homes? Should personal rabbits living with foster rabbits be vaccinated also?

Yes, they should be vaccinating all rabbits that come through their rescue. All rabbits that may be exposed to another rabbit should be vaccinated. All rabbits should be vaccinated. 

11. What do you have to say to people who are against vaccinating their rabbits?

For some people it is a financial issue. There are rescue groups and shelters that may be able to offer discounted vaccinations. Or they can call around to different vets and may have to drive a bit farther to get a less expensive vaccination. 

In some cases the rabbits have a chronic illness, and we are afraid that a vaccine would be too much for them. 

Some people may fear if the vaccine is safe enough. The vaccine is very safe and side effects have been minimal. The vaccine is not going to cause the disease, there is no live virus. 

Other people may not think their rabbit is at risk being indoors only. This is false. RHDV2 is insidious. It only takes a few virus particles to cause infection. It is frequently fatal and strikes quickly. It is very hardy and can survive for 3-4 months in the environment. You cannot wash off the virus, it requires special disinfectants. It will survive being in the washing machine, will survive heat and freezing. The virus is being spread by wild rabbits. Anything that a wild rabbit touches can have virus particles. If your dog or cat walks where a wild rabbit was, they can track the virus into your home. If the greens you feed are exposed to an infected rabbit, then that will bring the virus into your home. You can remove your shoes and keep insects out but you cannot disinfect dog/cat feet, or greens.  The only way to fully protect your indoor house rabbit is by vaccination. 

There are some people that don’t care as much as others about their rabbit’s health and safety. 

12. I would like to know if any of the state vets or DOA’s have any plans to conference together, especially in states with pop-up cases of indoor bunny RHDV2, in order to try to identify any commonalities among the cases?  I “do” RHDV pretty much full time; I know that is a question many people, including myself and my team, would like answered.  Not exactly what you’re looking for here with these questions, but we’re all scrambling to figure out how this virus is getting into peoples’ homes where reasonable biosecurity is being maintained.

As discussed above, the virus is very hardy. We may never know how indoor only rabbits are getting infected. There is no RHDV2 conference that I know of. There is an Exotics Conference in August, I’m sure the topic will come up. 

13. What is the current standard of thinking for incubation period after exposure till symptoms occur (getting several answers when I research)?

Three to 9 days according to APHIS.  

14. What is the approximate range window between first symptoms and death?

Death occurs between 1-3 days. There may be no signs and the rabbit may be found dead. 

15. When buns are housed in group settings (such as in the rescue), or even in homes in bonded pairs, if symptoms occur, does it do any good to separate buns at that point, or, since exposure has already occurred, is there any benefit?

Most likely the bonded rabbit has been exposed as well. This is a tough question; do you separate the bunnies at the time when they need emotional support and one or both die alone? Or do you separate them in the hope that one will survive.