Rabbit haemorrhagic disease


Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) is a liver disease that affects domestic rabbits. The disease is highly contagious and can be fatal. It is caused by a virus of the Caliciviridae family.

At-risk animals

The classic form of the virus affects European rabbits, from which all domestic rabbits are descended. No other animal species is known to be susceptible to the virus.

The type 2 virus, which also causes the disease, can affect European rabbits as well as wild species like the eastern cottontail and hares like the snowshoe hare.

Signs of the disease

Signs of the disease often have a sudden onset:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite and weakness
  • Sudden death
  • Eye discharge, including bleeding
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Neurological and respiratory issues
  • Jaundice of the ears, eyes and mucous membranes

Despite both types causing similar symptoms, the disease often lasts longer in animals with the type 2 virus.

Six- to eight-week-old rabbits are often asymptomatic. However, the type 2 virus can affect rabbits as young as 15 to 20 days old.

Transmission and incubation period

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease spreads rapidly. It can be spread through direct or indirect contact with saliva, urine, feces, respiratory secretions or carcasses of dead animals.

It can also spread between rabbits through the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose and eyes. In addition, contaminated litter, water and food can be sources of infection. Humans, wild animals and insects can also spread and carry the virus.

The virus can survive in the environment for several weeks to several months.

The incubation period, or the time between the virus entering the animal's body and the appearance of symptoms, ranges from one to three days.


There is no known treatment for rabbit haemorrhagic disease.

Protection and prevention

A vaccine that prevents both types of the virus that cause RHD is currently approved and available in Canada. However, strict biosecurity measures are the most effective way to prevent the disease.

Make sure you know the health status and source of every rabbit you introduce to your farm. Isolate all new rabbits and returning show rabbits for at least two weeks. Keep a record with information on rabbit suppliers and buyers.

Monitor rabbits for signs of illness daily.

Wear washable footwear and clean clothing when caring for rabbits. Wash your hands, clean your shoes and change your clothing before and after caring for rabbits. Ensure that anyone who comes into contact with your rabbits follows these measures.

Clean and disinfect areas, buildings and equipment regularly. Do not share equipment or food with other animal owners.

Do not allow unauthorized individuals or anyone who has been in contact with other rabbits to visit your farm. Prevent all contact between rabbits, their food and their litter and between domestic and wild animals. Keep vermin and insects under control.

Cleanliness is also essential in transit. Clean and disinfect vehicles and equipment you would like to use before bringing them to the farm.

Dispose of rabbit carcasses quickly and appropriately.

If high mortality, sudden deaths or symptoms of rabbit haemorrhagic disease are observed, it is important to:

  • Immediately isolate rabbits showing signs of the disease from other rabbits.
  • Notify your veterinarian.
  • Notify anyone who has been in direct contact with the farm or production, as well as service providers.
  • Only allow essential visits (no visitors or rabbits should enter or leave the farm).
  • Avoid participating in rabbit shows in provinces where the disease is present.
General notice

In the event of mortality

Contact the Ministère de l'Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation reporting centre

Telephone (toll-free): 1-844-ANIMAUX (264‑6289)

Surveillance and regulation

RHD is considered to be a foreign animal disease and is classified as an immediately notifiable disease (IND) under federal regulations. All INDs must also be reported to the MAPAQ.

A number of RHD cases have been detected in wild and domestic rabbit populations in Canada and the United States. In Canada, RHD has been detected in captive domestic rabbits in Québec and Ontario, and in captive wild and domestic rabbits in British Columbia and Alberta.

Last update: January 8, 2024


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General notice

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