Pet rabbits and caliciviruses

Advice for pet rabbit owners and veterinarians to help protect rabbits from rabbit calicivirus (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus).

More than one calicivirus

There are several strains of rabbit calicivirus (also known as Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV)) in New Zealand:

  • RHDV1 is widespread.
  • RHDV1 K5 was introduced here in March 2018 (to control wild rabbits).
  • RHDV2 was detected in wild rabbit samples collected in 2017.

RHDV strains only affect rabbits and the European hare (RHDV2), they don't present a danger to cats, dogs, or any other type of animal.

Talk to your vet about vaccination

We advise you to talk to your vet about vaccination to ensure your rabbits have the best protection available.

The Cylap RCD Vaccine has been used in New Zealand for many years to protect domestic rabbits from RHDV1. This vaccine can also be used to protect pet rabbits against the RHDV1 K5.

It's recommended you vaccinate rabbits with the Cylap RCD Vaccine at 10 to 12 weeks of age, with an annual booster vaccination to keep them protected. Talk to your vet for more information.

RHDV2 vaccine now available

In June 2018, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) imported 2,000 doses of Filavac vaccine to help rabbit owners who would like to immediately vaccinate their animals. This vaccine wasn't previously held in New Zealand because the RHDV2 virus strain wasn't known to be here.

If you'd like to vaccinate your rabbit, check if your vet has the vaccine available.

MPI has covered the cost of the initial 2,000 vaccine doses. Rabbit owners need to cover any additional costs, such as the vet's consultation fee.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association recommend that when Filovac is available, it should be used to protect against all 3 strains of RHDV in New Zealand.  

How vets can order the RHDV2 vaccine

The first shipment of RHDV2 vaccine was sent in June 2018 to vets who had ordered it.

Vets can place more orders for the RHDV2 vaccine with AsureQuality.

How it spreads

Rabbits get the virus:

  • from direct contact with other rabbits – through their eyes, nose, and mouth
  • from flies, fleas, and possibly some mosquitos, which can carry the virus.

Urine, faeces, and respiratory secretions may also shed the virus.

Steps to minimise the virus risk

To minimise the risk to your rabbits:

  • keep them separate from wild rabbits
  • wash your hands between handling rabbits
  • control insects around pet rabbits as they can spread the virus between them
  • avoid cutting grass and feeding it to pet rabbits
  • thoroughly clean and disinfect cages and equipment.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about RHDV:

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