Britain’s rabbit population is at serious risk from a recent and continued outbreak of fatal rabbit diseases. To help protect Britain’s rabbits, the UK’s leading animal welfare experts and organisations are urging rabbit owners to get their rabbits vaccinated against the latest strain of deadly Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic disease, RVHD2.
RVHD2 is a fatal disease that can kill rabbits within hours, with many rabbits displaying no symptoms until it’s too late. Vaccination is the safest and most effective way to protect rabbits against RVHD2 and a variety of other diseases, but research continues to show that not enough rabbits in the UK are protected.
Research from this year’s PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report showed 49% of rabbits in UK homes have not received a primary course of vaccinations when young, meaning almost half a million rabbits in the UK could be at risk from a variety of potentially fatal diseases.
Rabbits who have previously been vaccinated against RHDV only will not be protected against this strain of RVHD2, so return visits to vets are being encouraged – even for rabbits who have received a primary course of vaccinations when they were young as boosters are needed to ensure immunity.
Alex Thorne at Burgess Pet Care explains the importance of vaccination.
“RVHD2 is a relatively new disease which is massively on the rise in the UK. The RAW partners have already received calls and visits from distraught owners who’ve lost their rabbits to RVHD2. It’s possible that even rabbits who have been for vaccinations in the past aren’t protected against this new disease. For any owners seeking reassurance, we would strongly recommend that they contact their vets.
“We’re calling on the support of veterinary practices, owners, manufacturers and retailers across the UK to help spread this message to as many people as possible.”
Dr Richard Saunders BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS is one of the UK’s leading rabbit experts and helps guide the welfare and health strategy of the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF).
Richard was responsible for getting the vaccine for RHDV2 into the UK following its initial outbreak, helping to save the lives of an estimated 70,000 rabbits. Richard explains that as well as protecting against RHDV2, there are other diseases that rabbit owners must look out for.
"There are three fatal viral diseases of rabbits which can be vaccinated against. Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic disease 1 and 2, which kill a high proportion of the rabbits infected, often so quickly that there is no warning before finding them dead; and myxomatosis, which can result in a slow and painful death for rabbits suffering the worst forms of the infection.
“These diseases can be prevented by vaccination and it is absolutely vital to do this even if there haven’t been any outbreaks of these diseases in your area yet. These diseases can spread rapidly and by the time there is an outbreak in your area and your rabbits aren’t vaccinated – it may be too late.”
Regular visits to the vet are important as they can help identify any other potential health or wellbeing issues. The RSPCA has been involved with RAW since its inception and strongly encourages rabbit owners to visit their vets regularly to ensure their rabbits are kept healthy and happy.
Caroline Allen, London Veterinary Director at the RSPCA said: "As well as providing vital protection against killer diseases when you visit your vet for a vaccination your rabbit will be thoroughly examined for any other health issues. It's a great opportunity to have a 'health MOT'. Sadly, far too many rabbits are still dying from totally preventable diseases and regular vaccinations and health checks are a vital part of keeping your rabbits healthy and safe."
Information on this year’s Rabbit Awareness Week campaign will be announced at a later date. For updates, please follow @RabbitAwareness on social media platforms.
For more expert advice on rabbit welfare and top tips on responsible ownership, please visit www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk
*PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report 2018 (www.pdsa.org.uk/pawreport) – number of rabbits based on the estimated population of 1 million pet rabbits in the UK.