Lapis ISSN 2398-2969

Viral hemorrhagic disease 1

Synonym(s): Rabbit plague, Rabbit viral septicemia, Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), Rabbit viral hemorrhagic disease (RHVD), Rabbit calicivirus, VHD, HVD

Contributor(s): Molly Varga, Anna Meredith, Richard Saunders


  • VHD is a peracute virus infection with the European rabbit (Oryctyolagus cuniculus), as the only known host.
  • A similar virus occurs in hares (European Brown Hare Syndrome Virus - EBHSV) but no cross-communication between species has yet been recorded.
  • Cause: Calicivirus.
  • Signs: sudden death with bleeding from nose/mouth.
  • Diagnosis: history, signs.
  • Treatment: none.
  • Prognosis: hopeless.

Print off the Owner factsheets on Viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD) and Vaccinations - essential protection to give to your clients.

Presenting signs

  • Usually sudden death in rabbits >6 weeks of age with hemorrhage from the body orifices, especially the nose and mouth Viral hemorrhagic disease.
  • The acute form shows lethargy, pyrexia and death within 1-2 days.

Hyperacute presentation

  • Sudden death.
  • +/- blood from nose and other orifices, but death may be so rapid that no external blood is noted.

Acute presentation

  • Non-specific signs of systemic disease.
  • Pyrexia, lethargy, dullness.
  • Progression of severity of signs with rabbit rapidly becoming obtunded.
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulopathy.
  • Death.

Subacute presentation

  • Similar but less severe or rapid appearance to the acute form.
  • Development of hepatic signs (inappetance, pyrexia) over 1-2 weeks.
  • Raised liver biochemical parameters.
  • Recovery possible.

Geograpic incidence

  • The disease was originally reported in China in 1984 and spread through Europe from 1986. The first record of clinical disease in the UK was in March 1992 when 5 show rabbits died suddenly in a rabbitry in Berkshire. Orphan young transported to a nearby rabbitry for fostering spread the disease there with a total of 51 fatalities in one month. The disease was first recorded in wild rabbits in 1994. VHD was notifiable in the UK until 1996. The disease poses no threat to humans or other mammals.
  • The disease first appeared in Southern England but has since spread throughout the UK up to Scotland and across to Northern Ireland.

Age predisposition

  • Morbidity: 80-100% in rabbits over 2 months of age.
  • Mortality:
    • Up to 100% in rabbits over 2 months of age.
    • Rabbits under 8-10 weeks of age can be infected subclinically but usually survive with few or any clinical signs.

Cost considerations

  • Most rabbits die suddenly so treatment is usually futile.
  • The cost of post mortem examination and testing can be considerable, if investigating an outbreak.

Special risks

  • VHD is a highly contagious virus so outbreaks in multi-rabbit premises must be treated with extensive disinfection of the premises and fomites and immediate vaccination of all in-contact rabbits.
  • Differentiation between VHD1 and 2 is needed to plan and implement a vaccination strategy.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Meredith A (2012) A vaccine against myxomatosis and RHD: a step forward for rabbit health. Vet Rec 170 (12), 307-308 PubMed.
  • Spibey N, McCabe V J, Greenwood N M et al (2012) Novel bivalent vectored vaccine for control of myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Vet Rec 170 (12), 309 PubMed.
  • Le Gall-Recul√© G, Zwingelstein F, Boucher S et al (2011) Detection of a new variant of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus in France. Vet Rec 168 (5), 137-138 PubMed.
  • Ferreira P G, Costa-e-Silva A, Monteiro E et al (2004) Transient decrease in blood heterophils and sustained liver damage caused by calicivirus infection of young rabbit that are naturally resistant to rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Res Vet Sci 76 (1), 83-94 PubMed.
  • Marchandeau S, Bertagnoli S, Peralta B et al (2004) Possible interaction between myxomatosis and calicivirosis related to rabbit haemorrhagic disease affecting the European rabbit. Vet Rec 155 (19), 589-592 PubMed.
  • Campagnolo E R, Ernst M J, Berninger M L et al (2003) Outbreak of rabbit hemorrhagic disease in domestic lagomorphs. JAVMA 223 (8), 1151-1155, 1128 PubMed.
  • Abu Elzein E M & al-Afaleq A I (1999) Rabbit haemorrhagic diseases in Saudi Arabia. Vet Rec 144 (17), 480-481 PubMed.
  • Chasey D & Trout R C (1995) Rabbit haemorrhagic disease in Britain. Mammalia 59 (4), 599-603.
  • Chasey D, Lucas M H, Westcott D G et al (1995) Development of a diagnostic approach to the identification of rabbit haemorrhagic disease. Vet Rec 137 (7), 158-60 PubMed.
  • Donnelly T M (1995) Emerging viral diseases of rabbits and rodents - viral hemorrhagic disease and hantavirus infection. Semin Avian Exotic Pet Med 4 (2), 83-91 ScienceDirect.
  • Chasey D (1994) Possible origins of rabbit haemorrhagic disease in the United Kingdom. Vet Rec 135 (21), 496-9 PubMed.
  • Hillyer E V (1994) Pet rabbits. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 24 (1), 25-65 PubMed.
  • Fuller H E, Chasey D, Lucas M H et al (1993) Rabbit haemorrhagic disease in the United Kingdom. Vet Rec 133 (25-26), 611-13 PubMed.
  • Chasey D, Lucas M, Westcott D et al (1992) European Brown Hare Syndrome in the UK - a calicivirus related to but distinct from that of viral haemorrhagic disease in rabbits. Arch Virol 124 (3-4), 363-370 PubMed.
  • Chasey D & Duff P (1990) European Brown Hare Syndrome and associated virus particles in the UK. Vet Rec 126 (25), 623-624 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Varga M (2015) Textbook of Rabbit Medicine. 2nd edn. Butterworth Heinemann.
  • Harcourt-Brown F (2002) Textbook of Rabbit Medicine. Butterworth Heinemann.
  • Okerman E (1998) Diseases of Domestic rabbits. 2nd edn. Blackwell Press.
  • Harkness & Wagner (1995) The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents. 4th edn.