A deadly rabbit disease has been detected in Tennessee. The State Veterinarian of Tennessee confirmed that Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus Type 2 (RHDV2) was detected in late January in two domesticated rabbits in one East Tennessee location.

RHDV2 is an often fatal disease that affects both wild and domestic rabbits. It was first detected in the United States in 2018 and has been spreading across the country ever since.

According to Dr. Amy Shirley, owner and Medical Director of Family Pet Health, the gradual creep of RHDV2 across the United States has been of great concern.

“I have been monitoring this spread of this disease since early 2020,” Dr. Shirley explained. “We have watched a disease with a 95% mortality rate slowly spread across the country knowing that it would eventually reach our state and our county.”

Fortunately, a newly developed vaccine against RHDV2 from Medgene Labs has received emergency use authorization from the Center for Veterinary Biologics. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has begun granting approval to veterinary clinics on an individual basis to begin distributing the vaccine to patients and Family Pet Health is the only veterinary clinic in Rutherford County approved to administer vaccinations.

“I am so thankful that we have been approved for this vaccine just as the disease enters our state,” Dr. Shirley said. “Because we have this vaccine available, our bunny patients can be protected against this horrible disease.”

Following widespread outbreaks in the Southwestern states like California, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, RHDV2 began appearing in the Southeast in 2021. Incidents were reported in Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida last year.

Now, Tennessee has been added to the list of states with confirmed cases of RHDV2.

“This detection is an isolated incident with no known exposure to any other rabbits, domestic or wild,” State Veterinarian Dr. Samantha Beaty said. “RHDV2 is not transmissible to humans, but it is highly infectious and fatal to domestic rabbits. We want to remind rabbit owners that practicing good biosecurity is the best defense.”

Infected rabbits may experience swelling, internal bleeding and liver damage. Disease onset is rapid. Although bleeding from the nose or mouth sometimes occurs, often the only outward sign is death of the rabbit.

The virus can be transmitted through direct contact with infected rabbits or carcasses, meat or their fur, feces, bodily fluids, contaminated bedding materials or other materials that have been contaminated. People can inadvertently spread the virus into new areas by moving infected live rabbits, carcasses or parts from infected animals, as well as on clothing and shoes. The virus can persist in the environment for an extended time, which makes it difficult to control the disease once it affects wild rabbit populations.

“Onset of this rabbit virus is extremely quick and it’s persistent,” Dr. Beaty said. “The virus can remain in the environment for an extended time, even in extreme temperatures. Pet owners and breeders should be alert for any signs their rabbits are infected.”

Family Pet Health is set to begin administering the RHDV2 vaccine on February 8. Dr. Shirley explained that the vaccination process requires two initial doses and an annual booster. She reminds interested bunny parents that aren’t already established clients that a patient exam is required by the state before the vaccine may be given.

Interested rabbit owners can call our office at 615-907-8387 to schedule an appointment for a vaccination.