The Ministry of Primary Industry’s announcement that a new strain of rabbit calicivirus (RHDV2) has been detected in a wild rabbit in Marlborough is worrying for pet rabbit owners.

While this strain has only been detected in one location, it is possible that RHDV2 is more widespread in New Zealand, but hasn’t yet been found in other regions. The potential to cause disease varies widely amongst RHDV2 strains. This newly reported strain of RHDV2 is not the same as the one present in Australia. It is not yet known what threat is poses to rabbit health, but it is possible that the virus could spread rapidly throughout New Zealand.

RHDV2 viruses can infect rabbits from 3-4 weeks of age and some strains have high death rates following infection. Rabbits infected with a RHDV2 strain that causes illness are often off their food and reluctant to move around for 3-5 days before dying. Sick rabbits are highly infectious to other rabbits.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association welcomes the support from MPI in urgently importing a registered vaccine, Filavac, for pet rabbits to provide protection from RHDV2. Until Filavac is available, rabbit owners are encouraged to discuss with their veterinarian the benefits of using a modified protocol of the current rabbit vaccine (Cylap RCD). It is thought that Cylap RCD can provide a degree of cross protection and may be useful if you believe your rabbit is at risk, and are not able to access the Filavac. The modified Cylap protocol involves beginning vaccinations at 4 weeks of age, and receiving boosters every 6 months.

In addition to vaccination, these measures will also reduce the risk of a pet rabbit contracting a calicivirus:

Source: The New Zealand Veterinary Association