FINDON VET  08 8347 3444   221 Grange Road, Findon SA 5023

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Your Vets in Adelaide's West

Rabbit Calicivirus

Rabbit Calicivirus causes RCD (Rabbit Calicivirus Disease), and is 100% fatal in pet rabbits.

It is also known as RHD (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease) and much less frequently as VHD (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease).


RCD, Haemorrhagic Rabbit Calicivirus Disease appears to have caused the sudden death of a well looked after pet rabbit in the Findon region of Adelaide TODAY. This rabbit was in excellent health and recently vaccinated (8 days ago), and found dead with haemorrhage from its nostrils.

IMPORTANT FACTS TO CONSIDER about this tragic RCD case:

  1. Protective immunity to vaccinations takes approximately 14 days
    • Please note actions, listed below in this article, that you can take to further protect and minimise the risk to your pet, and ensure you do as much as possible and especially during the interim period where maximal immunity is yet to occur (ie 14 days).
  2. Pet rabbits are HIGHLY susceptible to the RCD virus, EVEN when they are in good health.
    • Pet rabbits have no inate immunity to RCD when born, however there is widespread varying degrees of natural immunity and partial immunity to RCD amongst Australia's wild/feral rabbit population.
  3. It takes approx 2 to 3 days for rabbits to show symptoms of RCD after they have contacted the virus (see below for ways RCD is spread and symptoms), however the first thing that owners are likely to encounter is a dead pet rabbit, often some bleeding from the mouth and / or nose, and sometimes some scratch marks in the earth from a brief struggle prior to passing.
  4. Recent discussions about RCD in Australia have speculated that a variant STRAIN of the RCD virus has developed and that the current (AND ONLY) RCD vaccination may not provide complete protection. 
    • If a RCD vaccination has been given in the last 14 days, a booster RCD vaccination is strongly advised as soon as 14 days has passed from that previous vaccination. Thus, even if vaccination has been given eg 4 months or 9 months ago, ANOTHER vaccination is advised NOW. The usual annual vaccination will still be given on its current 'Due date' of the next annual vaccination.
    • A booster RCD vaccination is strongly advised for pet rabbits even if the next vaccination is not yet due.
    • The Findon Vet Surgery has decided to offer this important RCD booster vaccination at cost value or $25 until the threat passes. This involves NO consultation component, it is an injection ONLY, and offered to strongly encourage immediate action to give a booster vaccination to rabbits as soon as possible.
    • If your rabbit is due or over-due for its annual RCD vaccination, or if it has not ben previously vaccinated, the USUAL annual RCD vaccination fee applies HOWEVER the additional RCD booster advised for 14 days later will be at $25.

Please contact us for any questions or advice.

RCD was being researched in South Australia by the CSIRO on Wardang Island but 'escaped' in October 1995 and the CSIRO estimated tens of thousands of rabbits died within several weeks - However some (sensationalist?) reports estimated that up to 10 million rabbits died within 8 weeks... needless to say this number probably died within 1-2 years because once it was noted that no native species were being affected by RCD, there were controlled RCD releases through out all of Australia a year after the initial 'escape'. 

Although cats get a respiratory disease caused by a cat calicivirus (and are routinely vaccinated against this), it is a completely different virus and is not transmissable between cats and rabbits. There was a significant impact indirectly on wild life as feral cats preyed heavily on young rabbits and without this source of food were believed to have attacked and eaten even more native species. 

Many believe that the release of the RCD virus was deliberate: smuggled ashore by farmers from Wardang Island off of Yorke Peninsula. Farmers were frustrated by the apparant lack of action by the scientists BUT extreme care MUST ALWAYS been taken when introducing biological controls as there have been disasters in the past when thorough research had not been adequately undertaken. The introduction of the CANE TOAD is a classic example.

In most places of Australia, the death rate was over 90%, with the desert and semi-arid region rabbits having the highest mortality rates (up to 100%). The death rate is much lower (30 - 40%) in the wetter areas for some unknown reason. Very young rabbits don't die from the disease either due to their immature blood clotting sytems not being damaged by the virus, or due to any maternal antibodies passed on to them by their mothers. These young rabbits grow and can produce resistant young.

Currently the wild rabbit population in Australia is approximately 50% of the pre-RCD release population. 

Most wild rabbits that die from RCD are not found as they usually die in their burrows and warrens. Usually rabbits are still in good body weight condition and die suddenly. In pet rabbits you may note lethargy and loss of appetite, body spasms, sometimes sudden onsset breathing difficulty, arching of the back, followed soon by bleeding from the nose, mouth and/or eyes and, unfortunately, death.

The virus is believed to spread in a few ways: flies, biting insects (fleas and mosquitos), contaminated food, direct contact between rabbits, or contact with urine, faeces or secretions (eyes and mouth) from an infected rabbit. The greater spread of the disease in desert regions is thought to be due to the very large number of flies, especially blowflies, that feed on the dead rabbits and then spread the virus to vegetation other rabbits eat, or to the coat of a rabbit that then contracts the virus by grooming its coat.

Wild rabbits also affected by myxomatosis infection have a much higher, likely 100%, death rate. 

Prevention of RCD in pet rabbits. To minimise the risk to your pet rabbits we advise:

  • Ensure you vaccinate your rabbits against RCD. Kits can be vaccinated from 6 weeks of age but if teh first vaccination is before 10 weeks of age, then a booster vaccination is required 2 -4 weeks after the initial vaccination. Then vaccinate ANNUALLY. 
  • Ensure your rabbit's hutch is mosquito proof.
  • Apply monthly flea control eg Revolution
  • Avoid handling other people's rabbits and ensure strict hygiene if you do - REMEMBER that any secretions or faeces that is on your clothing is a potential source of RCD.
  • Ensure there is no possibility of contact with wild rabbits.
  • Purchase packaged Timothy Hay and not hay or straw from local farms.

If you have any questions, please call and ask, we'll be pleased to help!

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Locate Findon Vet & Seaton Vet on a mapFindon and Seaton Vets are located in Adelaide's western suburbs, servicing the pet communities of Fulham, Seaton, Kidman Park, Flinders Park, Grange, Fulham Gardens, Underdale, Welland, Fulham Gdns, Henley Beach, Allenby Gardens, Mile End, Thebarton, Royal Park, Hendon, Fullham, Torrensville, Fulham gardens, Albion, Killburn, Albert Park, Croydon, West Croydon, Renown Park, Brompton, Bevereley, Kilkenny, Woodville, Woodville North, Fullham Gardens, Woodville Gardens, Prospect, Devon Park and other suburbs around Adelaide, South Australia.

Findon Veterinary Surgery
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221 Grange Road, Findon SA 5023

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