Around the same time that the COVID pandemic reached the United States, a serious disease affecting wild and domesticated rabbits and hares began spreading rapidly across North America. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) was first identified in 1984, but was not seen in North America for 36 years. In March 2020, it appeared in the southwestern US and Mexico. By May 2021, it was killing rabbits in southern California. By June 2021, northern California had its first case.
RHDV is highly contagious and deadly to rabbits. It has no known cure. Vaccines are not widely available in North America, though as states experience outbreaks, veterinarians can request special permission to import European vaccines. RHDV is spread through direct contact with other rabbits or their droppings, but it is also spread indirectly. Humans, other household pets, and insects can transmit the virus to healthy rabbits.
Trouble used to enjoy occasional supervised backyard playtime, but he is an indoors-only rabbit now. This is the best way to keep him safe from flies, fleas, or other insects that could spread RHDV to him. The other way we can protect him is by removing our shoes before entering the house. To remind us (and any visitors), I made a sign:
Due to Trouble's age (nearly 11) and the difficulty in procuring vaccines, I don't think we'll be able to get him vaccinated. Fortunately, because we don't have any other pets and don't interact with other rabbits, his risk is very low as long as we don't track in anything on our shoes.
For more information about RHDV or anything having to do with rabbits, visit rabbit.org.