Disease deadly only to rabbits suspends rabbit exhibition in Oklahoma

Disease deadly only to rabbits suspends rabbit exhibition in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — All rabbit exhibitions in Oklahoma are banned until Sept. 24, the state’s Veterinarian Dr. Rod Hall announced Thursday.

The announcement comes as the state’s Agriculture, Food and Forestry department investigates the spread of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD) in surrounding areas.

RHD is a “highly contagious and lethal” virus found in domestic and wild rabbits, authorities say.

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“It is essential to stop commingling of rabbits until we have a better understanding of the disease prevalence and better tools to prevent disease transmission,” said Dr. Hall says.

“I encourage all owners and breeders of pet, show, and meat production rabbits to immediately institute strict biosecurity to protect your rabbits.”

What is RHD?

The disease is not known to affect humans, livestock, or pets other than rabbits, according to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Experts say the only clinical sign of the disease is sudden death but may include some of the following signs in less acute cases:

  • Dullness/apathy, not eating, ocular and/or nasal hemorrhage and congestion of the conjunctiva
  • Neurological signs such as incoordination, excitement or seizure-like episodes

Infections in younger rabbits are less likely to result in death.

How is it transmitted?

The Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry says RHD spreads between rabbits through contact with infected rabbits or carcasses, meat or fur, contaminated food or water, or materials coming in contact with them.

The virus can also spread through insects like fleas, flies, and mosquitos.

Guidelines for pets or sightings of wild rabbits

The Oklahoma State Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry laid out the following guidelines for looking out for RHD:

Guidelines for Wild Cottontails, Hares, and Pika

  • Please report any sick/dead wild rabbits, hares or pika to the Dept. of Wildlife Conservation
  • Do not handle rabbits or rodents that have been found dead. 
  • Do not allow pets or scavengers to feed on found carcasses. Though RHD is not a risk to pets other than domestic rabbits, a number of other pathogens and parasites from carcasses can affect pets.
  • Do not handle or consume rabbits or other game animals that appear to be sick. Instead, report these cases to the Dept. of Wildlife Conservation
  • Meat from healthy rabbits harvested by hunters is safe to consume when cooked thoroughly.

Guidelines for Domestic Rabbits

  • Rabbit owners should exercise extreme caution and biosecurity to avoid accidental exposure of domestic rabbits through contaminated feed, bedding, equipment, or clothing that may have come in contact from infected wild rabbits or birds that could transfer the virus from infected wild rabbits.                  
  • Domestic rabbits should not be housed outdoors in areas where rabbit hemorrhagic disease has been detected in wild rabbits.          
  • Contact your veterinarian for more information about this disease in domestic rabbits.

Please report any sick or dead domestic rabbits that may have RHD to the State Veterinarian’s office