ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — They aren’t the most popular pet but many families in the Capital Region have rabbits. These soft, long-eared companions no doubt bring joy to their owners, but right now they are under threat from a deadly virus-rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus serotype 2 (RHDV2).

A case of this highly contagious disease was found in a Montgomery County household. The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) issued a warning on Dec. 15. The disease affects both domestic and wild rabbits.

Hop on Home Rabbit Sanctuary is in the process of vaccinating the 121 rabbits in their care for RHDV2. They have limited the bunny’s interaction with the public and because the virus can be tracked indoors on shoes, volunteers at their Wilton Mall site must wear surgical booties, said President/CEO Shelby Wimet-Himelrick.

RHDV2 is species-specific, said Wimet-Himelrick, so humans and other animals can’t get it, but it can be passed to rabbits in multiple ways. As mentioned, it can be found on people’s shoes or clothes, on produce, feed, and hay.

If a wild rabbit with RHDV2 is eaten by an animal, that animal’s feces will contain the virus. Bunnies that have access to the outside when it’s warm can also get it from flies or mosquitos that pick it up through contact with animal feces, she said. The NYSDAM said the virus can live for weeks in the environment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the virus can thrive even in extreme temperatures and people can still pick up the virus if they come in contact with a rabbit that died from it. People can come in contact with RHDV2 through animal feces as well.

Symptoms of RHDV2

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Hemorrhage
  • Seizures
  • Sudden death

Symptoms generally start one to three days after a bunny is infected and because there is no cure for RHDV2, the best way owners can protect them from getting sick is to get them vaccinated. “An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure,” Wimet-Himelrick said.

Rabbits are considered exotic pets, Wimet-Himelrick said, so owners will have to seek out an exotic pet veterinary office to administer RHDV2 vaccines. Up until recently, there was no vaccine available. The current vaccine from Medgene Labs was granted an Emergency Use Authorization by the USDA in September. The two-shot vaccination series is given 21 days apart.

According to Wimet-Himelrick other ways owners can protect rabbits from RHDV2 include:

  • Using hay that’s been stored from rodents a minimum of 120 days (she said most companies do this)
  • Checking with local farmers about hay storage
  • Putting a biosecurity plan in place (use one part bleach to nine parts of water to clean rabbit items; items must remain wet for 10 minutes)
  • Not wearing shoes inside
  • Not introducing new pets to your rabbit(s) including other rabbits
  • Reducing travel to RHDV2 hot spots
  • When warm weather arrives keep rabbits in a fly and mosquito safe area

There have been no other cases of RHDV2 reported since mid-December when the NYSDAM issued its warning. They said the vaccine, although approved for emergency use is still experimental. Veterinarians can purchase the vaccine by contacting Medgene Labs at (605) 697-2600 or