RHD2 (rabbit haemorrhagic disease variant two)

RHD2 is a virus that affects many rabbits in the UK, causing internal bleeding.

Without vaccination, RHD2 is often fatal. Vaccinating your rabbit is the best way to protect them against the virus.

What is RHD2?

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD), or viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD), is a highly contagious virus that affects rabbits. There are two different strains of RHD:

  • RHD1
  • RHD2

RHD2 is a more recent strain of the virus, which affects most of the UK. It poses a high risk to pet rabbits because of how easily it can spread. RHD2 develops slowly and causes internal bleeding, but there are often few symptoms.

RHD2 symptoms

RHD2 shows very few symptoms and sometimes sudden death is the only sign of the virus. Signs of RHD2 can include:

  • fever
  • lethargy or reluctance to move
  • loss of appetite
  • blood at their nostrils or around their mouth

These symptoms are serious so if your rabbits shows these signs, contact your vet immediately.

How does RHD2 spread?

The RHD2 virus has an incubation period (the time between your rabbit getting infected and showing symptoms) of nine days, which means it can spread rapidly through:

  • direct contact between rabbits
  • your rabbit's environment or hay
  • bringing it home on your clothes or hands
  • being blown through the wind
  • insects, birds or wild rabbits

If one of your rabbits has RHD2, there's not much that can be done to prevent it from spreading to your other rabbit if they're not vaccinated. Always take your companion rabbit to the vet if your other rabbit suddenly passes away, especially if they are unvaccinated. 

If your rabbit does catch RHD2, speak to your vet about how to thoroughly disinfect their enclosure before moving any other rabbits into the space. RHD2 can survive in an environment for a long time, so it's important to take steps to stop the virus from spreading further.


Remember to be cautious when buying second hand equipment for your rabbits. Always check whether the previous rabbits were vaccinated to prevent your rabbits from catching RHD2.

What is the prognosis for a pet rabbit with RHD2?

If your rabbit is vaccinated they will be protected from RHD2.

If your rabbit is unvaccinated, it's unlikely that they will survive if they catch RHD2.

Sadly, there is no cure for the virus. In most cases, it causes sudden death in unvaccinated rabbits before there are any signs of illness. You may not realise that your rabbit has caught RHD2 without post-mortem testing to diagnose the virus.

If your unvaccinated rabbit is unwell with RHD2, your vet may recommend putting them to sleep to prevent further suffering.

RHD2 rabbit vaccinations

Vaccinating your rabbit is the best way to protect them against RHD2. Both indoor and outdoor rabbits should be vaccinated against the virus.

Your rabbit can be vaccinated with a triple combination booster vaccine, which protects them against RHD, RHD2 and myxomatosis. These booster vaccines are normally recommended once a year, but speak to your vet for more advice.

RHD2 is highly contagious, so if you are thinking about introducing new rabbits after losing a rabbit to the virus, it is important to make sure they are vaccinated before bringing them home.

Protecting your rabbit against RHD2

Mildred the rabbit is vaccinated against RHD2 by Blue Cross
Mildred the rabbit is vaccinated against RHD2 by Blue Cross

There are some additional steps that you can take to help protect your rabbit against RHD2.

  • Prevent flies from entering your rabbits' home – RHD2 can spread through insect bites, so keeping flies away by using fly nets around your rabbits' home can help to prevent the spread of the virus
  • Protect your rabbit from fleas – fleas can also carry the virus, so it's a good idea to protect your rabbit. Your vet will be able to recommend a suitable flea treatment. Other pets such as cats or dogs will also need to be protected from fleas.
  • Keep their hutch clean – cleaning their cage regularly will prevent it from attracting flies
  • Rabbit-proof your garden – to prevent wild rabbits from entering your garden and transmitting RHD2
  • Isolate new rabbits – new rabbits should be kept away from current rabbits in your home for at least three weeks

What is Blue Cross doing to protect rabbits in its care from RHD2?

At Blue Cross, we make sure any rabbits at our rehoming centres are up to date with their vaccinations, including RHD2 vaccines.

We take extra care when introducing new rabbits to keep them safe – particularly if a companion rabbit has recently died.

We also offer vaccinations for eligible clients at our veterinary hospitals.

Page details


• 6 December 2023

Next review

• 7 December 2026

Approved by
Anna Ewers Clark

Veterinary Surgeon MRCVS

Approved by
Róisín Bolger

Veterinary Surgeon MRCVS