Fatal rabbit disease moves into Utah’s wild population

A cottontail rabbit

A highly contagious and fatal disease — found last month in a domestic rabbit — now has been detected in Utah’s wild rabbit population.

A case of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease — or RHDV2 — was confirmed on July 21 in Wayne County, after some dead wild cottontail rabbits were found in the Teasdale area and then sent to a lab for testing, officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said this week in a news release.

While people, dogs and other animals are not susceptible to RHDV2, they can carry the virus from one location to another on their feet or other contaminated items, the statement said. The virus can survive for months in the environment, and rabbits can be infected by direct contact to sick rabbits or through contact with the urine or feces of sick rabbits.

Residents who find multiple dead wild rabbits in an area should contact DWR, which will determine whether the animals should be sent for testing.

RHDV2 was detected in multiple Southwestern states earlier this year, including California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

In Utah, the disease first showed up in June at a private farm in Sanpete County with domestic rabbits.

RHDV2 is not related to the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 in humans.

Rabbits with RHDV2 may become sick one to five days after exposure and have symptoms of fever, lethargy, a lack of appetite, difficulty breathing and frothy blood coming from their nose just before death. The virus causes liver inflammation that prevents blood from clotting. The rabbit eventually dies from internal bleeding. There is no treatment for RHDV2.

For those who plan to hunt cottontail or snowshoe rabbits in Utah this fall, note that infected wild rabbits may be lethargic and not flee when approached. If a harvested rabbit acts normal at the time of the hunt, it is unlikely that it has the disease.

If you notice any discoloration or hemorrhages on internal organs after harvesting, or if you see anything that may appear abnormal or a cause for concern, contact the local DWR office.

People who suspect RHDV2 in a domestic rabbit should contact a veterinarian or the state veterinarian’s office at 801-982-2235. More information about RHDV2 in domestic rabbits is available on the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food website.