The Montana Department of Livestock confirmed today that a case of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD) has been reported in Yellowstone County, according to a press release.

A landowner in Yellowstone County reported the dead rabbits to the Fish, Wildlife and Parks staff, who said that the rabbits appear to have been domesticated, and previously released in the area. Samples were confirmed positive for RHD by the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in New York State, and the Department of Livestock is currently trying to identify how the disease was introduced into the state.

RHD is highly fatal, and rabbits who have the disease may show symptoms like dullness, lack of appetite, wasting, diarrhea, neurologic signs, and bleeding from the nose or mouth.

RHD is spread by direct contact with live or dead rabbits, or indirectly through contaminated objects, including rabbit meat and pelts. The virus can also be transmitted from a person with contaminated hands, scavengers, or insects, and can remain infectious in carcasses or the environment for weeks to months.

According to the press release, RHD can only be spread to domestic and wild rabbits, and does not affect humans or other animals. There is no treatment for infected rabbits, and no commercially available vaccine is available in the United States. The Montana Department of Livestock did say in the press release that states with infected rabbits can request approval for overseas vaccines.

Because of the highly contagious nature of RHD and the high fatality rate, the Department of Livestock is asking Montanans to be vigilant and take necessary precautions to prevent further spread. Specifically, we are asking people to report any significant mortality in rabbits, and to comply with animal health requirements when moving animals across state lines. -Dr. Tahnee Szymanski, Assistant State Veterinarian

According to the press release, reports of RHD have now been confirmed in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, California, Utah, Nevada, Washington, Wyoming, Florida, and New York.

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The following are "good practices," for those who own or work around rabbits, to prevent disease transmission, according to the Montana Department of Livestock:

  • Thoroughly washing hands before and after handling rabbits;
  • Using dedicated clothing in areas where rabbits are housed;
  • Not sharing equipment with other rabbit owners;
  • Not commingling rabbits from multiple sources;
  • Preventing visitors from entering areas where rabbits are housed, particularly if visitors also own rabbits;
  • Avoiding contact with wild rabbits.

For questions about RHD, or to report a suspected case in a domestic rabbit, contact the Montana Department of Livestock at (406) 444-2976. Wild rabbit mortality should be reported to the FWP at (406) 577-7880.

CLICK HERE for more information about Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease.

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