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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Be on the lookout for sick bunnies

DEM Advises Public of Fatal Disease Affecting Rabbits and Asks Residents to Report Cases of Unusual Rabbit Mortality

Saving the New England Cottontail Rabbit - Great HollowThe Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is advising Rhode Islanders that a fatal disease affecting rabbits has been detected in North America and is asking residents to report unusual cases of rabbit mortality to DEM. 

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2 (RHDV2) is a highly contagious disease that affects both domestic and wild rabbits including hares, jackrabbits and cottontails. 

The threatened New England Cottontail and commonly seen Eastern Cottontail are susceptible to infection and mortality from this disease.

Many times, the only signs of the disease are sudden death and blood-stained noses caused by internal bleeding. Infected rabbits may also develop a fever, be hesitant to eat, or show respiratory or nervous signs.

The RHDV2 virus is very resistant to extreme temperatures. It can be spread through direct contact or from exposure to an infected rabbit's excretions or blood. The virus can also survive and spread from carcasses, food, water, and any contaminated materials. 

People can spread the virus indirectly by carrying it on their clothing and shoes. However, RHDV2 does not impact human health and is not related to coronavirus.

A vaccine for RHDV2 is not currently available in the United States. 

Until a vaccine is available, the implementation of sound biosecurity measures is the only means to minimize risk of infection. Biosecurity means taking simple steps every day to keep germs and viruses away from your animals.

Once RHDV2 infects a wild rabbit population it is very difficult to manage or eliminate. It took less than two years for the disease to spread across Australia to all of the country's states and territories in 2015-2016.

Residents who have observed unusual rabbit mortalities consistent with the symptoms listed above or suspect that RHDV2 is affecting local rabbits should report this information to RI State Veterinarian Scott Marshall, DVM in DEM's Division of Agriculture/Animal Health at 401-222-2781 or via email to; Dylan Ferreira, Senior Wildlife Biologist in DEM's Division of Fish and Wildlife at 401-789-0281or by email to; or Sarah Riley, Implementation Aide in the Division of Fish and Wildlife at 401-789-0281 or by email to

More information on RHDV2 and a list of recommended biosecurity practices is available on DEM's website at

For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit Follow us on Facebook at or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.

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