General biosecurity recommendations for rabbits
Biosecurity measures, which are practices intended to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, are an essential component in protecting animal health. Rabbit breeders and owners are encouraged to adopt the following biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of the spread of many infectious diseases in rabbits, including rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD).
Additional advice is available in the National Farm-Level Biosecurity Planning Guide Proactive Management of Animal Resources.
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) is a serious viral disease of European rabbits that spreads easily and quickly in susceptible rabbit populations. Many domestic (pet) rabbit breeds are derived from the European rabbit and are susceptible to infection. High rates of illness and death can occur in exposed rabbits.
The virus spreads among rabbits through secretions including saliva, runny eyes and nose, urine, feces and contaminated bedding, food and water. It can also be spread by humans, wildlife and insects on contaminated clothing, fur, and other surfaces. The virus can survive for long periods of time in the environment and remain infectious to animals.
The disease does not affect humans and is not known to affect other animals. In Canada, RHD has occurred infrequently in domestic rabbit populations and federally is an immediately notifiable disease; laboratories are required to notify the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) of suspected or diagnosed of the disease
Some key biosecurity measures include the following.
People and equipment
- Minimize access to the premises and restrict contact with rabbits to only those people necessary for their care.
- Post biosecurity signs to advise visitors that access to the property and animals is restricted.
- Require that all essential visitors (for example, veterinarians or service personnel):
- obtain approval before visiting
- understand and implement established biosecurity protocols
- fill out a visitor log
- be accompanied
- Lock gates and doors to secure access to animal housing areas.
- Wash or sanitize hands, clean and disinfect boots and wear farm- or premises- dedicated clothing before caring for rabbits.
- Do not share equipment with other rabbit breeders or owners.
- Clean and disinfect equipment, waterers, feeders and other items coming into contact with rabbits. Follow the directions supplied by the disinfectant manufacturer and rinse waterers and feeders thoroughly before refilling.
- Reduce the potential spread of disease by avoiding travel to areas experiencing disease outbreaks.
- Monitor rabbits at least once a day for signs of illness, including:
- difficulty breathing, loss of coordination, reduced appetite, and reduced activity
- bleeding from the nose, blood in the feces, hemorrhages in the eye
- sudden death with few clinical signs
- When possible, vaccinate animals against disease.
- Prevent rabbits from contacting of rabbits with domestic or wild rabbits and other animals.
- Manage and minimize exposure to insects.
- Manage and minimize the use of outdoor exercise areas for rabbits.
- Consider disease risks when attending rabbit shows or fairs due to exposure to potentially sick animals.
- Limit the introduction of new rabbits: rabbits that appear healthy can be infected and pose a risk to resident animals.
- Isolate all returning show and new rabbits from contact with resident animals for at least 14 days to ensure they are healthy. To protect against RHD, isolate for 60 days.
- During this period, manage isolated rabbits separately.
- Provide care for the isolated rabbits only after handling the resident animals.
- Prevent physical and indirect contact between show and resident animals. For example, do not use the same equipment.
- Closely monitor the health status of isolated and resident animals during the isolation period.
- Seek veterinary guidance if there are signs of disease.
Feed, water, bedding
- Obtain feed from suppliers with quality control programs.
- Do not collect and use wild plants as a food source.
- Use municipal water sources. Surface water sources and shallow wells are not recommended due to the increased risk of contamination.
- Protect feed and bedding from contamination by storing them indoors or in tightly sealed containers.
- Clean up feed spills.
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