November 21st, 2022

What to do if I suspect calicivirus as the cause of death of my domestic rabbit?

First, please request a free test kit from us by sending an email to rabbitcalicivirus@csiro.au with your postal address. The only way of confirming the presence of calicivirus is via tissue sample testing.

While waiting for the test kit, keep the rabbit body frozen in a plastic bag or box to help preserve the virus (if any). If you do not have space in the freezer and are comfortable doing so, please take a liver sample for testing (see sampling instructions).

If you have multiple rabbits/tissue samples, make sure they are bagged separately to avoid cross contamination.

What if I have other rabbits housed in the same area? If you have more rabbits who may be at risk of infection, it is important that you take steps to protect them:

  1. Separate any sick rabbits from the healthy ones. Ideally, they should be kept in separate rooms.
  2. Decontaminate all areas and surfaces that the rabbits have been in contact with.
    1. You can use: F10 (veterinary disinfectant), 10% bleach or virkon.
      1. F10 and Virkon are toxic.
      2. Bleach is inactivated by organic material (e.g. soil, blood, urine, faeces, wood etc). Make sure to wipe any of those materials off before spraying.
    2. For caliciviruses you need to use the parvocidal dilution rate (which will be listed on the bottle).
    3. All disinfectants require a minimum contact time at the appropriate concentration to properly decontaminate. 15 minutes is usually a good amount of time. Make sure to rinse well with water to remove any residue.
    4. Please read the disinfectants’ respective data sheets to make sure you are aware of any hazards, and of personal protective equipment that you will need to wear.

How do I dispose of deceased rabbits?

RHDV is very environmentally resilient and so can remain viable in the environment for many months in ideal conditions. For this reason, we do not recommend burying RHDV-positive rabbits at home as this could potentially contaminate the soil for months or even years.

Alternatives include cremating, or visiting your local vet to have them help you dispose of your rabbit. If visiting a vet, please advise them that the rabbit was positive for RHDV so that they can initiate protocols to minimise the risk of infecting other rabbits.

If burial is unavoidable, we recommend burying as far away from where rabbits are housed. Be sure to change into “clean” shoes (or shoes that have not been worn outside) before tending to your rabbits. This will help minimise the risk of cross infection.

What can I do to protect my pet rabbits from calicivirus?

RHDV is highly infectious. However, there are several ways to help reduce the risk of infection.

  1. Vaccinate your rabbits with Cylap or Filavac.
    1. Cylap will protect rabbits against all strains currently used in Australia as registered biocontrols (RHDV1 and RHDV1-K5).
    2. Filavac is currently available under an emergency permit. This vaccine will protect rabbits against RHDV1 and RHDV2.
      1. Please note that RHDV2 is NOT a registered biocontrol agent. However, RHDV2 and its derivatives are the current dominant circulating strain in Australia.
  2. Install flyscreens/fly nets/mosquito nets to protect your rabbits against flies, which are potential vectors for RHDV and mosquitoes, which can transmit the Myxoma virus.
    1. Additionally, house your rabbits indoors, or make sure your rabbits do not come into contact with any wild rabbits, with appropriate hutches and/or fencing.
  3. Quarantine from visitors who have been around wild rabbits – do not allow anyone who has visited areas that wild rabbits frequent to enter the building where domestic rabbits are housed.
    1. As mentioned above, RHDV is environmentally resilient, and it is possible for visitors to “trek in” the virus from the outdoors.
    2. If you do need to tend to the rabbits after being in a high-risk area, it is recommended that you shower and change into a clean pair of shoes to reduce risk of contaminated soil.
    3. Do not supply your caged rabbits with grass from areas where there is a risk of contamination from wild rabbits.
  4. Clean and disinfect regularly areas where rabbits are housed (depending on the level of risk, from every day to once a week).

What are the signs of RHDV?

Your rabbits may have a fever and be lethargic. The disease has an incubation period of one to three days. Death occurs due to liver necrosis and/or internal haemorrhages, with a mortality rate of 70 to 90 per cent. Testing a tissue sample is the only way of confirming the presence of calicivirus.


Is there a cost for testing?

The test kits are supplied by CSIRO free of charge. You can request a free test kit by sending an email to rabbitcalicivirus@csiro.au with your postal address. A reply-paid express post bag is supplied with every test kit.


How does the testing work?

The fresh or frozen (not formalin-fixed) liver sample will be tested for RHDV. The virus causes acute liver damage and is most easily detected via liver sample. Test results and findings may be used for scientific research and publications. The source of the information will remain confidential unless otherwise required by law or regulators.


When will I get test results?

Results are generally available within 1-2 weeks, barring any unforeseen circumstances.

If you require urgent testing, you can get in contact with NSW DPI. Please note that their testing is a fee-for-service.


What is the testing data used for?

Ongoing rabbit disease monitoring by CSIRO’s team continues to provide critical data which is fed into a publicly available and continually updated rabbit calicivirus map of Australia, and provides information about which viruses are circulating, where they are circulating and when they are circulating. This map helps land managers in the development, coordination and timing of tailored rabbit management strategies, and aids veterinarians and pet rabbit owners in implementing biosecurity measures and, where available, vaccination strategies to protect non-target domestic rabbits.


How is testing different for Myxoma virus?

For Myxoma virus testing, please submit a fresh or frozen (not formalin-fixed) eyelid sample. Sampling instructions and a submission form can be downloaded by clicking on the links. As this is not part of our routine testing, results may take up to 4 weeks.


Other useful links/resources

NSW DPI RHDV webpage

Department of Agriculture RHDV webpage

RabbitScan for recording rabbit activity

Information on K5 bait delivery