“New” Rabbit Virus Reaches Southern California

What virus? 

Rabbit hemorrhagic Disease virus type 2 (RHDV2) is a calicivirus that is new to California.  It was detected in wild rabbits in Southern CA in early May, having spread to CA from other southwestern states experiencing an outbreak.

It is highly contagious and has been present on other continents for many years.  There are 2 strains – RHDV1 and RDHV2.  RDHV2 has replaced the original strain in many countries.  There have been outbreaks in the US in several states (OH, PA, NY) and the Pacific Northwest (WA and BC Canada) since 2018.

What is it? What does it do?

It is, unfortunately, a deadly virus that often strikes too swiftly for us to even test for it.

Symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • High fever
  • Seizures
  • Jaundice
  • Bleeding from nose, mouth, or rectum
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden death

Any sudden rabbit death is suspicious and should be reported to your veterinarian as a possible case of RHDV.

How Worried Should I Be?

Currently the virus is in Southern California but as we have seen it spread rapidly in the US or across Australia when it was found there, we can expect the virus to arrive up north soon.

If you or your dog finds a dead rabbit in the wild – do not touch it!  Contact the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife to report it (https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Laboratories/Wildlife-Investigations/Monitoring/Mortality-Report).

How Can I Protect My Pet Rabbit?

Indoor-only rabbits can acquire this disease and should be vaccinated.  Local veterinarians are working with their states to import an effective vaccine currently available in Europe.  We currently recommend vaccinating all pet rabbits annually.  As of September 2020 we have the vaccine on order. Please contact us to get your name on a list and once we get the vaccine in hospital we will let you know (reception@birdandexoticsvet.com).

Wait…What About Me? My Dogs or Cats?

No worries!  This virus does not affect humans, livestock or pets other than rabbits.

So…How Can My Indoor-only Rabbit Living in an Urban Center Get Sick?

This virus is highly contagious and can be transmitted in a variety of ways

  • Direct contact with an infected rabbit or the urine/feces of an infected rabbit
  • Fomites – inanimate objects that have virus on them (clothing, shoes, car/truck tires…)
  • Insects (flies, fleas, mosquitoes), birds, rodents, predators and other pets (cats/dogs) acting as indirect hosts or fomites
  • Humans acting as a fomite after contact with infected rabbits or anything contaminated by the virus
  • Ingesting virus-contaminated food or water

For more information take a look at the following resources:

Bird Ownership 101 (Part 3)

Veterinary Care – What and Why


How do I find a Bird Vet?

There are bird specialists out there – a specialist is someone who has spent time to study and learn about the different types of birds and their needs. They have passed a difficult certification process from the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP). You may see them referred to as Diplomate ABVP (Avian) or a variation on that theme.   You can find a list of ABVP certified veterinarians on the ABVP website.


Some veterinarians don’t have the time or energy to become certified but they still may know their stuff! They aren’t specialists but may have a focus or interest in avian medicine. Any US veterinarian who sees birds on a regular basis should be a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) so they stay in contact with their colleagues and try to stay on top of current medicine.

aav logo

Some veterinarians refuse to see birds (especially at emergency clinics). While this is frustrating and sad it is for your protection! A veterinarian who doesn’t know how to handle or treat birds may delay appropriate treatment or cause harm. This is why they say no.


When Should I go to the Vet?

When you get your new pet it is a great idea to take them to see a veterinarian in the first month. You want to establish a relationship with a doctor before any frightening issues crop up. The doctor will perform a physical exam. Additionally, your doctor may have husbandry recommendations for you or talk to you about a diet change. This is a great first step.

We recommend annual exams for birds just like for dogs and cats. This allows you to check in with your doctor and discuss any changes. We keep weight records and monitor trends. Birds are very good at hiding their illnesses so sometimes a problem will be seen at the annual exam.

Because birds hide being sick we usually recommend a health work up in the form of diagnostic testing such as blood work. We will make different recommendations for different species of birds or different age ranges. We love to see normal test results every year and we can use these baseline values to know if something is changing in your bird’s condition…before they are too sick to hide it.

Bird Ownership 101 (Part 2)

Congratulations! You’ve got a bird!

You’ve prepped for your new family member by creating a safe and healthy environment – it’s time to bring them home and make sure to keep giving them all that they need.


If you’re lucky, your bird is already on a good quality pelleted diet. However, many young birds are weaned onto seed diets and have to be transitioned. If you’ve adopted an adult, you may not even know what food to feed! Converting a bird to pellets can sometimes be a major effort – and you can literally starve a bird to death by just taking away their current diet and offering a new one. Birds are smart cookies…gradually mixing increasing amounts of pellets in with the seed doesn’t fool the bird. They’ll either eat the pellets because they’ll eat anything or they’ll toss them aside seeking the fewer and fewer “real” food items in the bowl. Start by talking to your avian veterinarian about reasonable methods to try.


Like owning a working breed of dog in an urban environment (Border Collie anyone?), you will need to invest your time, energy and money in providing environmental enrichment for your bird – even the littlest of them.   Birds are very intelligent and we have taken away most of the ways they would normally spend their time.

Basic training that all birds should have includes stepping up on command to all members of the family, stepping up for confident strangers and staying on a perch. With these basics you will have much better interactions with your bird. I would also recommend a few “safety commands” such as going into a carrier or coming when called (especially important for birds who can fly). In a emergency, like an earthquake or fire, these guys will fall back on training in same way we do and you will be much happier if you can just get the darn pet into the carrier so you can all get out safely! There are a lot of more intense fun things you can train your bird to do – it’s a great way to spend quality time with your bird that stimulates their natural intelligence. Barabara Heidenreich is an excellent trainer. She offers several videos on training, webinars and a plethora of great info on her website at www.goodbirdinc.com.


In addition to training you can’t forget about foraging! Foraging is an attempt to allow birds to use instinctual behaviors in the search of food. In the wild, birds can spend up to 6-8 hours in a day actively looking for food. They spend much less time consuming it, socializing or looking for predators. We swap out 6-8 hours of daily activity with about 3 seconds of “is the food bowl in the same place? Yup, it is.” Foraging, at home, involves toys that allow the bird to actively search for its own food. Birds have a variety of interest in different types of foraging and you’ll need to work with your bird to find what they like. Regardless, you must teach your bird about foraging – it may be an instinctual behavior but they still don’t know how to do it on their own. Captive Foraging is a great video to get you started. Foraging can occur both inside and outside the cage. You can purchase toys or make your own. Make sure, what every you buy or create, that it is appropriate for your bird’s size and beak strength.

While any bird can be trained and may enjoy foraging there is a world of difference between canaries, cockatiels and macaws.  Make sure to tailor what you are doing to what is safe and healthy for your bird.