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Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD)

RHD causes disseminated coagulopathy. The course of the disease can be so rapid that rabbits may be found dead within a few hours of eating and behaving normally. Affected rabbits are quiet, with rapid breathing. They usually die within 12 hours. Brain haemorrhages can occur so the rabbit may have fits before it dies. The disease may affect more than one rabbit in a household. A more detailed description of RHD, including the new variant RHDV2, can be found here.

Gross post-mortem signs may be minimal or obvious. They are illustrated here. Suggestive findings include:

  • An enlarged pale, friable liver, often with a distinct lobular pattern. The liver is always affected, although the gross appearance may not reflect the severe histopathological changes.
  • An enlarged spleen. This is highly suggestive of RHD. There are few differential diagnoses as acute viraemic infections in rabbits are rarely encountered.
  • Haemorrhages in any part of the body. 
  • Free blood may be found in the abdomen on in the retroperitoneal spaces. 
  • Ecchymotic haemorrhages may be seen on the serosal surfaces or in the lungs. 
  • Petechiae may be seen in the muscles, including the heart.
  • A trachea filled with foamy exudate that may or may not be blood stained

If no other cause of death is obvious during post-mortem examination of a rabbit that has died unexpectedly or if any of the above changes are found, RHD is the main differential diagnosis. More information about post-mortem examination of suspected cases of RHD can be found here.