Study investigates ante mortem and post mortem findings of rabbits with RHDV2

27 July 2020

Whilst rabbit haemorrhagic disease has been extensively investigated in a laboratory setting, research pertaining to naturally occurring outbreaks is sparse. A new study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Small Animal Practice (JSAP), reported the clinical features, gross post mortem and histopathological findings of sudden or unexpected death in rabbits during an outbreak of RHD.

In the study titled “RHDV2 epidemic in UK pet rabbits. Part 1: clinical features, gross post mortem and histopathological findings”, vets were encouraged to submit case histories and the results of post mortem examinations of pet rabbits that died suddenly. Samples taken during the post mortem were sent for histopathological examination.

Frances Harcourt-Brown, corresponding author for the paper, said “Case histories, macroscopic findings and histopathology results were available from 300 rabbits that died suddenly. Of these, 185 (62%) died from RHD and showed characteristic histopathological features of RHD including apoptosis and variable lytic and coagulative hepatocellular necrosis, with varying distribution. Interestingly, macroscopic evidence of disease was not present in all cases – for example, gross liver abnormalities were only reported in 30% of cases, despite all cases showing hepatocellular necrosis on microscopic examination. Rapid death and death of other rabbits in the household were common features of RHD. Histopathology was also useful in yielding valuable information about other causes of death in the rabbits that did not die from RHD.”

Nicola Di Girolamo, editor of JSAP concluded: “This is a terrible disease that is currently spreading in areas of the world that were free from it until recently. Having more evidence on the type of clinical presentations and lesions that should be expected with this disease in rabbit patients is going to be of tremendous value for clinicians. Given that there is not always macroscopic evidence of RHD, histopathology is key for the diagnosis of RHD in pet rabbits.”

The full article can be found in the July issue of the Journal of Small Animal Practice which is free for BSAVA members. It can also be read online here.

For information on how to become a BSAVA member visit the website here.

Image: N. Harcourt-Brown, M. Silkstone, T. J. Whitbread and F. M. Harcourt-Brown (2020) RHDV2 epidemic in UK pet rabbits. Part 1: clinical features, gross post mortem and histopathological findings.  Journal of Small Animal Practice, 61 (7). Available at: