NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — After deadly cases of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHDV2) were found in Eastern Tennessee Friday, a veterinarian in Nashville speaks out encouraging all bunny owners to get their pets vaccinated before it is too late.
"It is near certain that if the bunny gets the disease, I mean, 95—upwards of 95% [will die]," said Dr. Logan Kopp, DVM who said bunnies are the third most popular pet behind cats and dogs.
Kopp is a veterinarian at Priest Lake Veterinary Hospital in Antioch and went through the process to be one of a growing list of vets in the state able to administer the two-shot vaccine to rabbits to fight RHDV2.
"We did sometimes see a little lump where they gave the vaccine. Usually, that goes down within 48 hours. Some people report a little bit of lethargy or just not quite feeling quite as good for a day or so," Kopp said. "But at least the bunnies that we've vaccinated and the bunnies that I've heard about vaccinated, there's been no major adverse effects. So the vaccine appears to be quite safe at this point, and much, much safer than getting the disease itself."
Kopp said the disease started in Europe several years prior and has been spreading across the U.S. for months.
"We started to get alarmed when it started to pop up in places that wasn't typically popping up," said, Kopp who explained the disease has killed bunnies in Texas, California, Washington, New York, Florida and Kentucky. "Then just a week ago it was confirmed here and in the state of Tennessee."
He said the only symptom is bleeding from the nose, but usually it is just acute death.
"That means sudden death. You walk in and your bunny's, bleeding from the nose and passed away. Not something anyone wants to go through. If you've raised just like a dog or a cat. You know, it's tragic," stated Kopp.
He said the major concern is how RHDV2 is spreading.
"We're going to have it going in our wild population of rabbits, which means it's much easier to bring it on your shoes, it's much easier to bring into the house and that could then lead to major disease in your bunny and then potentially cause loss of life," Kopp said. "The virus survives so long on hay, toys, other products, and most of that stuff is made in the Midwest. And that's where they have it in the wildlife population. So it's getting all over those hayfields, and then it can spread very easily to our state."
He said owners need to watch where the hay they feed their bunny is coming from to avoid infection.
"There are some companies that are doing their part they're trying to keep the hay — they’re trying to hold back the hay for several months and hopes that when it gets to the consumer, it won't have any virus," Kopp said. "But again, we can't — no one can guarantee it. All it takes is just a few individual pieces of the virus to get the bunny sick. So it's almost impossible to test for it."
Kopp said there are likely tens of thousands of pet bunnies in Nashville alone but it is hard to say exactly how many because so few rabbit owners bring their pets to see the vet on a regular basis.
"Veterinary care is important for our bunnies that used to just include a physical exam each year, maybe some blood work. Now, it's going to include a vaccine for your baby [bunny]," said Kopp. "And so we just need to realize that we're going to have to do this every year now, and it's going to help make sure that we come in, get seen make sure your baby's healthy. Keep them protected, and just realize this is, unfortunately, gonna be a part of life now."
To vaccinate a bunny at Priest Lake Veterinary Hospital, it costs owners $30 for each of the two shots, plus the cost of a physical exam that is required by the state of Tennessee.