Rabbit biocontrol: RHDV1 K5 national release

Page last updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2023 - 4:34pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Protection measures for pet rabbits 

Owners should seek advice from their veterinarian regarding vaccination.

Owners should implement biosecurity measures to protect their animals from infection.

RHDV1 K5 is highly contagious. RHDV can be spread by flies and biting insects, and direct rabbit to rabbit contact. Predators feeding on infected rabbit carcasses may excrete viable virus in their faeces.

The virus can also remain in the environment for an extended period and can be transmitted on objects including clothing, fodder and bedding material.

Pet rabbits that are already vaccinated for the existing strain of RHDV1 are likely to be covered for the new strain (K5) and all strains of RHDV1. 

If unvaccinated, rabbit owners should talk to their local veterinarian about vaccination. Studies have shown that the existing RHDV1 vaccine is likely to be effective against the new K5 variant. A detailed summary of field and experimental data into the efficacy of RHDV vaccines can be found on the PestSmart website.

The AVA recommends that rabbits are vaccinated against RHDV (calicivirus) as follows:

  • Kittens: 4, 8, 12 weeks of age, then 6 monthly for life
  • Adults: 2 vaccinations 1 month apart, then 6 monthly for life
  • This protocol is off-label. Cylap is not registered for 6 monthly use or for use against RHDV2.

Australian Veterinary Association advice on biosecurity measures

  • If possible, keep rabbits inside for the next few weeks or until they can be vaccinated and your vet advises it is now safe for them to be outside.
  • Prevent direct and indirect contact between domestic and wild rabbits. Rabbit-proof your backyard to prevent access by wild rabbits.
  • Limit contact between and handling of unfamiliar pet rabbits.
  • Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits.
  • Remove uneaten food on a daily basis.
  • Wash hands with warm soapy water in between handling rabbits that are not normally in contact with each other.
  • Good insect control is vitally important and will help reduce the risks of introduction of both RHDV and myxomatosis. Insect control should include insect proofing the hutch or keeping the rabbits indoors.
  • Infected rabbits should be isolated and any dead rabbits should be disposed of in a manner that will minimise environmental contamination. Contact your local vet for more information.
  • All cages and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Disinfectants that can be used to decontaminate equipment include 10% bleach, 10% sodium hydroxide, or parvocide disinfectants. Autoclaving will also kill the virus.

Further information

RHDV1 K5 project updates

IACRC web pages healthierlandscapes.org.au