Do Rabbits Have Rabies or Can Bunnies Carry It?

Rabies in rabbits
Written by Editorial

Do domestic and wild rabbits have rabies or carry it? Can they pass it to human beings through bites or scratches? What are the symptoms you expect and how can this viral infection be managed?

Rabies is a fatal disease caused by lyssaviruses especially the rabies virus and Australian bat lyssavirus. The virus is spread through the saliva of infected animals (rabid animals), i.e., transmission is through bites by animals that have this virus.  

In the United States, bats, foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and skunks are the most common animals that transmit it to human beings. However, in countries without dog vaccination programs, dogs bites are the most common means by which the virus is spread. However, cats bites can also spread it too.

Rabies in rabbits
Rabies in rabbits

Once a human being gets this virus, he or she will have early symptoms including a headache, fever, discomfort and generalized weakness. These are non-specific symptoms. 

However, as the disease advances, symptoms such as “insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water)” [1]are noted and death happens within days from the time you see these symptoms. 

What about rabbits? Do rabbits get rabies, carry it and can they spread it to human beings? 

Do rabbits carry rabies or have it?

According to CDC, “small rodents like squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, and mice) and lagomorphs including rabbits and hares are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to transmit rabies to humans” [2

However, this does not mean that bunnies cannot get this viral disease totally. There have been reports of cases in rabbits and ferrets. For instance, in 1999, in Maryland, there were reports of domestic bunnies having rabies. [3] This proves that rabbits can have rabies. 

Furthermore, during the development of the rabies vaccine by Louis Pasteur, bunnies were used for diagnostic testing and they are very vulnerable to this disease. Therefore, both domestic and wild rabbits can have rabies. 

Symptoms of rabies in rabbits 

How do you tell if a rabbit has rabies or what symptoms do you expect it to have? It is clear that these animals can have this deadly viral infection. Research has shown that intracerebral inoculation of the virus has an incubation period is 2-3 weeks and this animal will develop paralytic rabies. 

Some of the symptoms that have noted in experimentally infected bunnies include the following: 

  • Anoxeria
  • Fever 
  • Lethargy 
  • Restlessness, anxiety, aggression, irritability, and other strange behaviors that this pet normally does not have. 
  • Chewing and swallowing difficulties
  • Excessive saliva discharge or slobbering 
  • Neurological symptoms that may include poor limb coordination, head tremors,  seizures, teeth grinding, partial limb paralysis and loss of movement. 
  • Slack jaw – inability to move jaws or jaws dropping
  • weight loss 
  • Blindness 


Visible bites, changes in behavior especially aggression, and the above neurological symptoms should warrant testing. However, abscesses, vestibular disease, brain tumors, tetanus, E. cuniculi, lead poisoning may also cause some of the neurological symptoms. 

Therefore, there may be a need for radiographs to rule out brain abscesses or tumors, tests for parasitic infections, hematology to check possibilities of poisoning among other tests. 

Testing will involve collecting tissue from the nervous tissue for testing and if results turn positive, your vet may recommend euthanasia since this condition is fatal. 

Treatment and living management 

In case of a rabid bunny, it should be hospitalized, quarantined or isolated for up to a half a year. Anyone who has been exposed to it should be checked for possible exposure. 

There is no treatment for rabies in rabbits and euthanasia is often the way to go in case of a positive diagnosis.

Rabbit rabies vaccine 

Do rabbits need rabies shots? No. They do not need them and veterinarians need to advise their clients that there are no rabies shots for rabbits at the moment and this viral infection is rare in these animals. 

Therefore, if you are a bunny owner, you need to ensure you put in place preventive measures such as keeping this pet indoor or where the various animals that are known to carrying this virus can access. 

Is rabbit virus to human transmission possible

Yes. It is possible. If you an infected bunny bites you, you are likely to get this infection. Remember we said that the disease is spread via saliva especially after bites.

Can you get rabies from rabbit scratch? 

No. You are unlikely to get this virus from a scratch of not only bunnies but any other animal. However, should their claws be having saliva (such as the animal having licked their paws before scratching you) you can possibly get it. 

Rabbits and rabies – prevention 

Disinfect any area where the animal was using bleach and discard any items you might not be able to disinfect such as blankets, litter substrate, and so on. 

Secondly, quarantine any of your bunnies and let your vet and state be aware and follow their preventive measures or guidelines.

Finally, ensure your dogs are vaccinated against this deadly virus and secure your bunnies them from predators that often carry the virus. 

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