Vaccination of rabbits and ferrets


Ratification Date: 08 Jul 2011

Technical update: September 2022


Vaccination of pet rabbits against rabbit caliciviral disease and ferrets against distemper is recommended.



Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus

Rabbit calicivirus disease or Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) occurs in wild and domestic European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Australia causing acute haemorrhage and sudden death.  There are two types of RHDV present in Australia (RHDV1 and RHDV2). RHDV1 is has been used as a biological control agent to reduce the feral rabbit population in Australia since 1996, initially using the v351 strain and more recently the K5 strain. RHDV2 was first detected in 2015 in Australia, and has also significantly affected both wild and domestic rabbit populations.

Australian veterinarians have been using the CYLAP vaccine (which contains inactivated v351, an RHDV1 strain) since 1997.1,2  When RHDV2 became the predominant strain in Australia, the AVA recommendation for the use of CYLAP changed to an increased dose frequency, which was off-label.  The hope was that an increased vaccination regimen would be more likely to confer cross-protection to RHDV2, while acknowledging that CYLAP only contained RHDV1. 

In May 2022, the APVMA issued an emergency permit to allow supply and emergency use of  FILAVAC VHD K C+V SUSPENSION for active immunisation of rabbits to reduce mortality due to rabbit haemorrhagic disease caused by classical (RHDV1) and type 2 (RHDV2) virus strains. FILAVAC VHD K C+V must not be used in food producing animals.


Myxomatosis occurs in Australia, however a vaccine is not available or allowed to be used in Australia because of the risk of the vaccinate strain entering the wild rabbit population and stimulating immunity.


Distemper occurs in ferrets. Distemper is also known to exist in Australia, therefore the ferret population can be considered to be at risk. No specific monovalent vaccine for ferrets is available in Australia. Consequently polyvalent canine vaccines are used.



Rabbit Calicivirus vaccination:
  1. Pet Rabbits from 10 weeks of age:
    • Despite only having emergency registration, Filavac VHD K C+V is the only available vaccine that confers specific protection against RHDV2, the current predominant strain in Australia.  As such, it is the recommended vaccine for pet rabbits from 10 weeks of age.
    • Cylap RCD can be used in rabbits from 2.5-3 months of age (10-12 weeks) and has been used as frequently as 6 monthly (off-label).
  2. Pet Rabbits less than 10 weeks of age:
  • Cylap RCD registration states that, if epizootic conditions make vaccination advisable before the age of 2½ months, then animals should be revaccinated at 2½ to 3 months of age. In such conditions, Cylap RCD has been used, off-label, at 4, 8 and 12 weeks of age.
  • Filavac VHD K C+V is not registered for use under 10 weeks of age, therefore its use is off-label.  Vaccination of rabbits in this age group must be done at the discretion of the veterinarian. 

3. Commercial/Production Rabbits

  • Cylap RCD is the only vaccine licenced for use in commercial rabbits. Filavac VHD K C&V must not be used. 

Current Protocols:

Filavac VHD K C+V vaccine registered protocol

  • Dose: 0.5 mL
  • Site: Subcutaneous injection
  • Frequency
    • Kittens: over 10 weeks age, single dose, repeat every 12 months
    • Adults: single dose, repeat every 12 months

Cylap RCD™ vaccine registered protocol

  • Dose: 1 mL
  • Site: Subcutaneous injection
  • Frequency
    • From 10-12 weeks of age, a single vaccination repeated every 12 months.

Cylap RCD™ vaccine previous recommended protocol to mitigate RHDV2 infection (off-label)

  • Dose: 1 mL
  • Site: Subcutaneous injection
  • Frequency
    • Kittens: 4, 8, 12 weeks of age, then every 6 months (note this protocol is off-label)
    • Adults: 2 vaccinations 2-4 weeks apart, then every 6 months (note this protocol is off-label)

Canine distemper vaccine for ferrets

  • Dose: One quarter to one sixth of the canine dose which will vary with the manufacturer of the vaccine.
  • Site: Subcutaneous injection
  • Frequency:
    • 6-12 weeks of age – two doses 4 weeks apart and repeat annually
    • Over 12 weeks of age – single dose and repeat annually

Veterinarians should follow the manufacturers’ guidelines and contact them for any advice required on off-label use. Clients should be made aware of the “off label” use of canine vaccines in ferrets.

Note: Keeping of rabbits and ferrets in Queensland is illegal.


  1. CSIRO. Rabbit Calicivirus Disease (RCD) http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plep.pdf. 2010. Accessed 23 March 2010.
  2. https://www.zoetis.com.au/product-class/cylap-rcd-vaccine.aspx  
  3. The American Ferret Association. AFA Ferret (Mustela putorius furo) Vaccination Policy. 2006. http://www.ferret.org/read/vaccinations.html. Accessed 23 March 2010.
  4. Pfizer Animal Health (acquired from CSL). Technical Update. Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. Vaccination of ferrets with Canvac 3.
  5. Boehringer- Ingelheim http://www.boehringer-ingelheim.com.
  6. Virbac  www.virbac.com.au.
  7. Norris, JM, Krockenberger, MB, Baird, AA, Knudsen, G. Canine distemper: re-emergence of an old enemy. Australian Veterinary Journal, 84(10):362-636.

Date of ratification by AVA Board: 8 July 2011.  RHDV vaccination protocol updated September 2022.