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Experimental infection of rabbits with bovine viral diarrhoea virus by a natural route of exposure

Claudia Bachofen12, Dawn M Grant1, Kim Willoughby1, Ruth N Zadoks1, Mark P Dagleish1 and George C Russell1*

Author Affiliations

1 Moredun Research Institute, Pentlands Science Park, Penicuik EH26 0PZ, UK

2 Present address: Institute of Virology, Vetsuisse faculty, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstr 266a, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland

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Veterinary Research 2014, 45:34  doi:10.1186/1297-9716-45-34

Published: 2 April 2014


Bovine viral diarrhoea virus (BVDV) is an important pathogen of cattle that can naturally infect a wide range of even-toed ungulates. Non-bovine hosts may represent reservoirs for the virus that have the potential to hamper BVDV eradication programs usually focused on cattle. Rabbits are very abundant in countries such as the United Kingdom or Australia and are often living on or near livestock pastures. Earlier reports indicated that rabbits can propagate BVDV upon intravenous exposure and that natural infection of rabbits with BVDV may occur but experimental proof of infection of rabbits by a natural route is lacking. Therefore, New Zealand White rabbits were exposed to a Scottish BVDV field strain intravenously, oro-nasally and by contaminating their hay with virus. None of the animals showed any clinical signs. However, the lymphoid organs from animals sacrificed at day five after exposure showed histological changes typical of transient infection with pestivirus. Most organ samples and some buffy coat samples were virus positive at day five but saliva samples remained negative. Development of antibodies was observed in all intravenously challenged animals, in all of the nebulised group and in four of six animals exposed to contaminated hay. To our knowledge this is the first report of BVDV propagation in a species other than ruminants or pigs after exposure to the virus by a natural route. However, to assess the role of rabbits as a potential reservoir for BVDV it remains to be determined whether persistent infection caused by intra-uterine infection is possible and whether BVDV is circulating in wild rabbit populations.