Veterinary Blog

Stranger Danger! Rabbits Take Heed!

By Dr. Leslie Ross D.V.M. Bsc.

Rabbit owners, please take heed!

There is a deadly, highly infectious rabbit virus that appeared in British Columbia for the first time ever early February of this year. (2018). Initial reports were from cases found on Vancouver Island. Since then, wild rabbits from Nanaimo, Annacis Island, Courtenay, Comox, and Delta have tested positive for this virus.

It infects the rabbit’s body very quickly and causes very fast deterioration of their health due to internal bleeding and severe liver and spleen damage. The mortality rate is very high! Sudden death occurs often between 1 and 9 days after exposure. Breathing difficulties, lack of coordination and nasal bleeding are common signs. The virus causing the devastating illness is named RHD2. It is a new variant of much more common, less-lethal various forms of the virus. Essentially, it has become virulent with a vengeance!

The virus just affects rabbits; it does not cause disease in cats, dogs or humans.

The disease can spread very easily! It is very important as a long-term safety measure to avoid pet rabbits being in any kind of contact with wild rabbits, rodents and insects, including flies and fleas. During this recent outbreak, it is important to be even more careful about where pet rabbits are housed and to keep them in quarantine to avoid them contacting new rabbits or sick rabbits. Also to keep them separated from cats or dogs that may have been outdoors and in contact with wild rabbits or their droppings. Strict biosecurity measures for people in contact with groups of rabbits should be firmly in place. These include changed clothing between rabbits and the use of bleach, virkon or potentiated hydrogen peroxide products for disinfection of the environment and of handler’s hands and shoes.

Other longer-term protective measures include avoidance of the offering of homegrown food, even if from a private yard garden due to the risk of contamination of fecal, digestive or respiratory secretions left from infected wild rabbits.

Very fortunately, there is currently an imported vaccine now available to veterinarians. It has been cleared by the federal governments to be distributed to B.C. by a special emergency permit since it is an unlicensed vaccine. It is administered as a single dose and is recommended as a yearly vaccine to avoid rabbits succumbing to this devastating illness.

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