Deadly viral disease kills two feral rabbits in Saanich

Deadly viral disease kills two feral rabbits in Saanich
File photo
Two feral rabbits in Saanich have died from rabbit haemorrhagic disease.

Rabbit owners in the Capital Regional District are being asked to take precautions with their pet rabbits after two feral rabbits in Saanich died from rabbit haemorrhagic disease.

According to the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, tests have confirmed the presence of the disease, caused by a calicivirus, in both rabbits. It is the second year in a row that the virus has been found in Vancouver Island rabbits, but the source of the virus is not known.

Rabbit haemorrhagic disease(RHD) is a sudden, highly contagious and fatal viral disease of rabbits. RHD affects rabbits of the Oryctolagus cuniculus species, including wild and domestic European rabbits, from which Canada’s own domestic rabbits are descended.

After being exposed to the virus, rabbits usually become sick within one to nine days. Death is common after a short period of illness. Death may also occur suddenly without signs.

Commons signs include fever, depression, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, groaning, blood spots in the eyes, frothy and bloody discharge from the nose and neurological signs, including difficulty walking, paddling of the legs, seizures and paralysis.

RHD is not known to affect native North American rabbits. It is also not known to cause disease in humans.

Pet owners are asked to monitor their rabbits daily for signs of illness and contact their veterinarian immediately with any concerns. While humans are not threatened by the disease, rabbit owners can avoid bringing the virus home by practising excellent hygiene when handling their animals and staying away from areas where the disease has occurred.

Vaccines to protect pet rabbits from rabbit hemorrhagic disease are available through veterinary clinics around the province.


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