Highly infectious virus found in four feral rabbits in Parksville area. -Black Press file photo

Rabbit virus found on Vancouver Island for second straight year

Rabbit owners are advised to vaccinate their pets

After the deaths of four feral rabbits in Parksville recently, local rabbit owners are being advised to take precautions with their pets.

It was determined that each of the dead rabbits had rabbit hemorrhagic disease, caused by calicivirus. Though there are no reports of the disease in the Comox Valley at this time, local veterinarians are recommending rabbit owners get the Filivac vaccine. Shamrock Veterinary Clinic has ordered 20 to 30 vials of the vaccine from Europe this year and expect them sometime in April. Tsolum Vet Clinic has also once again ordered the vaccine and at the time of publication had one dose that was not yet spoken for.

“I really hope it’s not coming here, but I consider that somewhat unlikely,” said Judith Hilger, veterinarian and hospital manager at Shamrock Veterinary Clinic. “There’s less [feral] rabbits around here than there was last year and I hope we see less of a disaster than we did last year.”

Hilger says in areas where the disease is a concern, rabbits should get the vaccination once a year or every six months.

Last spring, the Comox Valley was declared a “hot spot” for the RHD and this is the second year in a row that the disease has been present on the Island. It is believed that the virus only affects European rabbits and not North American rabbits, but the cause of the virus is unknown. The Comox Valley SPCA has not accepted rabbits since March of 2018 due to the disease.

While the disease is extremely infectious and lethal among rabbits, it does not affect humans or other animals.

Owners should monitor their rabbits for signs of the illness, including listlessness, lack of co-ordination, behaviour changes or trouble breathing. Bleeding from the nose often happens at the time of death. A rabbit will show signs of illness between one to nine days of being infected, and rabbit owners should contact their veterinarian immediately if they have any concerns.

Rabbit owners can help to protect their pet by practicing excellent hygiene while around their pets and staying away from infected animals.

For more information, visit https://spca.bc.ca/news/rhd/

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