The B.C. government is warning rabbit owners in the mid Island after three dead, feral rabbits were found to have a virus. (News Bulletin file)

Virus killing rabbits on mid Island

Three dead rabbits, found Tuesday in Nanaimo, had disease caused by calicivirus

The B.C. government is warning rabbit owners in Nanaimo and the mid-Island area to be cautious after a large number of dead rabbits were found in the Vancouver Island University area.

An unusually large number of dead rabbits were found around Vancouver Island University and Rotary Bowl stadium Tuesday, with the university, Nanaimo Animal Control Services and B.C. SPCA looking into the matter.

RELATED: A dozen dead rabbits discovered at Nanaimo field

In a press release issued Friday, March 2, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said three of the rabbits were tested and found to have “rabbit haemorrhagic disease, caused by a calicivirus.”

It is suspected other rabbits died of the same cause and more rabbits will undergo testing in the coming days.

“Rabbit haemorrhagic disease is an extremely infectious and lethal disease of rabbits,” said the press release. “It is the third confirmed diagnosis of this virus in Canada, and the first in British Columbia. The disease is exclusive to rabbits. Other animals, including dogs and cats, cannot be infected.”

Humans are not at risk either, the ministry said, but it also recommends not releasing domestic rabbits into the wild at any time.

“As well, rabbit owners should take precautions when disposing of any rabbit remains, and contact their veterinarian for more information. Rabbit calicivirus is a pathogen, which affects only European rabbits, not native rabbits,” the ministry said.

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