As more cases of a highly contagious rabbit disease have been confirmed in British Columbia for a second consecutive year, pet owners are being warned to take precautions.
The B.C. SPCA confirmed on May 6 that several feral rabbits in the Parksville area on Vancouver Island died of Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD). Some additional cases were also found in Qualicum Beach and north of Nanaimo in May.
In March 2018, the B.C. SPCA temporarily suspended any intake of rabbits at its Nanaimo shelter after tests by the provincial government determined that several feral rabbits found dead in Nanaimo and Delta had died from RHD.
Before March, the last suspected cases of RHD to be found in B.C. were reported in July 2018 while the first case of RHD was reported in Nanaimo in February 2018. It was the third confirmed diagnosis of the virus in Canada, and the first in B.C.
As RHD is a highly contagious and lethal virus exclusive to rabbits, the B.C. SPCA stopped accepting rabbits at their Richmond, Parksville, Nanaimo, and Comox branches in March 2018. At other locations, rabbits are vaccinated and quarantined upon intake.
While the virus affects European rabbits, it is not known to affect rabbits native to North America. Also, humans and other animals–including cats and dogs–cannot be infected by the calicivirus, which causes the disease.
The virus affects blood vessels and attacks the liver and other organs, causing hemorrhages or sudden death.
Pet owners are advised to monitor their rabbits daily for symptoms, including listlessness, lack of coordination, behavioural changes, or breathing problems. The illness manifests rapidly, often within one to nine days. Nose bleeding may appear at the time of death.
In addition, rabbit owners are advised to take precautions when disposing of any rabbit remains. The public is advised not to move any domestic rabbits into the wild.