Fatal rabbit virus confirmed in Downtown Vancouver

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      A lethal rabbit virus that has spread across Vancouver Island and parts of the Lower Mainland has found its way into Downtown Vancouver.

      According to a June 21 news release from the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) has been confirmed in Vancouver after several pet rabbits died in an apartment building located in Downtown Vancouver.

      Under the Animal Health Act, B.C.’s chief veterinary officer has issued an order to stop the owners from moving rabbits in and out of the apartment building and has mandated vaccination for RHD in that building.

      The highly infectious disease, caused by the calicivirus, only affects rabbits and does not affect humans or other animals (including dogs or cats).

      The disease had been previously found in rabbits in Metro Vancouver in Richmond and Delta, and on Vancouver Island in Qualicum Beach, Parksville, Comox Valley, and Nanaimo, where it was first reported in March 2018.

      The B.C. SPCA is urging pet owners to have their rabbits vaccinated. B.C.’s chief veterinary officer obtained a special import permit to provide veterinarians across the province with the RHD vaccine.

      RHD spreads among rabbits by contact with bedding, feed, water, feces, bodily fluids, as well as dead rabbits, insects, or wildlife that have been in contact with or consumed infected rabbits.

      The virus affects bloods vessels, livers, and organs, causing hemorrhages.

      Symptoms, which can develop within one to nine days of infection, can include listlessness, lack of coordination, behavioural changes, nose bleeding, or difficulty breathing, and most infected rabbits die suddenly.  

      Anyone who observes symptoms in their pet rabbits should contact a veterinarian immediately. Pet owners are also advised to practice excellent hygiene when handling rabbits.

      An RHD public vaccination clinic to be held by the B.C. SPCA on June 26 is now full.

      More information about RHD is available in the downloadable SPCA factsheet in the lefthand column and at the B.C. SPCA website.