Rabbit owners advised to protect pets from virus

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BC SPCA officials are recommending erring on the side of caution for rabbit owners concerned about the spread of a deadly virus to their pets.

A vaccine for the virus that causes Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease became available in B.C. on April 16, after being ordered in from the manufacturer in France.

Emilia Gordon, the senior manager of animal health at BC SPCA, said that the vaccine was “brought in on a special permit. It is not licensed for use in Canada at this time. The vaccine has been distributed to the 50 veterinary hospitals who ordered it on the first round. There’s another round of ordering that is going on right now. Even vets who don’t have it yet can order it so they have it by May.”

Though Salt Spring Island has not had a case of RHD reported, rabbit owners should exercise common sense when it comes to securing their home from the virus. The virus is transmitted either through direct or indirect contact and only affects European breeds of rabbits. It does not affect native North American rabbit species, but can affect feral populations.

“We don’t really know how it’s spreading between the island and the mainland, but because we know that it can spread indirectly, it can spread on humans and vehicles, shoes and clothing, that sort of thing,” said Gordon. “There is a risk just based on the fact that it has spread between the island and the Lower Mainland so far. Unfortunately, if a rabbit does get exposed, there’s a very high risk of that rabbit becoming infected and dying.”

The SPCA recommends that rabbit owners talk to their veterinarians about vaccinating their pets.

For more on this story, see the April 25, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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