Province warns rabbit owners about deadly virus on Vancouver Island

Rabbit owners should take precautions to protect their pets after almost 30 feral rabbits were found dead in the Nanaimo area in the last 4 days.

Nanaimo Animal Control Services says about 30 feral rabbits have died in the area in the last 4 days

There is no vaccine in B.C. to protect wild rabbits from the highly contagious and deadlly rabbit hemorrhagic disease that has broken out in the Nanaimo area on Vancouver Island. (Nigel Dowsett/Shutterstock)

Rabbit owners near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island need to take precautions to protect their pets against a deadly virus that is killing feral rabbits. 

According to Nanaimo Animal Control Services, about 30 dead rabbits have been found in the last four days on Vancouver Island University campus and in the surrounding area.

Three of the dead rabbits were sent to the province's Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford which concluded they died of rabbit hemorrhagic disease.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources said in a statement it will continue testing, but it suspects the other rabbits died from the same illness.

The disease causes the infected rabbit to develop multiple blood clots, said Ian Welch, director of veterinarian services and research support at the University of British Columbia.

'It's nasty'

"At some point it runs out of agents needed to clot blood and ongoing bleeding cannot be clotted and the rabbit just bleeds out... It's nasty," said Welch, who added the disease attacks rabbits like the Ebola virus attacks humans.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease is not a threat to humans or other animals, said Welch, but it is highly contagious and has an extremely short incubation period of one to two days.

The disease is easily transmitted to pet rabbits because it can be carried on surfaces like dog leashes and clothing.

Protect your pets

Carley Colclough of Nanaimo Animal Control Services said rabbit owners should be cautious about bringing the disease home on their shoes if they walk in the area where the dead rabbits were found.

Welch advises rabbit owners to use a 0.5-per-cent bleach solution to disinfect anything that has come into contact with the virus.

According to Welch, there is a vaccine for the virus but it is not routinely used in the province because the disease is so rare in B.C. The vaccine also takes weeks to take effect and Welch said the outbreak will likely run through the area's rabbit population in about two weeks.

"At that point, you are either dead or survived if you are a rabbit."