Deadly rabbit disease has been detected in a Windsor pet

A highly contagious virus has been detected in a local pet rabbit which has died due to the illness.

Humane society says rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV-2) has been detected locally

Pet rabbits are shown in this file photo from the Guelph Humane Society. In Windsor-Essex, the first case of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV-2) has been found in a pet. (Guelph Humane Society)

A highly contagious virus has been detected in a local pet rabbit that has died due to the illness.

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHDV-2) has an estimated mortality rate of 90 per cent, according to the Windsor/Essex County Humane Society, and anyone with a pet bunny should consider getting it vaccinated. 

The humane society said vaccines are not widely available in the region, but pet owners should ask their veterinarians about it. 

"The humane society is working to obtain this vaccine as well so we can ensure that our adoptable rabbits are protected," the society said in a social media post. 

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) confirmed the diagnosis of the Windsor pet happened on July 5.

"There were three other rabbits in the home, none of which have shown any signs of illness, and which have since been placed under quarantine," the CFIA said in an emailed statement to CBC News. 

"This is the second premises in Ontario where RHDV-2 has been confirmed."

Last month, the virus was first detected in Ontario in two pet rabbits near Lambton County, according to the CFIA. It previously was found in B.C. and Alberta. 

The rabbits were from the same household, and quickly died. 

Both the United States Department of Agriculture and the CFIA say the virus is not known to cause disease in humans.

The CFIA's website says the virus is found in most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Cuba and some parts of Asia and Africa, and there have been occasional outbreaks in the U.S. and Canada, in 2011, 2016 and 2018.

The CFIA said the disease is highly contagious in wild and domestic rabbits. The virus doesn't affect other species.

The CFIA said infected rabbits usually show symptoms within one to five days. Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite and neurological symptoms such as difficulty walking.

"Death is common after a short period of illness. Death may also occur suddenly without signs," the CFIA says in a fact sheet on its website.

'We don't have a vaccine'

It's a very scary time for people who love and have rabbits, said Emily Regier, who is on the board of directors for Tiny Paws Rabbit Rescue and is a co-founder of Rabbit Wranglers Windsor-Essex.

"It is a very serious disease. So you always want to be vigilant and doing the best you can that way. But, at the end of the day, a lot of it is out of your control because we don't have a vaccine at the moment."

Emily Regier's pet rabbit is named Punky. (Submitted by Emily Regier)

While other countries have vaccines that protect rabbits against the virus, they're not readily available in Canada.

A Lambton County vet previously told CBC News that clinics have to request a special permit to import the vaccine from Spain or France, but anticipates Ontario will eventually provide access, as other provinces affected by the virus have done.

With files from Chris Ensing


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