Recently, the Local Land Services Office of the NSW Government has issued a warning to pet rabbit owners, urging them to vaccinate their pet rabbits as soon as possible, before the planned release of a new strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV-K5), the rabbit calicivirus K5 strain.
The baiting program is a wild rabbit control program in the Greater Sydney area, carried out between mid February to late March 2017. As all rabbits, included pet rabbits, can be affected, it is recommended that rabbits should be vaccinated prior to 1st March to ensure their protection to this disease is optimal.
Rabbit Calicivirus (also called Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus) is a very infectious disease which is often fatal in unvaccinated rabbits.
A strain of the virus (RHDV1) was first introduced in Australia in 1991 to research if it was suitable as a biological control agent for the wild rabbit population. In 1995 it was prematurely released and killed a lot of rabbits.
A vaccine was made available for pet rabbits, and a yearly vaccination schedule has been in place since then.
Symptoms of the Rabbit Calicivirus depend on how rapidly it affects the rabbit and can include fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, bleeding from nose or other areas, neurological signs, jaundice or even sudden death (sometime sudden death without any prior symptoms).
All rabbits can become infected with the virus, but younger rabbits (under 8 weeks of age) seem more resistant to this original virus strain.
The virus can spread easily from rabbit to rabbit, either via direct contact (via faeces, urine, saliva, nasal and eye discharge and mating) or indirectly via food, clothes, shoes, cages and equipment, insects, dust, predator faeces (cat, dog and fox faeces) and wild birds and wild rodents.
The Calicivirus is very hardy and can survive in the environment for 3.5 months at 25 degrees Celcius and even longer in cooler temperatures (up to 7.5 months at 4 degrees Celcius).
A feral rabbit control program will commence in the Greater Sydney Area between mid -February and late March 2017. This program will include the release of a new live strain of the Rabbit Calicivirus (RHDV1 K5), in a solution applied to chopped carrots.
Unvaccinated pet rabbits are at risk of contracting the disease. Our current vaccination does protect against this strain.
For best protection, it is advised to vaccinate rabbits prior to the 1st March, for the best immune response and protection! Please ring Cronulla Veterinary Clinic on 9527 2604 to book a time to have your rabbit(s) vaccinated against this awful disease.
In May 2015, a new strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus has been detected in the ACT and has since spread to NSW (including the Greater Sydney area), Vic, SA, Tas, NT and even WA. This new strain is called RHDV2. This virus can cause death in baby rabbits as young as 3-4 weeks old, and even in a proportion of vaccinated adult rabbits, as our current vaccine doesn’t protect all rabbits. A new vaccine is being developed for this strain, but in the meantime a revised vaccination protocol has been suggested to better protect our pet rabbits against this strain. The protocol includes more frequent boosters. For an updated vaccination protocol, including boosters and a 6-monthly protocol (off-label) please contact our vets at Cronulla Veterinary Clinic.
Apart from more frequent vaccinations, protect your rabbit by preventing contact between your pet rabbit and wild rabbits, avoid cutting grass and feeding it to your pets if there is risk of contamination from wild rabbits, wash hands between handling rabbits, good insect control (keep them in insect proof enclosures or inside), thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all rabbit cages and equipment, and isolate sick rabbits and seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
If you do suspect your pet rabbit may be unwell, or for booster vaccinations, please contact Cronulla Veterinary Clinic.