Pet rabbit owners warned of deadly new strain of virus

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Vets are encouraging pet owners to protect their rabbits against a new strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD), which is caused by a virus.

There is no cure for the virus, which is almost always fatal, so vaccination offers the only way to protect much loved pets.

The RHD virus has been present in the UK for years and is prevented by routine vaccination.

However, a newer strain of the virus (RHD-2), first reported in 2015, requires an additional vaccination to stop rabbits catching the disease.

Easipetcare Kettering is advising owners of pet rabbits to make sure their rabbits are protected.

They have added this second vaccination to their standard rabbit health plan to give owners peace of mind.

The practice wants to stress that the signs of illness caused by RHD viruses are difficult to spot.

The disease causes internal bleeding and the course is usually rapid, with rabbits suddenly appearing seriously unwell or even found dead.

Other symptoms are not specific to the virus, with rabbits often generally unwell.

Things owners can watch out for include loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, nervous spasms, coma, or unexplained bleeding for example from the nose or bottom.

The vet team say that even if affected rabbits are brought in and given prompt supportive treatment, the chance of survival is slim.

However, the good news is the vaccinations are very effective at preventing infection.

Easipetcare Kettering’s Head of Practice, Zara Todd, said: “This disease can be devastating for pet owners who often find their beloved rabbits seriously unwell.

“There is no cure, which is why we’re passionate about including the preventative vaccine in our rabbit health plan, so there’s an affordable solution for rabbit owners.

“The team at the practice have worked hard raising awareness, and we are committed to helping owners in the area protect the health and welfare of their rabbits.”

Rabbits don’t even have to meet another rabbit to become infected. Infected rabbits can ‘shed’ the highly infectious virus before they become ill and virus particles can then be carried on the wind, the soles of shoes, car tyres, other pets’ feet, wildlife (including birds), clothing or hay bales, which can then infect other rabbits.

Zara said: “When owners have experienced the unexplained sudden death of a rabbit we appreciate that it’s often a very difficult time, but encourage them to call us so we can advise on how to effectively clean the rabbit’s living space to ensure it is safe for other rabbits in the area, and prior to bringing a new rabbit into the home.”