Several pet rabbits have died in Canberra in recent days following an accidental release of the RHDV2 strain of European Calicivirus in the ACT.
One RiotACT reader has lost three of her four pet rabbits in the past week.
Calicivirus has been used by the ACT Government to control the territory’s feral rabbit population in the past but the government had no role in releasing this strain.
The virus can be spread on clothing, the bottom of shoes, bedding, cages, feed, water, birds, flies, rabbit fleas, or mosquitos. It is easily transferred through touch, which makes it nearly impossible to contain.
Pet rabbits can be vaccinated against other strains of the virus but there is not yet a vaccine for RHDV2.
RSPCA ACT Director of Animal Welfare Jane Gregor said her organization had been working with vaccine companies and the ACT Government on ways to protect domestic rabbits from the virus strain given how swiftly it can spread.
“Even a bird walking through a contaminated area can spread it everywhere,” Ms Gregor said.
The RSPCA, ACT Government and vaccine manufacturers have been in contact since late last week after a number of rabbits in the care of the RSPCA died from what appeared to be calicivirus. Laboratory tests confirmed last night that the domestic rabbits died from the RHDV2 strain.
“After two of our baby rabbits died last week, we didn’t think much of it since they were more susceptible to diseases at that age,” Ms Gregor said.
“However, once some unrelated adult rabbits also died that were vaccinated against the known strain of calcivirus, we became suspicious.”
It appeared the current strain (RHDV2) was an accidental release from an European origin, but no one is sure how. RHDV2 had not been tested for vaccine efficacy yet.
RSPCA ACT has revaccinated all of its rabbits in care using the current vaccine hoping that a double dosage might be useful. They have also referred any public vet appointments for rabbits to other vet clinics in the meantime.
“We will continue to work with the vaccine companies to trial various drug regimes that may help fight the spread to further rabbits. We encourage others to do the same,” Ms Gregor said.
Individuals requiring more information about calicivirus should contact their local vet. Disease control enquiries should be directed to the ACT Government veterinarian or Territory and Municipal Services.