Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Hits Canada Again – High Risk to BC Rabbits

High Risk to All Rabbits
Deadlier Version Also Affects Native Hares and Rabbits

Rabbit Guardians Urged to Vaccinate
Rabbitats Rescue Society Organizing Clinics

A devastating rabbit virus is closing in on British Columbia and it’s much deadlier than the version that wreaked havoc on domestic rabbit populations on Vancouver Island and parts of the Lower Mainland before hitting Washington State in 2019, spreading to pets, shelters and barns and killing thousands of rabbits in its path.

The new variant of RHDV2 first surfaced in the Southwest states and Mexico in the spring of 2020 with a frightening turn – it’s also killing native hares and rabbits and not just the imported European domestics kept as pets and farm animals.  It affects all lagomorphs – rabbits, hares and pikas – but it cannot spread to other animals or people.

The virus has been steadily moving north, reaching Oregon, Idaho and Montana within a year and was just found in five deceased domestic rabbits near Lethbridge, Alberta.

“The Alberta virus is particularly concerning because nobody has been able to trace where it came from,” notes Sorelle Saidman, the founder of the Rabbitats Rescue Society, an organization trying to control the large populations of abandoned pet rabbits and their feral offspring burgeoning across North America. “RHDV2 had recently reached feral rabbit colonies in Billings, Montana so we were expecting it to hit Alberta eventually, but the Alberta deaths were house rabbits hundreds of miles away that hadn’t been outside in months, nor had they been exposed to new rabbits coming into the home.  This means the virus can pop up anywhere.”  

“It’s also affecting rabbits in Northern Oregon.” says Saidman.  “BC is surrounded and it’s moving closer.” 

The domestic colonies can fuel the virus and they are a growing issue throughout Western Canada, particularly in Calgary and Canmore, Alberta, central Vancouver Island and Greater Vancouver, especially in Richmond, BC.

The virus can potentially interrupt the entire animal kingdom food chain and seriously affect already threatened populations of native rabbits including a rare type of snowshoe hare found in BC’s Lower Mainland.

Rabbitats operates the Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease News Network on Facebook and has formed the Alberta Rabbit Alliance as a communication hub and focus group for Alberta rabbit guardians.

The society has been working closely with the veterinarian community to help facilitate and promote a vaccine that is being imported from France to fight the virus.

Rabbit guardians, as well as practicing good biosecurity, are urged to contact their veterinarians about acquiring the vaccine.

Rabbitats will be staging two drive-through vaccine clinics this month at the Richmond Auto Mall, 13240 Smallwood Place (behind HUB Insurance)  Sundays, May 16 and 23. 

Dr. Joseph Martinez from the Cypress Street Animal Clinic in Vancouver is donating his time as is Dr. Jennifer Miller from the Allondale Animal Hospital in Surrey.   

Preference will be given to rabbits fostered or adopted through Rabbitats, but others are welcome to register. 

 Funds raised from this clinic will go towards the vaccination costs for the hundreds of rabbits in Rabbitats’ sanctuaries. 

Information and a registration form can be found here:

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