A rabbit virus to be released across the country, including 100 sites in Otago, is hoped to kill more than 40 per cent of the population.
Environment Canterbury (ECan) applied in November to the Ministry for Primary Industries for approval to introduce and use the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease RHDV1-K5 for pest rabbit management.
The K5 virus is a Korean variant of a strain that is already in New Zealand, which was illegally released here in 1997 by a collective of Otago farmers. Pet rabbits have low immunity to this virus so the disease is usually severe and fatal
Rabbit Council of New Zealand member Gary Stephenson, who submitted against ECan's application, feared rabbit owners had not been given enough time to get their animals vaccinated against the "abhorrent" virus.
"There are thousands of rabbit owners up in arms and really, really worried about this … There are many other means of controlling wild rabbits that do not threaten pet rabbits or treat pet rabbits as collateral damage.
"I have been fighting this since June 2015 … It's absolutely abhorrent."
He said it took 21 days for a vaccination to be effective, which, if released next month, did not give pet rabbit owners much time.
K5 was introduced into Australia last year and had reportedly been "very effective, better than anticipated. Knock-down rates are averaging above 40 per cent at the moment and in some areas they're achieving up to 80 per cent".
Pet rabbit owners should discuss any virus concerns with their vet. No vaccinated pets in Australia, where the virus was released last year, had caught it.
The vaccine, which rabbit owners were already encouraged to get for their pets to protect against the existing virus, costs around $80-$100.
Rabbits infected with K5 developed symptoms between 24 hours and 72 hours after infection and usually died within six hours to 36 hours after the first symptoms appeared.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
How is RHDV1 K5 different to the current variant of calicivirus?
Both variants cause the same disease, but the RHDV1 K5 variant is better adapted to overcome the protective effects of the benign calicivirus detected in New Zealand rabbits. These benign viruses can temporarily protect rabbits from being infected with our current variant of RHDV1. The benign virus is found throughout New Zealand, including areas where RHDV1 has not worked well in the past. The use of the RHDV1 K5 variant should improve the effectiveness of RHDV1 and continue to suppress rabbit numbers throughout their distribution, particularly when used in conjunction with other forms of control.
Will RHDV1 K5 infect pet rabbits?
Yes, all European rabbits, including domestic rabbits, can be infected with the current RHDV1 Czech strain or RHDV1 K5. Pet rabbit owners are advised to discuss vaccination with their veterinarian.
Is it safe (people, pets, wildlife and livestock)?
Yes. No variant of RHDV1 has ever been found to cause infection in humans or any other animal except the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Even predatory animals that eat rabbits that have died from RHDV1 do not develop an infection.
How does RHDV spread naturally?
The disease is spread directly from rabbit to rabbit but can also be spread through biting insects and through fomites (virus particles survive on cages, food, people, and can be blown through the air). This means that indoor rabbits are also at risk. Animals that predate on rabbit carcasses such as hawks, ferrets and cats may also excrete the virus in their faeces.
Is there a cure for the disease?
There is no treatment or cure for rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD). However, the vaccine is available for domestic and production rabbits.
We are recommending that all pet rabbit owners, pre-emptively vaccinate their pets so they are protected when this new aggressive strain is released.
Our recommendations are for all pet rabbits to have:
• An initial vaccination at 12 weeks of age
• Some rabbit may require a booster 4 weeks later (off label use)
• An annual vaccination
The vaccination comes in a bottle of 10 doses which needs to be used quickly. To keep the cost of vaccination down for clients, we are looking at running “Rabbit vaccination days”
Call us for more information or to book a consult and make the most of our April discount offer for the vaccine.
Tags: Pet, Pet Health, Disease, Vaccination, Animal Health, Pet care, Rabbit