Deadly infectious disease causes concern for rabbit owners

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Capital News Service

LANSING – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan rabbit owners are concerned as yet another infectious disease continues to spread across the United States.

The rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2, or RHDV2, is highly contagious and almost always fatal. Although humans cannot contract the virus, it can still be spread through human-to-rabbit contact. 

According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, it affects both domestic and wild rabbits.

The nonprofit American Rabbit Breeders Association is keeping rabbit owners up to date on the spread of RHDV2.

According to the association, owners should enhance their typical biosecurity measures. That includes keeping wild rabbits separate from pet rabbits, not allowing visitors to a rabbitry and quarantining new rabbits. 

Proper hygiene is also strongly encouraged. 

People should wash their hands in warm soapy water after touching a rabbit — especially if they intend to have contact with others. Additionally, clothing and shoes should be changed and the sharing of rabbit cages and feeding equipment should be avoided. 

Despite being aware of RHDV2, the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine hasn’t had any experience with the virus yet. 

“No one in our clinic has treated this virus or seen any rabbits with it. Our diagnostic lab is aware but has never conducted a test for it,” said Kristen Lare, the college’s marketing and communications director. “Many of our clients come from across the country and the world.” 

Dr. Kurt Williams, an MSU veterinary professor, is among those who haven’t treated the disease.

Williams said he’s aware of the seriousness of the disease for rabbit breeders and fanciers, but added, “In my opinion, this is not a reason, beyond COVID, for a lack of rabbit shows in Michigan.” 

According to Sherry Garrett of Reed City, the secretary of the Michigan State Rabbit Breeders Association, RHDV2 should be a concern despite no confirmed cases in the state. 

“It cannot get here without being transported from one of the states where the outbreak is in the Southwest United States,” Garret said. “The American Rabbit Breeders Association has rules that no rabbits may be transported out of those areas or within 250 miles of an active outbreak.” 

“This means the breeders and pet rabbit owners within this red zone cannot attend any shows and should not be transporting animals from their area anywhere across the U.S.,” she said.

If a rabbit shows signs of RHDV2, it must be euthanized and sent to the state vet, she said. 

Additionally, the state vet will come and test the herd. If the rabbit has been in the rabbitry, there is a significant possibility the herd may also need to be euthanized.

The state association has 650 adult breeders and around 250 youth members, Garrett said, and many pet owners and non-members participate in shows across Michigan.

Rabbits are especially popular pets among children and for adults and children to raise and show.

“Rabbits are a great 4-H project that has limited costs and shows our youth how to be responsible owners of the creatures we love,” Garrett said. 

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