Veterinarians Warning Killer Virus To Threaten Pet Rabbits

Veterinarians are urging owners of domestic rabbits to vaccinate against a killer virus to be soon released in Sydney to control the wild rabbit population.

Unvaccinated pet rabbits are threatened by the CalicivirusThe NSW National Parks and Wildlife’s ongoing feral rabbit control program helps to reduce the negative impacts of feral rabbits on native animals and plants, but it is a serious threat to domestic rabbits, says Dr Jayne Weller, exotics, avian and aquatic veterinarian from the Animal Referral Hospital in Sydney.

The Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) – also known as the Rabbit Calicivirus – is used in a solution applied to chopped carrots, and once eaten by a rabbit, the virus spreads quickly through rabbit-to-rabbit contact and via biting insects, such as mosquitoes.

The virus is not harmful to native animals or other domestic pets, but will kill pet rabbits that are not vaccinated against it. The disease damages the rabbits’ internal organs, such as the liver and gut, and can also cause haemorrhage or bleeding, explains Dr Weller.

“The virus is released periodically every few years in different Council areas and we are seeing a marked increase in the number of affected pet rabbit cases,” she says. “The virus spreads and kills within 48 hours, and there’s no treatment for it.”

Rabbit owners can protect their bunnies by bringing them inside during mosquito prone times or keeping them in an insect proof enclosure or hutch if they are outside, which will also minimise the chance of them coming into contact with wild rabbits.

“The virus will remain in population, so the best protection for pet rabbits is to vaccinate against the disease,” says Dr Weller.

Signs of exposure to the virus include lethargy, being off food, sitting still/quietly and possibly bleeding from the nose, eyes, mouth or anus.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service reported that RHDV baits will be laid around northern Sydney late March or early April. The council areas that will be directly affected by this release are: Hills Shire Council, Hornsby Shire Council, Hunters Hill Council, Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council, Lane Cove Council, Manly Council, Mosman Council, North Sydney Council, Parramatta Council, Pittwater Council, Ryde City Council, Warringah Council, Willoughby City Council.

For best protection, vaccination is recommended prior to March 1st. “The Calicivirus is the only annual vaccination recommended to protect pet rabbits from three months old,” says Dr Weller. “Contact your local vet or Council for further information.”

The Animal Referral Hospital is a 24-hour veterinary hospital in Homebush and is offering a free health check on pet rabbits with every Calicivirus vaccination at a cost of $70. For further information or to make an appointment, please phone 02 9199 8983.



with Dr Jayne Weller courtesy of VETtalk TV


For more information or media interviews:


Troy James, General Manager

Animal Referral Hospital


W 02 9199 8983

M 0410 647 974


Dr Jayne Weller is also available for interviews.

Photo credit: Hills Shire resident Roberta Dean of daughter Chelsea Dean with their much loved pet rabbit Licorice.


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