Runaway virus killing our domestic rabbits by the hundreds

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Rabbit owners in outer South Western Sydney and the Macarthur region are being warned to stay vigilant following reports of hundreds of deaths.

Investigations by Greater Sydney Local Land Services (GSLLS) district veterinarians have confirmed the deaths are the result of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV2), a fast-spreading disease that causes bleeding in the animal’s internal organs.

GSLLS biosecurity manager Graham Wilson said the virus was different to RHDV 1, which is released by authorities to control the feral rabbit population.

“Unfortunately, there is no vaccination for domestic rabbits against RHDV2 like there is for RHDV 1,” he said.

“This particular strain has been spreading in wild rabbit population throughout Greater Sydney since first detected in 2015 and the ongoing wet weather we are experiencing is providing ideal conditions for the virus.”

Macarthur resident V Vella lost 249 of his specially bred rabbits which he sells mostly as giant pets and some for meat production.

“A serious hand injury meant I had to find something outside my work to keep me sane and rabbits were it,” he said.

Greater Sydney Local Land Services district veterinarian Paula Castillo with Mr and Mrs Vella at their property after the deaths of their rabbits.

“We raised them all from kits, including bottle feeding them, they all had names and were very much a part of the family. This experience has been incredibly distressing.’’

Mr Vella said the deaths occurred despite following best practice biosecurity protocols with vets believing fleas to have caused the virus.

“We have a fully enclosed outdoor annex to protect from insects, the adults were vaccinated, kept clean and extremely well looked after,” he said.

“Prior to this their rate of survival was one of my proudest achievements with no significant losses since I took up the hobby in December 2017.”

Mr Vella said other rabbit owners within a 5km radius had also been affected.

“I know of three local cases including my father who lost more than 20 on his Picton property,” he said.

Mr Wilson urged rabbit owners to be on the lookout for symptoms and report suspect cases to their local vet.

“We acknowledge this is an incredibly distressing time for many rabbit owners and breeders in our region and our staff our working to support them wherever possible,” he said.

For more information on the virus, visit the NSW DPI website on RHDV2.

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