(Image by Kenny S. Zhang)

A highly infectious and deadly hemorrhagic virus found in rabbits has returned to Vancouver Island for the second year in a row, warns the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

The lethal virus is called a hemorrhagic disease caused by a calicivirus, and is found exclusively in rabbits.

Last year’s strain, which killed hundreds of rabbits in Nanaimo in March 2018, only affected European rabbits and not native North American ones. The province notes that humans and other animals, including dogs and cats, cannot be infected.

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Symptoms from the virus usually appear within one to nine days, and include listlessness, lack of coordination, behaviour changes, or trouble breathing before death.

However, in most cases, rabbits affected by the disease die suddenly as the virus attacks the animal’s liver and other organs, and causes hemorrhages by affecting blood vessels. Usually, there is also bleeding from the nose at the time of death.

So far, the province says that four feral rabbits in Parksville were found dead with the hemorrhagic disease this year.

Pet owners, especially in the mid-island area, are being advised to monitor their rabbits daily for signs of illness, and to contact their veterinarian immediately if they have any concerns.

While there is no threat to humans or other pets, the province recommends that rabbit owners protect against the virus by staying away from areas where the disease has appeared and by performing thorough hygiene practices after handling their pets.

Concerned rabbit owners can consult their veterinarian for possible vaccination options, and can find more information on the hemorrhagic disease on the BCSPCA website here.