The B.C. government is warning rabbit owners in Nanaimo after three dead, feral rabbits were found to have a virus. (News Bulletin file)

UPDATED: Rabbit owners in the region warned about deadly virus

Disease said to be caused by calicivirus. Nanaimo B.C. SPCA suspends rabbit intake.

The B.C. government is warning rabbit owners in Nanaimo and the mid-Island area to be cautious after a large number of dead rabbits were found in the Vancouver Island University area.

An unusually large number of dead rabbits were found around Vancouver Island University and Rotary Bowl stadium Tuesday, with the university, Nanaimo Animal Control Services and B.C. SPCA looking into the matter.

RELATED: A dozen dead rabbits discovered at Rotary Bowl

In a press release issued Friday, March 2, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development said three of the rabbits were tested and found to have “rabbit haemorrhagic disease, caused by a calicivirus.”

It is suspected other rabbits died of the same cause and more rabbits will undergo testing in the coming days.

“Rabbit haemorrhagic disease is an extremely infectious and lethal disease of rabbits,” said the press release. “It is the third confirmed diagnosis of this virus in Canada, and the first in British Columbia. The disease is exclusive to rabbits. Other animals, including dogs and cats, cannot be infected.”

Humans are not at risk either, the ministry said, but it also recommends not releasing domestic rabbits into the wild at any time.

“As well, rabbit owners should take precautions when disposing of any rabbit remains, and contact their veterinarian for more information. Rabbit calicivirus is a pathogen, which affects only European rabbits, not native rabbits,” the ministry said.

Leon Davis, Nanaimo B.C. SPCA branch manager, recommends not picking up any dead rabbits and instead, people should call animal control services. In light of the situation, Nanaimo SPCA will not accept rabbits for the time being.

“We’re pausing intakes of surrenders of rabbits into the shelter for now, unless it’s an emergency or a cruelty investigation,” said Davis. “I think we’re just monitoring the situation and we’re taking advice from the ministry because this is a nationally reportable disease.”

If people living within Nanaimo city limits see any dead rabbits, they should contact Nanaimo Animal Control Services at 250-616-0233, according to Carley Colclough, control services’ pound coordinator.

The Regional District of Nanaimo said rural-area residents finding dead rabbits should contact the B.C. Conservation Officer Service.

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