Rare disease wipes out wild rabbits in Calgary, tests confirm

Cases of rabbit haemorrhagic disease have been confirmed among dead rabbits at Manchester Industrial and Seton

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Feral rabbit populations across the city are being wiped out by a rare rabbit disease that could spread to wild or indoor rabbits.

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Cases of rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) have been confirmed among dead rabbits found in the south-east communities of Manchester Industrial and Seton, according to Dr Jennifer Davies, veterinary pathologist and director of diagnostic services at the medical school veterinarian from the University of Calgary.

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The strain of the disease is RHDV2, which Davies says can be transmitted between wild and domestic rabbits and native species of rabbits and hares, putting hares, rabbits and snowshoe hares at risk of contracting the virus. deadly. Indoor domestic rabbits are also at risk.

“We sent samples for analysis to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and last Friday we learned that all six rabbits from which we sent samples tested positive for RHDV2,” Davies said.

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  1. Pictured is a rabbit in Lindsay Park outside the MNP Community and Sports Center on Tuesday, September 6, 2022.

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  2. Rabbits hang out in a shopping center in Seton on Friday April 15, 2022.

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Rabbit and hare species native to the Calgary area are important players in the local ecology, so it’s a concern that the disease is spreading to them, Davies said.

“They are important herbivores. They are also important prey for carnivores that live within and outside city limits,” she said.

The disease is highly contagious and fatal to rabbits, causing organ damage and internal bleeding. It only infects lagomorphs – rabbits or hares – and is spread by physical contact or by contact with the blood or excretions of an infected animal.

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“These infected rabbits, their bodily secretions that contain the virus can contaminate the environment around them,” Davies said, adding that it can spread on tires, clothes, shoes, hands and other objects. who come into contact with the disease.

The disease does not infect humans, Davies noted. But, she said, people’s actions can help prevent the spread of the disease by protecting their indoor pet rabbits and reporting any suspicious dead rabbits or hares to the Wildlife Disease Unit. Alberta Environment and Parks, or the team at the university’s faculty of veterinary medicine.

Feral rabbits were commonplace in the southeast community of Seton last winter.
Feral rabbits were commonplace in the southeast community of Seton last winter. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Amanda Greening, co-founder of Against All Odds Rabbit Rescue, said the group had received reports that people in Manchester Industrial and Seton had been wiped out, while wild rabbits in other areas including Skyview and Beltline , have transformed. dead.

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“It’s pretty much devastated their populations,” Greening said Tuesday.

The first official confirmation of RHD in an indoor pet rabbit in Calgary was made in May, but it has not been determined how the animal acquired the disease.

RHD is relatively new to Canada, but has now been confirmed in several parts of Alberta. Last year, a population of rabbits living in an Edmonton cemetery was wiped out by disease. The first case of RHD in Alberta was detected in Taber in March 2021.

Calgary’s wild rabbit populations consist of pets that have been released and raised themselves in the city. They are an invasive species, Greening said.

“If you have rabbits, avoid areas with wild animals and practice biosecurity in and out of your home,” Greening said. “And get your rabbits vaccinated.”

Dr. Kelsey Chapman of the Calgary Avian and Exotic Pet Clinic said last week that she vaccinated pet rabbits, which is their best defense against the deadly disease.

Against All Odds Rabbit Rescue is hosting its ninth annual Bunanza event on September 24 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Braeside Community Center with a talk by Dr. Leticia Materi of the Calgary Avian and Exotic Pet Clinic.

Greening said her group had to ban people from bringing their pet bunnies to this year’s event due to concerns about RHD.

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Twitter: @BabychStephanie

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