Rabbit owners may have heard of the likely release of a new strain of the deadly rabbit calicivirus. The Canterbury Regional Council has applied to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for approval to introduce and use a new strain of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) to control the wild rabbit population. If approval is granted, virus release is planned for March or April of 2018.
The RHDV virus has been in NZ for some years but this new strain, called K5 or the Korean variant, is not yet here. Many wild rabbits are resistant to the current strain and MPI hope the new strain will cause a large decrease in wild rabbit numbers. The majority of unvaccinated rabbits that come into contact with the virus will die. The disease progresses very quickly and affected rabbits are often found dead from heart failure. There is no specific treatment for infection with RHDV. The only reliable protection against the disease is vaccination.
The vaccine licensed against the current NZ strain of RHDV (“Cylap”) is not licensed against the new K5 strain, however a small trial in Australia compared vaccinated and non-vaccinated rabbits when they were exposed to K5 30 days after vaccination. None of the vaccinated rabbits died, while all of the unvaccinated rabbits did. K5 was released in Australia in Autumn of 2016 and to date no vaccinated rabbits are known to have died. Based on this, there are good indications that Cylap will protect against K5 and we urge all rabbit owners to vaccinate their pets against RHDV.
Rabbits require an initial vaccine at or after 10-12 weeks of age, followed by an annual booster. Only a healthy rabbit should be vaccinated and it is important to note that the vaccine is a prevention, and will not cure a sick rabbit. Flies are the main vector for the spread of the virus, so even rabbits with no access to wild rabbits may become infected.
The team at Ourvets Halswell encourage you to protect your rabbit friend by vaccination before the K5 strain is released. We would be happy to advise you on this. The clinic will be holding rabbit vaccination days on January 25th and February 20th 2018. Please phone the clinic on 322 8331 to book an appointment.