How to protect your pet rabbits from a deadly virus

TPWD officials say the disease is almost always fatal

Image courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife. (Copyright 2020 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – As most people look to socially distance or take other precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic, another population is being threatened by a separate virus.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Virus is nearly always fatal and primarily affects adult rabbits.

Tina Gilson, the president of The Alamo City House Rabbits, a group that works with domestic rabbits in San Antonio and South Texas, says they are taking this threat seriously.

“Per the Texas Animal Health Commission, the closest reported case to San Antonio is in the Killeen area, but the virus has spread so far and so fast since the spring, there’s no reason to believe it’s not in the rural areas around San Antonio,” Gilson said in a statement to KSAT.

Gilson said that indoor living for rabbits is the first step that can be taken to help prevent the spread of the disease and a preventative vaccine.

“The vaccine requires a yearly booster,” Gilson said. “We ask people to schedule that along with their rabbit’s annual health exam.”

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In April. the disease was confirmed in several species of wild rabbits in Texas. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Texas Animal Health Commission have not confirmed any new cases in wild rabbit populations in Texas since June.

Officials say the disease has been known to survive on the landscape for more than 120 days and can withstand freezing temperatures.

To date, counties with known mortality events include Brewster, Culberson, El Paso, Gaines, Hale, Hockley, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Lubbock, Pecos, Potter, Presidio, Randall and Ward counties.

Officials say the disease is not known to affect humans, livestock or pets other than rabbits. However, pets, such as hunting dogs, should not be allowed to consume dead animal carcasses.

More information on the disease can be found on the USDA and TPWD websites. Reports of dead rabbits should be made to a local biologist in the county in which they were found. Biologist contact information can be found on the TPWD website.

For more information about domestic rabbit RHDV2 cases and reporting, click here.

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About the Author:

Jakob Rodriguez is a digital journalist at KSAT 12. He's a graduate of Texas State University, where he served as the editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper, The University Star.