On February 10, 2023, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHDV2) was confirmed following a mass mortality event of feral rabbits in Courtenay, B.C. Staff at the BC SPCA Comox Animal Centre kindly volunteered to collect specimens for submission to the Ministry of Forests.
This is the first time since 2019 the virus has been found in British Columbia. This latest event follows confirmed RHDV2 in feral and wild rabbits in Alberta in September 2022 as well as reports from mid-May confirming the disease in multiple domestic rabbits in a single household in Seattle, WA. Prior to this, the last reports of the disease in Canada were in B.C. in 2018 and 2019 and AB in 2021. Due to the current pattern of disease spread in the region, vaccination and quarantine measures for all incoming rabbits remain in place for all BC SPCA locations.
Sequencing for the current strain currently affecting rabbits in the Courtenay area is not yet available. The B.C. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV) strains from 2018 and 2019 did not appear to affect wild rabbits. However, based on genetic sequencing, the RHDV strain identified in AB in 2021 most closely resembled the one currently spreading across the US (sequencing information is not available from the 2022 AB cases). The 2021 Alberta strain is different in that it can infect and kill wild rabbits. This has significant implications for wild rabbit welfare as well as ecosystem health, and also means that if the virus strain spreads to B.C., it could be virtually impossible to eliminate due to likely persistence in wild rabbit populations. At this time, there has been no directive or permission to vaccinate wild rabbits. A vaccine for RHD is now commercially available through veterinarians for domestic rabbits in Canada.
We encourage rabbit guardians to have their rabbits vaccinated. Guardians should contact their veterinarian with questions about the vaccine. For more information about how to protect pet rabbits, consult our information sheet (PDF).
If you encounter a sick or dead rabbit displaying the symptoms listed, please avoid handling and contact the B.C. Wildlife Health Program by calling 250-751-7246.
Due to ongoing quarantine requirements and because rabbits tend to stay in care for a long time awaiting adoption, space for incoming rabbits will continue to be limited. Please contact your local branch before you go if you are looking to bring a rabbit into a BC SPCA shelter.
The BC SPCA continues to adopt out vaccinated rabbits who have completed their quarantine. We have many wonderful rabbits ready for adoption who can be viewed online.
BC SPCA RHD Information Sheet for Rabbit Guardians (PDF)
BC SPCA RHD Information Sheet for Shelters, Rescues and Sanctuaries (PDF)
April 10, 2019 News Release from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development and Ministry of Agriculture (PDF)
September 23, 2019 News Release from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development
BC SPCA suspends intake of rabbits due to disease
Original story: March 2, 2018
The BC SPCA has temporarily suspended intake of rabbits into its Nanaimo shelter after tests conducted by the provincial government on deceased feral rabbits found on the campus of Vancouver Island University and in the Rotary Bowl in Nanaimo determined the rabbits died from haemorrhagic disease, caused by a calicivirus.
Rabbit haemorrhagic disease is an extremely infectious and lethal disease of rabbits. 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.
Please see the news release (PDF) from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development for further details.
The media contact listed with the release is: 250 356-7506.