Pet bunnies love spring grass but keep those family members indoors, experts say — or risk dooming wild Long Island rabbits by spreading a deadly hemorrhagic disease.
The virus, known as rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2, or RHDV2, can cause rabbits to have trouble breathing, act nervous or lethargic, or bleed from their noses.
So far, scientists don’t believe there have been any cases in wild rabbits east of the Mississippi River, said Jenny Dickson, director of the wildlife division at the Department of Energy and Connecticut Environmental Protection.
But the virus killed pet rabbits at a New York boarding school in 2020 and last year there was a case in Montgomery County, about 50 miles northwest of Albany, officials said. responsible.
WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW
- Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus type 2, or RHDV2, may cause rabbits to have difficulty breathing, act nervous or lethargic, or bleed from the nose.
- Scientists fear the virus will decimate wild rabbits, including the bountiful Easter bunny and the already endangered New England rabbit.
- Rabbit owners are advised to have their pets vaccinated, clean contaminated surfaces with a 10% bleach solution and quarantine newly adopted rabbits for 30 days.
And how quickly the virus can spread is worrying. In Australia, two predecessor viruses – RHDV1 and RHDV1a – were used to control wild rabbits, but the sixth largest country was overtaken in less than 18 months when the new RHDV2 somehow arrived.
“It’s so prevalent in some areas,” said Jean Mellano, 69, of Greenport, a volunteer with the nonprofit Long Island Rabbit Rescue that tracks virus cases. “I’m very worried…because it’s such a contagious virus.”
RHDV2 originated from the original rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus that first struck European rabbits in 1984.
In 2010, RHDV2 was identified. It reached the United States eight years later and since 2020 New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have seen a handful of pet outbreaks.
Texas, Colorado and Arizona had some of the latest cases, according to the Wildlife Health Information Sharing Partnership website, overseen by the US Geological Survey.
The virus, while “highly resilient” and easy to spread, “poses no risk to humans or other animals,” Krysten Schuler, assistant professor in the Department of Public Health and Ecosystems at the Institute, said via email. Cornell University.
But scientists fear the virus could decimate wild rabbits, including the bountiful Easter bunny and the already imperiled New England rabbit, a Long Island native with a telltale black patch on its forehead and black lines on its cheeks. ears.
New England rabbits have been seen from Babylon to Montauk and on the North Fork as recently as the 1970s, according to Paul F. Connor “The Mammals of Long Island,” but the Department of Environmental Conservation of the state says they are now only found in Dutchess, Putnam, Columbia and Westchester counties.
New England rabbits are listed by the state’s DEC as “Special Concern.”
“The species will likely become extinct from the state” or become extinct, according to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, citing development, cars, ticks, predators and rivalry with eastern rabbits imported by hunters in the early 1900s. 1900s.
How to protect rabbits
There’s no cure for what Mary Ann Maier, co-founder of Long Island Rabbit Rescue, called “bunny Ebola,” but there is a vaccine that won emergency 2021 approval from the U.S. Department. of Agriculture.
Administering vaccines is a “Herculean task”, said Maier, who explained that annual vaccines require a booster 21 days after the first shot – and the vials, which must be used within 24 hours of opening, contain 20 doses.
Setting up double appointments and securing advance payments — to make sure all owners show up — is complicated for often overworked vets, she said.
Protecting rabbits – increasingly popular pets that can use litter boxes like cats despite being much more fragile – is crucial as the RHDV2 can snag almost anything and everything. , tires to hay, especially if imported from an epidemic area.
The virus is shed in the secretions of infected rabbits and is spread by direct contact, insects or contaminated surfaces such as shoes and is very stable in the environment, according to the Schwarzman Animal Medical Center in New York,
Dr Katherine Quesenberry, the association’s chief medical officer, said by email: “The RHDV2 virus can survive on surfaces for over 100 days.”
She added that the virus can withstand extreme temperatures and advised cleaning with a 10% bleach solution.
In addition to ensuring that pet rabbits have no contact with their wild peers, New Jersey State Veterinarian Dr. Amar Patil has recommended 30-day quarantines for all newly adopted rabbits, washing hands before and after touching or working on them, and asking visitors to wear “gloves, shoe covers, hair coverings and coveralls.
Rabbits already kept outdoors can remain so.
“Currently, infection with the RHDV2 virus is rare in New York City, so there is no need to move animals indoors,” Department of Health spokeswoman Hanna Birkhead said via email. agriculture and state markets.
But, experts said, indoor pets should stay indoors.
Long Island Rabbit Rescue, for example, requires its adopters to promise no walks outside, because Maier says non-native rabbits have no defenses against local diseases and pests, from maggots to parasites.
“We keep livestock outside…a pet shouldn’t be taken away from its family,” Maier said.
Dickson added: “We really don’t want people to let their bunny loose or let their bunny loose if you decide you don’t want your bunny anymore. It’s the kind of stuff we really hope people avoid doing just because they really want to. [devastate] our native rabbits.
HOW TO HELP
A rabbit that dies suddenly, or a wild carcass with the trademark bloody orifices, should be reported to veterinarians, the Department of Agriculture and State Markets at 518-457-3502 or https://agriculture. ny.gov/contact-us, and U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services at 518-218-7540.