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Nanaimo rabbit owners are being cautioned after outbreak

FILE - A viral outbreak in the Nanaimo area has veterinarians warning residents to make sure they're following proper hygiene practices.
FILE - A viral outbreak in the Nanaimo area has veterinarians warning residents to make sure they're following proper hygiene practices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Steven Senne

Vancouver Island residents are being warned to not release their pet rabbits into the wild if they’re sick, and to instead take them to a veterinarian.

Provincial Wildlife Veterinarian Helen Schwantje says this is because a rare deadly virus has been discovered infecting the animals in the Nanaimo area after dozens of feral rabbits were found dead.

She said the Calicivirus only affects domestic rabbits, so she believes someone released their pet into the wild.

“[It] initially causes a fever, and that fever is very high. The virus attacks the cells of blood vessels and causes hemorrhages, and causes some pretty severe death of cells in organs like the liver and the kidneys. So it basically attacks everything at the same time, causes hemorrhages, and the animal dies very quickly.”

READ MORE: More than 100 feral rabbits relocated from Victoria to sanctuary in Texas

She said it could take between 12 and 36 hours for the animal to die, but does not affect humans or any other animal.

Schwantje added the virus is spread easily through direct contact or feces.

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“So if people, for example, are walking their dogs through the Vancouver Island University campus and pick up some poop on their shoes and go home, and then interact with their own rabbits they could transmit it that way. There are other ways that it can be transmitted, but that would probably be the most likely thing.”

She advises pet owners to clean their shoes and to have proper hygiene around their rabbits.