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Deadly European Calicivirus killing pet rabbits in the ACT, RSPCA warns

A highly infectious and fatal disease is killing pet rabbits in Canberra, the RSPCA has warned.

Tests on Monday night confirmed a strain of the deadly European Calicivirus is present in the ACT. 

RSPCA ACT Director of Animal Welfare Jane Gregor​ said when two of their baby bunnies died last week they attributed it to the young rabbit's heightened susceptibility to disease.

"However, once some unrelated adult rabbits also died that were vaccinated against the known strain of calicivirus, we became suspicious," she said. 

The organisation has been working with the ACT Government and vaccine manufacturers since late last week to prepare for the spread of the virus.

It is understood the RHDV2 strain was accidentally released by an undetermined source believed to be European in origin, but it is unclear how.

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The strain has not been tested for vaccine efficacy yet. 

The RSPCA has revaccinated all of its rabbits in care using a double dose of the existing vaccine.

Any public vet appointments for rabbits have been referred to other vet clinics in the meantime.

Calicivirus is spread through fomites​, such as clothing, the bottom of shoes, bedding, cages, feed, water, flies, rabbit fleas, or mosquitos.

It is easily transferred through touch, which makes it nearly impossible to contain, Ms Gregor said. 

"Even a bird walking through a contaminated area can spread it everywhere. In the meantime, we will continue to work with the vaccine companies to trial various drug regimes that may help fight the spread to further rabbits. We encourage others to do the same," Ms Gregor said.

The haemorrhagic disease can kill a rabbit in 72 hours.

The disease speeds up the formation of blood clots in major organs, causing heart and respiratory failure. 

Owners concerned about the welfare of their animals should contact their own vets.

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