NZCAC urges rabbit owners to vaccinate their rabbits immediately

New Zealand Companion Animal Council (NZCAC) Media Release 7th March 2018

With the upcoming release of the K-5 strain of the rabbit haemorrhagic virus disease (RHDV1-K5), also known as rabbit calicivirus (RCV), the New Zealand Companion Animal Council (NZCAC) urges all rabbit owners to vaccinate their rabbits immediately or ensure their rabbits are up to date with vaccinations.

It has been confirmed that the virus will be released around New Zealand, including at 100 sites throughout Otago, during March and April 2018.

RHDV1-K5 is a Korean strain of the existing RHDV1 virus, which has been widespread in New Zealand since its introduction in 1997. The virus causes rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD), also known as rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) or viral haemorrhagic disease (VHD). This is a highly infectious and often fatal disease that affects wild and domestic European rabbits of the species Oryctolagus cuniculus, the only species of rabbit present in New Zealand.

All European rabbits are susceptible to the virus strain in RHDV1-K5. The most reliable way for owners to protect their rabbits is to vaccinate them.

The virus can be transmitted directly via contact with an infected rabbit (dead or alive), indirectly via contact with contaminated food, bedding, water, cages, and equipment, and by insect vectors such as flies, fleas and mosquitoes.

In a submission made to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) in 2017, the NZCAC strongly opposed the introduction of RHDV1-K5 due to the risk posed to companion rabbits, and the severe pain and suffering caused to infected rabbits, both companion and wild.

Approval for the release of RHDV1-K5 was announced last week. NZCAC Acting Manager, Bianka Atlas stated that it was disappointing that “despite concerns expressed by welfare organisations and members of the public about the potential risk to domestic rabbits, the release of the virus has been approved.”

The NZCAC recommends that rabbit owners follow the advice of the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

The NZVA recommends that rabbit owners continue to take all available measures to protect their companion rabbits, particularly in areas that are close to populations of wild rabbits. The NZVA also recommends that rabbits are vaccinated from 10 to 12 weeks of age, and boosters given according to their veterinarian’s recommendation to ensure ongoing protection.

In addition, the NZVA and SPCA recommend that rabbit owners take the following biosecurity measures:

  • Prevent direct and indirect contact between domestic and wild rabbits, including rabbit-proofing their backyard to prevent access by wild rabbits.
  • Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits. Also be mindful that fresh vegetables may be grown in areas contaminated with RHDV.
  • Limit contact with and handling of unfamiliar pet rabbits. If an owner is in contact with rabbits other than their own, they should use good biosecurity measures (e.g. wash hands with warm soapy water, and wash shoes and clothing) between handling rabbits.
  • Control insects (especially flies and fleas) as much as possible both indoors and outdoors. Flies are the main vector through which the virus is spread. Insect control could include insect-proofing a rabbit’s enclosure or keeping the rabbit indoors.
  • Regularly decontaminate equipment and materials (e.g. cages, hutches, bowls) with either 10% bleach, 10% sodium hydroxide, or Virkon (which is available from veterinarian clinics). Ten minutes’ contact time is required before rinsing off.
  • Remove uneaten food daily.
  • Keep companion rabbits indoors where possible.

The NZCAC recommends that rabbit owners contact their veterinarian immediately to discuss how to best protect their rabbit from RHDV1-K5.

For more information contact:
Bianka Atlas – Acting Manager, New Zealand Companion Animal Council
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About the New Zealand Companion Animal Council
The NZCAC is a national not-for-profit organisation that lobbies and advocates on behalf of companion animals. The NZCAC works to encourage New Zealand to become a nation that values, respects and responsibly cares for companion animals. The NZCAC is funded via profits raised from the New Zealand Companion Animal Register (NZCAR).
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