A Derbyshire vet has warned pet owners to protect their rabbits against a fatal disease which appears to be sweeping across the country.
VHD2, or viral haemorrhagic disease, is a new strain of a highly contagious condition and has claimed the lives of several rabbits in Chesterfield.
It primarily affects the liver, causing uncontrollable haemorrhages in one or more parts of the body and can kill a rabbit in hours.
Dr John Rosie, founder and director of Belper-based mobile vet service Vet Care @ Home, has warned that there have been reported cases in Derbyshire.
He said: “There have definitely been cases around this area. We have been fairly sure that where some rabbits have died suddenly, it’s highly suspected that it is VHD2, but the owners didn’t want a post mortem being done so we’ve not been 100 per cent able to confirm it.
“With the signs and what has happened to the rabbit, and other cases reported around the area, it certainly would fit in with it.”
But Dr Rosie said the outbreak could be worse than it appeared, saying: “I’m sure all over the UK there are cases, it’s very under-reported.”
He said VHD2 can be easily prevented by vaccination but believes many owner are not aware of the treatment.
“The problem with VHD2 is it’s quite a difficult disease to diagnose,” he said. “The only way to diagnose is on a post mortem.”
Dr Rosie said affected rabbits tend to go off their food, go off-colour and generally appear unwell.
“The quicker they get seen, the better,” added the vet, who has 15 years of experience and treats pets in their own homes so they are seen in a familiar environment.
“But vaccination will always 100 per cent be the best way to prevent a preventable disease.”
VHD2 is not harmful to humans but can be spread in a number of ways, including on humans’ hands, hay bales, from flies or rabbit to rabbit.
According to the online VHD2 map tool used by vets to plot cases, two rabbits from one household in Chesterfield died from suspected VHD2 in August last year.
A month later, also in the Chesterfield area, four adult rabbits and 11 babies died over a period of a week.
Also in August last year, in Ripley, two young rabbits at 10 and 14 weeks old died two days apart in the same household. They were not tested but VHD2 was suspected.
In November, two rabbits died suddenly in the Belper area, with VHD2 suspected.
Helen Halliday wrote on the RHD2 (VHD) UK rabbit welfare based information page: “Over the last year or so it has become apparent that the virus has spread throughout the United Kingdom and therefore the need for tracking of cases is no longer necessary. We must all assume that it is everywhere.
“We have even seen it jump the Irish Channel to Eire and now cases are being reported in the USA and Canada.”
For more information, visit www.vetcarehome.co.uk.