CHICAGO — A disease that can rapidly kill rabbits was identified in Chicago last month for the first time, authorities said.
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2, also known as RHDV2, is a highly contagious virus that can cause sudden death for both pet and wild rabbits, said Marcia Coburn, president of Red Door Animal Shelter, 2410 W. Lunt Ave. People who have pet rabbits should get them vaccinated as soon as possible, she said.
Rabbits who catch RHDV2 often die quickly without showing symptoms, but they will sometimes bleed from their eyes or mouth, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s website.
Rabbits who survive the disease usually won’t show signs of illness, but can spread the virus for up to 42 days, Coburn said. Infected rabbits might seem lethargic, struggle to breathe or refuse to eat, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
The disease can’t spread to humans or other pets. Only rabbits can catch RHDV2, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
The disease was found in Illinois July 13, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The virus was identified after two unvaccinated rabbits died suddenly at Cuddle Bunny, 2901 N. Clark St., in Lakeview, the Chicago Tribune reported. A third rabbit from the boarding business was also confirmed to have died from RHDV2, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Cuddle Bunny is now closed while the rabbits receive RHDV2 vaccines.
“We are retreating from the public eye for a while, mourning our losses of our furry family members and trying to determine if and when we will reopen our doors,” said a representative from Cuddle Bunny.
The RHDV2 vaccination process requires two shots and then a yearly booster shot, Coburn said. After the first shot, rabbits must wait three weeks to receive their second shot. About three weeks after the second shot, rabbits will be protected from catching RHDV2 for a year, Coburn said.
If you notice any wild rabbits who seem to have died without reason, avoid touching them and call the Illinois Department of Agriculture at 217-782-4944 or the U.S. Department of Agriculture Veterinary Services at 217-547-6030.
“Even if people don’t have rabbits of their own, they should definitely be looking out for suspicious deaths of wild rabbits,” Coburn said.
Rabbits can catch RHDV2 by coming in contact with its particles while they’re outside or mingling with unvaccinated rabbits, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
People can also track disease particles into their homes from their shoes, so rabbit owners should take their shoes off at the door and disinfect them, Coburn said. People wearing sandals outside should disinfect their feet as well when coming inside, she said.
Shoes can be disinfected using Rescue disinfectant spray or a mixture of water and bleach, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The disease has created a “bottleneck” in Red Door Animal Shelter’s process for rehabilitating rabbits, because newly rescued rabbits must quarantine for at least five weeks while they get their RHDV2 vaccines, according to Coburn.
Red Door’s boarding program, Hare BnB, now only accepts rabbits who are fully vaccinated against RHDV2.
“We’ve put a lot of safety measures in place and it has definitely slowed us down, but we’re doing our best to protect the rabbits,” Coburn said.
RHDV2 was first identified in the United States in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It has since been found in rabbits in at least 28 states, according to Red Door Animal Shelter’s news release.
Researchers have found that the disease can “substantially” impact rabbit populations because it can kill rabbits so quickly.
“Losing rabbits can be a huge blow to the ecosystem,” Coburn said. “Rabbits are prey animals, which means lots of other animals rely on them for food. Rabbits might be pesky little guys who are always eating people’s gardens, but they serve an important role in nature.”
Watch our “On The Block” TV show on The U, CW26 and MeTV.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: