An “extremely infectious” virus is killing rabbits, so animal owners are being warned to take precautions. Marina Hebert is a volunteer with the Aldergrove-based Small Animal Rescue Society. This is a picture of one of her bunnies, Ana. (Christopher Orr photo)

Langley-based rabbit rescue pleads for foster homes

The Aldergrove-centred Small Animal Rescue Society needs foster families to take new bunnies.

With a deadly rabbit virus reported in B.C., the Langley-based Small Animal Rescue Society of B.C. (SARS BC) is putting out a plea for temporary foster homes.

The province went public yesterday with news of a highly infectious virus killing pet or domestic rabbits in Nanaimo and Delta.

RELATED: Province warning rabbit owners after confirmed cases of deadly virus

While the lethal rabbit haemorrhagic disease, caused by a calicivirus, was first detected in February, SARS learned about it a couple weeks ago and has been enforcing strict quarantine procedures ever since, said president Lisa Hutcheon.

Hutcheon said there have been no signs the virus has impacted any of the 200 or so rabbits that SARS has in care throughout the Lower Mainland.

But that said, the volunteers are being diligent in enforcing quarantines.

No strangers are permitted to visit, volunteers must undergo a foot bath when entering, and they’re limiting contact.

What’s pulling on Hutcheon’s heart strings is the potential danger this poses to injured or stray rabbits that aren’t already in their system

“We’re not allowed to take in any new animals,” she said, noting there are no other animal shelters in Langley at this time that take rabbits.

“Just the knowledge you can’t help an animals at risk, and there are no other options…” she said, her voice trailing off. “That’s heartwrenching.”

The only solution she can conceive of at present is setting up new foster homes, that don’t have any rabbits, that can provide a quarantined environment inside a home for new intakes.

If they have experience with rabbits, all the better, Hutcheon said, noting the rescue group can then work with fosters and a vet to take the necessary precautions.

“It tough. It’s so tough,” Hutcheon said, feeling helpless.

There is a vaccine, she explained, but it’s not yet available in Canada. One does exist in Europe, but efforts are currently being made to get the medication cleared for import into the country, a requirement before an order can be placed.

Hutcheon expects it will cost about $30 per shot, and it will require yearly boosters.

Already paying $150 each to spay or neuter any rabbits that come into their care, and now adding another $30, plus the cost of a vet visit, the amount being invested into each of the bunnies in their care is now more than quadruple what they charge for adoption fees.

“Financially, this is going to put us in a bad spot,” she said.

SARS is a volunteer-run organization, based out of Aldergrove, that takes in rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, degus, chinchillas, hedgehogs, reptiles, birds, and ferrets. While it doesn’t operate a public shelter, the organization relies on multiple foster homes throughout the Lower Mainland to help care for these animals until they’re adopted and moved to a forever home.

Anyone able and willing to help out during what Hutcheon describes as a fostering emergency can contact her by emailing smallanimalrescue@gmail.com.

“We really are going to need some help,” she said.

With Easter fast approaching, and society’s propensity for gifting bunnies to children at this time of year, Hutcheon is fearful their rescue society will be deluged a short time later.

“I hope Easter will be kind,” Hutcheon said.

Understanding the virus

The disease – which is killing animals within one to nine days of the illness being detected – is exclusive to rabbits.

Most affected rabbits die suddenly, but can show signs of listlessness, lack of co-ordination, behaviour changes or trouble breathing before death.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Information Sheet for Rabbit Guardians by Roxanne Hooper on Scribd

According to the experts, humans and other animals, including dogs and cats, cannot be infected.

The virus only affects European rabbits, and is not known to affect native North American rabbits such as hares and cottontails, Hutcheon explained. So all domestic rabbits, whether they’re currently a pet or feral, are at risk.

Rabbit owners who want more information about how to keep their pets safe can consult with their veterinarian, or review an SPCA fact sheets below.

BC SPCA RHD Information Sheet for Shelters Rescues and Sanctuaries by Roxanne Hooper on Scribd

RELATED: Aldergrove animal lovers fears influx of bunnies following Peter Rabbit debut

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