VICTORIA, B.C- The provincial government is warning rabbit owners after a highly contagious and deadly disease was confirmed on Vancouver Island.

Tests carried out on dead feral rabbits in both Nanaimo and Delta have confirmed the presence of rabbit haemorrhagic disease, caused by a calicivirus.

Dead rabbits found in the Comox Valley have also been shipped off for testing at a provincial lab, following a spike in deaths at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds.

“All dead rabbits have been feral European or domestic rabbits, so pet rabbits are at risk,” read the provincial warning.

“Rabbit haemorrhagic disease is an extremely infectious and lethal disease of rabbits. It is the third confirmed diagnosis of this virus in Canada and the first in B.C. The disease is exclusive to rabbits. 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.”

The province is asking rabbit owners to monitor their pets daily for signs of illness, and to contact their vets immediately if they have any concerns. The virus is known to cause internal hemorrhages in blood vessels, and attacks the liver and other organs.

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

“There is often bleeding from the nose at the time of death. Once infected, signs of illness occur quickly, usually within one to nine days.”

There is no threat to humans, and the public are advised to keep domestic rabbits out of the wild.

Rabbit owners should also take precautions when disposing of any rabbit remains.

Test results from the Comox Valley rabbits are expected early next week.