CUMBRIAN rabbit owners are being urged to vaccinate their pets as part of a national campaign.
Rabbit Awareness Week runs until Sunday June 9, highlighting issues and illnesses that can affect the animals.
An illness called rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease (RVHD) is new to the UK, and has already claimed the lives of a number of pets in the county. Vet Graham Lewis of Paragon Vets in Dalston wants owners to familiarise themselves with the symptoms and protect against the disease.
Speaking as part of Rabbit Awareness Week, he said that vaccination was very effective against both strains of RVHD from 30 days old and also advised against using second-hand hutches and equipment.
“This strain of the virus is new to the UK. We had a number of cases last year and already some suspected cases this year so rabbit owners really do need to be aware of the risks. We have cut the price of vaccinations this month to try and make it easier for them to protect their pets.”
Carlisle woman Katherine Taylor’s three rabbits all died from the deadly disease after less than a week while showing little visible sign of being ill.
Having never previously heard of RVHD, Katherine has now learned that the most effective way to combat the highly contagious disease is through vaccination and is backing efforts to warn other pet owners.
The Taylor family’s rabbits – mother Daffodil and two male babies Peter Rabbit Junior and Benjamin Bunny – all lived together in a double-decker hutch at their home in Newtown Road.
“It was June last summer and my eldest son Joshua went out to feed them on a Saturday morning,” said mum-of-four Katherine, 39. “He came back in and said, ‘Daffodil is dead’. She had appeared absolutely fine on the Friday evening. I went to check and she had probably been dead for some time because rigor mortis had set in.”
The family weren’t overly concerned, reasoning that rabbits don’t live forever, and arranged to have Daffodil cremated at a local pets crematorium
On the Tuesday, however, Peter Rabbit Junior was clearly not well. Katherine made an appointment for Paragon Vets to see him but it quickly became apparent that he wouldn’t make the journey and he died shortly afterward.
Paragon asked if they could carry out a post-mortem to see if it was RVHD and also arranged for the last surviving rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, to be vaccinated.
But unfortunately the treatment was too late and Katherine found him dead when she came home from her job at Crown Packaging on the Friday.
She said: “From the outside there were no clues that there was something so serious taking hold.
“The only time we did notice that was with Peter and within 90 minutes he died. By the time something shows outside it’s too late to do any treatment.
“The main thing about it is that it’s so contagious. And it’s spread so easily – it’s carried on the wind, it’s carried on insects or birds, or even on your clothes; if you’ve been out in the country and you handle rabbits you can pass it on.”
She added: “The way forward is to raise awareness because I’d never heard of it before last summer and people don’t realise how serious and deadly it can be.
“There is actually quite an effective vaccine now so it’s about getting people to have their rabbits vaccinated against it.
“We lost three of them within a week and because two of them were so little it did make it worse.
“But I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone at Paragon because they were amazing that week. It did make it easier a little bit because of their kindness and compassion. They cared for us very well that week.
“I would urge all rabbit owners to make sure they vaccinate their pets just because it’s so contagious and also because it can live so long – even if you clean out the hutch it can still be there.”