Rabbit owners are being urged to protect their pets.
Rabbit owners are being urged to protect their pets. Jasmine Minhas

Pet owners warned to protect animals from fatal virus

RABBIT owners across the North Coast are being urged to take measures to protect their pets as a fast-acting fatal virus will be released in the area over the coming months.

Following an increasing number of reports of wild rabbits damaging crops and vegetation, North Coast Local Land Services has announced it will be coordinating the release of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus K5 strain of calicivirus across numerous sites.

This particular strain of the virus has recently been detected in some pet rabbits in the region, as the current vaccine is not fully protective against it.

Rabbit owners are therefore being encouraged to not only vaccinate their pets, but to ensure they don't come into contact with wild rabbits to avoid infection.

Infected rabbits die six to 36 hours after showing cold-like symptoms and lethargy, according to the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions.

The virus is spread through direct contact with an infected rabbit as well flying insect vectors including mosquitos, bushflies and blowflies.

According to NCLLS, wild rabbits are estimated to cause over $200-million in damage to Australian agriculture every year and are a potential threat to at least 304 native threatened species.

"The release of calicivirus is a strategic approach to the management of pest rabbits and is considered an important control technique to manage wild rabbit populations," Dean Chamberlain, Team Leader Operations, Invasive Pests with North Coast Local Land Services said.

"It's important that people who own pet rabbits maintain vaccination for calicivirus to ensure that if their domestic rabbit comes in contact with the virus, which is mainly spread by contact between other rabbits and insects, they are immune. 

"Owners of pet rabbits should consult with their vet and maintain a vaccination program to protect their rabbits," Mr Chamberlain said.

Landholders are also encouraged to undertake control work such as destroying burrows and removal of harbour as this will provide longer term management of rabbit populations.