Disease threatens Nevada’s rabbit, wild and domestic

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 6:05 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - There is something universally appealing about rabbits.

“I think people are drawn to them because they are so soft and they are very quiet,” says Carly Neubert of Reno Rabbit Rescue. “They don’t meow and they don’t bark.”

And, she adds, they can be litter box trained, all of which is why they are increasingly popular as a pet.

Unfortunately, they are not always the maintenance-free Easter gift they appear to be. That and their ability to reproduce all-too-often means they end up in a shelter or worse, being dumped. That’s where Reno Rabbit Rescue comes in. They take in homeless rabbits, foster them and adopt them out. Neubert is currently caring for two in her home. Unlike her own rabbits, they are kept inside away from the rest because at the moment they face a more immediate threat, Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease.

“It’s a big deal because it’s highly contagious because there’s no treatment and it’s always fatal.”

It poses no threat to humans or any other animals, but lest you think this worry is confined to rabbit enthusiasts like Neubert, we need to add the people at the Department of Wildlife are also very concerned.

“It’s a super, super contagious disease,” says NDOW spokeswoman Jessica Wolff, “and it can last in the environment for 100 days.”

There’s good reason for that concern, she adds. “Rabbits provide a lot of food resources for a lot of our wildlife from coyotes, to bobcats, owls and hawks. So they’re important to the whole ecosystem.”

There are some things our species should be doing, Wolff says, to protect the bunnies and prevent the spread of the disease.

“If you’re out recreating in an area or a county where there has been an incident of the disease you want to disinfect all your gear to try to kill off that virus.”

And, if you find multiple dead rabbits, don’t touch them, but you can help track the disease by notifying the Department of Wildlife.

So far, there have been confirmed cases in southern Nevada and Lander County and it’s shown up in domestic rabbits in Douglas County.

What concerns Neubert most is getting the word out. “There’s not a lot of education or knowledge about it. We have it here in our area, but there are only a few vets willing to carry the vaccine, but most bunny owners don’t know about it. So, they could go out for a walk with their dog and bring it back to their bunny that’s running around playing inside.”

Meanwhile, there are the two rabbits she’s fostering. They and others awaiting new homes need to be vaccinated. There are three local vets willing to stock the vaccine, but it’s not produced in the US and has been difficult to obtain. Reno Rabbit Rescue is raising funding for those vaccinations. You’ll find more information on their website

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