North-east rabbit owners have been told to take urgent action after a killer virus broke out.
The disease, known as rabbit viral haemorrhagic disease – or VHD2 – causes rabbits to bleed from the nose and back passage and is infectious.
Vets said there have been at least three cases in the north-east this week – and it has not been seen in the region previously.
They are concerned the condition will have “terrible consequences”, but “a disaster” could be averted if people vaccinate the region’s 5,000 pet rabbits.
Staff at Donview Veterinary Care in Inverurie said two rabbits died there earlier this week and they were so concerned it could have been caused by the virus they ordered postmortem examinations.
The company’s director, Charlie Carnochan, said: “Our practice has not previously seen this disease in the north-east before.
“The condition is generally lethal and rabbits usually show no signs of having it before they become ill.
“There is a condition called VHD1 and some rabbit owners will have got vaccinations for their rabbits against that and for myxomatosis – but the standard vaccine will not be effective against this new strain.
“We would strongly encourage people to take their rabbits to a vet and to get their rabbits vaccinated.”
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According to the Rabbit Welfare Association, VHD2 is spread by direct contact with infected rabbits or indirectly via urine or faeces.
“Viruses can survive for months in the environment, and are terrifyingly easy to bring home to your pets,” said an association spokesman.
He added: “They survive cold very well.
“Hay may have been in contact with infected wild rabbits as grass growing in the field.
“Birds or insects may transport the virus on their feet to your rabbit grazing on the lawn. The virus may be blown on the wind.”
Any rabbit aged over 11 weeks can have the vaccination, which costs around £20 and requires an appointment lasting 10 minutes.
Though VHD2 has not been seen before in the north-east, it has been spotted elsewhere in Scotland.