Here you will find resources for topics of interest or frequently asked questions.
History of Washington State outbreak
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), a highly contagious viral disease with high infection and death rates in domestic rabbits, was identified in a pet rabbit from Orcas Island (WA) on July 18, 2019. The disease was later confirmed at other sites on Orcas and also on San Juan Island. In November, the disease crossed over to the mainland with the confirmation of a case on Whidbey Island involving a feral domestic rabbit. In the U.S., RHD is considered a foreign animal disease; only rare, sporadic, and isolated cases have previously been reported in the U.S. Now RHD has been reported in Sequim as well.
Origin of the disease
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RHD) virus was first diagnosed in 1984 in China. It spread widely throughout the world and is well established in some countries. It was introduced and used as a natural population control measure in both New Zealand and Australia, where rabbit numbers were raging unsustainably. RHD is similar to feline leukemia virus and canine parvovirus. It probably developed from non-pathogenic caliciviruses present in wild European rabbits. There are three forms of the RHD virus. The form identified in the San Juan Island outbreak was RHDV2, believed to infect all ages of domestic rabbits but less deadly than types RHDV and RHDVa.
Signs of infection
The first sign of infection with RHD is often sudden and unexpected death in previously healthy rabbits. Those that do not die immediately may demonstrate poor appetite, depression, inactivity, and listlessness; they will have a fever and bloody nasal discharge may be noted. Later signs relate to organ failure and include jaundice, respiratory distress, diarrhea, weight loss, bloating, and death. Caretakers of rabbits affected by but recovering from the virus in the outbreak on the San Juan Islands observed rabbits did not come to the front of their cages with interest when fed; even those that survived appeared “limp” and inactive at the back of their cage for a day or two before recovering completely.
The RHD virus is very contagious and easily spread through numerous means:
• Ingestion of contaminated food or water
• Direct contact with infected live or dead rabbits
• Contact with contaminated equipment, tools, hutches, bedding, etc.
• Viral movement by flies, birds, biting insects, predators, scavengers, and humans
• Contact with urine, manure, and respiratory discharges of infected rabbits
• Ocular (conjunctival) infection via flies, dust, or secretions of infected rabbits
• Contact with feces of predators or scavengers that have eaten infected rabbits
Control and prevention
Because the RHD virus is highly contagious, can be spread by many means, and can be maintained in wild rabbit populations, controlling outbreaks is challenging once the virus is present in an area. The virus can live in flies for as much as nine days, in carcasses for up the three months, and for a few weeks in dried excretions/secretions. Rabbits surviving infection are believed to shed the virus for at least 30 days, but in experimental cases, they shed the virus as many as 105 days. Long term/permanent shedding is unlikely. Exposed and surviving rabbits have immunity to that viral strain for an unknown amount of time. Vaccines exist for RHDV/RHDVa and RHDV2; there is no cross protection between strains, and annual revaccination is recommended. Because RHD is considered a foreign animal disease, vaccines are only available in the U.S. through private veterinarians who have applied for and been granted permission by the USDA to purchase and distribute the vaccine. Strict biosecurity practices are the backbone of prevention.
CVAR with the help of one of our veterinarians, Dr. Joel Cuthbert, DVM, have been able to vaccinate our rabbits and rabbits from a few other rescues. We are working to get other rescues rabbits vaccinated as well and have two higher volume rabbit rescues that we have ordered vaccinations for. This has been an expensive ordeal but we believe our rabbits are priceless and worth every penny! As the COVID 19 Pandemic resolves we will be helping Dr, Joel Cuthbert vaccinate rabbits from the public as well. Feel free to call or email CVAR to get on the list for a rabbit vaccination clinic. CVAR wants to help as many rabbits get vaccinated as we can!
Essential prevention steps include
- Keep a closed rabbitry
- Exclude wild and feral rabbits and predators from rabbitry
- Wash hands between handling rabbits in different pens or cages
- Clean and disinfect* equipment, tools, footwear, feed and water containers, cages, etc.
- Control flies and biting insects
- Remove brush, grass, weeds, trash, and debris from rabbitry
- Protect feed from contamination by flies, birds, rodents, etc.
- Do not feed grass or other forage that could be contaminated with the virus
- Do not use forage, branches, etc. for bedding
- House rabbits indoors if possible
- Do not share equipment with others who raise rabbits
- Remove and bury or dispose of dead rabbits promptly
- Submit carcasses for examination and sampling promptly
- Contact a veterinarian promptly if sick or dead rabbits are observed
- Do not transport rabbits into or out of RHD quarantine areas
- Quarantine new rabbits or those returning from shows for one month
*Recommended disinfectants include those in the phenol class or 10 percent bleach. Clean thoroughly with soap and water first and apply disinfectant for recommended contact time. Rinse well and let dry before allowing animal contact.
This information has been compiled from: WSDA & WSU Extension
According to The Humane Society of the United States, roaming cats typically live less than five years, whereas cats kept exclusively indoors often live to 17 or more years of age.
Outdoor cats suffer a much higher incidence of injury, parasites, and disease than cats kept indoors. Although some diseases are specific to cats, others can afflict a wide variety of species, including people.
Your cat may tell you the great outdoors is a lot of fun; however, cats, like children, depend on us to recognize danger and protect them from harm. Here are a few of the dangers we need to protect them from.
- Cars: Millions of cats are killed by cars each year in the U. S. and countless others maimed, either from being hit or from crawling inside the hood of a car or in the tire well to sleep or get warm in the winter. CVAR gets many cats and other animals on emergency after being hit by cars.
- Animal Attacks: Outdoor cats can be injured or killed by free-roaming dogs, wild-life, and other cats. Cats can suffer torn ears, scratched eyes, abscesses and other injuries requiring expensive veterinary treatment. Fatal diseases such as FIV can be transmitted by bites and scratches from infected animals. This is another common reason cats get brought to CVAR.
- Exposure: Outdoor cats must withstand storms and extreme temperatures in summer and winter. Feral cat populations in northern climates drop as large numbers freeze to death.
- Starvation: Cats can become lost and if not found can easily starve to death with no one providing food and care.
- Poisoning: Cats can find chemicals that are poisonous to them on treated lawns, in rat or mice bait, and on driveways and roads from antifreeze leaked or drained from cars. Antifreeze tastes sweet to a cat, but as little as one tea-spoon can be fatal.
- Human Abuse: Animal care and control agencies often learn of situations in which cats have been burned, stabbed, poisoned, or hurt by other means. We have had such cases recently in Washington; don’t think it can’t happen to your cat!
- Research Labs: Outside cats can be stolen and sold to a research lab.
- Traps: Cats can get caught in traps set for other animals and may become injured or suffer before being released. Your can could also be trapped if found on someone else’s property and taken to a local shelter, this is very common.
- Trapped in buildings: Your cat could easily be trapped in a neighbor’s garage or shed with no one knowing. Your cat could then starve to death or freeze or overheat depending on the weather.
- Predation: Coyotes, raptors, bobcats and many others can feed on your cat if given the opportunity. Do you have lots of lost cat signs in your area? If so you are probably in an area that is rich in wildlife getting an easy meal at the expense of your neighborhood cats.
- Disease: Feline Leukemia (Felv), Feline Immunosuppressive Virus (FIV), Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP, a form of Corona Virus), Feline Distemper, Upper Respiratory Infections (URI), Rabies and many bacterial and fungal infections such as ringworm. They can spread things such as ringworm and rabies to their people too.
- Parasitic infections: Fleas, ticks, lice, mites, internal parasites (worms) some of which can be spread to their humans.
- Drowning: Cats can fall in pools, ponds, rivers, etc… and drown if unable to get out and not found in time.
- Spraying: When cats go outside they smell other animals and cats’ territorial marking and even if your cat is spayed/neutered it may prompt your cat to start spraying even when they come inside the house. This is a hard habit to break and very destructive.
The bottom line is cats that are outside, you can expect to spend a lot more money on for with veterinary care; they often suffer painful and untimely deaths; and are much less healthy due to parasites and disease.
Still not convinced?
We have not yet mentioned the impact cats have on wildlife! They are the top reasons that small wild animals come to CVAR for care.
Currently, well over 100 million feral and outdoor cats function as an invasive species with enormous impacts. Every year in the United States, cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds. Cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species of birds, mammals and reptiles and continue to severely impact a wide variety of other species. Cat predation is by far the largest human caused mortality threat to birds and many other wild animals. All of this disrupts our entire ecosystem.
Even well-fed cats will hunt and kill. When asked, most cat owners will have observed this behavior. When a cat plays with a feather toy or laser, it is practicing predatory behaviors. When these behaviors continue outdoors, the results are deadly for birds and other wildlife.
Please check out our other resources on how to convert your outdoor cats to being happy, enriched, indoor cats.
Myths about outdoor cats:
- It is beneficial for domestic cats to kill rodents since they are pests. FALSE. Rodents are a essential part of our ecosystems. For example, rodents are the main food source for predatory birds and mammals; owls to coyotes. When one element of an ecosystem is removed or depleted, the whole food chain and system is negatively affected.
- It is “nature’s way” for cats to kill wildlife. FALSE. Cats have been domesticated for about 4,000 years! They were brought here by European settlers from the Eastern Hemisphere. Cats are not part of nature in North America and negatively affect the balance of the wild ecosystem.
- Well-fed cats don’t kill wildlife. FALSE. Hunting is an instinct for cats even if not needed to feed their appetite and that causes them to kill wildlife. Even if cats are not eating what the attack they still end up killing wildlife.
- My cat can’t kill wildlife because it wears a bell. FALSE. Most cats learn to compensate for the presence of a bell and are still able to stalk and catch prey.
- My cat doesn’t kill wildlife, they just play with them. FALSE. Most animal caught by cats die even if they escape. Many injuries may not be visible outwardly; such as internal bleeding, punctured air sacs, organ damage) and even a small puncture is normally deadly if not treated. Cats carry nasty bacteria on their claws and teeth even if no wounds are found they normally need emergency treatment by a licensed rehabilitator or veterinarian. This is hour the majority of our small wildlife is brought in.
- My cat only kills a few animals so it won’t affect the population of wildlife. FALSE. Numbers of kills add up quickly well over 100 million outside cats in the US you can see the problem. Studies show that an average house cat kills at least 50-100 animals per year.
- Cats need to hunt and it is cruel to keep them inside. FALSE. Cats do require stimulation like other animals, but these need can easily and safely be met indoors. Cats live very happily indoors as long as they are given attention and things to do. Cats raised indoors typically never even show an interest in going outside. Indoor cats are typically healthier needing less expensive veterinary care. Life expectancy for cats living indoors goes up from 5 years to 17 + years.
I hope we have been able to give you enough good reasons to keep you beloved cats inside!