New rabbit calicivirus spreads across New Zealand with confirmed cases in Waikato

A new rabbit calicivirus appears to be spreading, with new cases found in the Waikato.

The RHDV2 virus is widespread in Europe, but had not been found in New Zealand until this year when cases were confirmed in both Marlborough and the Bay of Plenty.

The testing of two dead rabbits found in Mātangi and Cambridge has now confirmed the presence of the new virus in the Waikato.

Testing is also being carried out on rabbit carcasses found at Whangamatā, Te Pahu, Taupō and Kinloch.

"One of the two dead rabbits tested was a pet, so news of this new virus in the Waikato will be of concern to pet rabbit owners," said Chris Monk, Waikato Regional Council's biosecurity pest animals officer.

"We urge them to ensure their rabbits are up-to-date with vaccinations and don't have contact with wild rabbits."

At the same time, landowners are being encouraged to continue with their rabbit control operations.

"We're into the rabbit breeding season, so there will be noticeably more rabbits around at this time of year," said Mr Monk.

"Where wild rabbits are an issue, we're recommending landowners undertake conventional control, such as shooting, poisoning and fumigation."

However he is reminding landowners that it is often pointless trying to undertake rabbit control in isolation. 

"To be successful, we recommend combining your efforts with your neighbours, because rabbits don't recognise property boundaries," advised Mr Monk.

RHDV2 affects European rabbits and at least two species of hare (Sardinian Cape hare and the Italian hare) and can be fatal to babies from the time they're 11 days old. 

Vaccines for the viruses have been imported into New Zealand and are available for pets through veterinarians.

Advice for rabbit owners:

- Keep them separate from wild rabbits

- Wash hands between handling rabbits

- Control insects around pet rabbits as they can spread the virus between rabbits

- Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to pet rabbits

- Thoroughly clean and disinfect cages and equipment