Wyomingites are being asked to keep a lookout for dead rabbits in their yards, rural property and other outdoor areas. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is collecting wild rabbit carcasses for Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 testing, known as RHDV2. Testing rabbits is key to monitoring the disease spread.
Game and Fish recently confirmed the presence of the disease in Wyoming in a wild eastern cottontail in Albany county. RHDV2 is a fatal disease of rabbits and hares. An estimated 35-50% of infected wild rabbits succumb to the disease.
Samantha Allen, Game and Fish state wildlife veterinarian, said all of Wyoming’s rabbits and hares are susceptible — that includes game and nongame species like cottontail rabbits, jack rabbits and potentially, pygmy rabbits. Domestic rabbits are also at risk; however, other domestic pets and livestock are not at risk from the disease.
The first indication of RHDV2 infection is dead rabbits that do not demonstrate an obvious cause of death, like a dog bite.
“Any rabbit could become infected with the disease — so it could be a cottontail living in your yard or the one you see while hiking,” said Allen. “Please report any dead rabbits you find. Testing these carcasses is the only way to know how the disease is spreading in Wyoming.”
The disease has also been confirmed across the west in California, Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
RHDV2 does not pose a threat to humans, but rabbits carry other diseases which can, like tularemia and plague. The public is advised not to touch or pick up any dead wild rabbits. Rather, note the location and call the Game and Fish Wildlife Health Lab at (307) 745-5865 or the nearest regional office. Game and Fish personnel will evaluate the situation and make plans to collect the rabbit.
NOTE ON DOMESTIC RABBITS: RHDV2 is a reportable disease in the United States and Wyoming. Anyone suspecting the disease in domestic rabbits is required to report to the State Veterinarian and USDA APHIS immediately. Veterinarians should contact USDA-APHIS or the Wyoming State Veterinarian’s office at (307) 857-4140 or (307) 777-6440.