COURTENAY, B.C- The spread of a lethal disease for rabbits has been confirmed on Vancouver Island.

According to a notice from the provincial government, dead rabbits sent for testing from the Comox Valley were suffering from rabbit haemorrhagic disease, which is caused by a calicivirus.

The disease has killed multiple rabbit populations in both Delta and Nanaimo. All the diseased animals have been feral European or domestic rabbits, which puts pet rabbits at risk.

“This is the third confirmed diagnosis of this virus in Canada, and the first in British Columbia,” read the governments statement.

“The disease is exclusive to rabbits. Humans and other animals, including dogs and cats, cannot be infected. The virus affects only European rabbits, and is not known to affect native North American rabbits.”

Veterinarians will have access to vaccines for the disease in coming weeks, and should be able to vaccinate pet rabbits. Meanwhile, pet owners should keep an eye on their rabbits to watch for signs of the disease.

“The virus causes hemorrhages by affecting the blood vessels, and attacks the liver and other organs,” read the statement.

“Most affected rabbits die suddenly, but can show signs of listlessness, lack of co-ordination, changes in behaviour, or trouble breathing before death. There is often bleeding from the nose at the time of death. Once infected, signs of illness occur quickly, usually within one to nine days.”

Anyone encountering deceased rabbits should take precaution in disposing of their remains, and the government warned against moving domestic rabbits into the wild at any time.

A spike in rabbit deaths in the Valley was first observed at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds.