Parents advised to avoid buying rabbits this Easter

Rabbit disease in Idaho

PULLMAN, Wash. — With Easter Sunday just around the corner, Parents are being asked to leave bunnies out of Easter baskets this year as Idaho documented its first fatal viral disease in wild rabbits.

Washington State University veterinarians, along with Washington State Departments of Wildlife and Agriculture, are making these recommendations as a deadly disease moves quickly across the West.

“Every year bunnies are purchased as Easter gifts, and every year, many of those bunnies are released and become easy meals for nearby predators,” said Dr. Nickol Finch, exotics veterinarian at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “More importantly, domestic rabbits can spread disease that can harm wild rabbit populations.”

The most common of those diseases is rabbit hemorrhagic disease, which causes sudden death in rabbits and can be spread through contact with infected animals.

While the virus cannot spread to other people and pets, they can carry particles from sick rabbits to healthy ones.

The disease is believed to have originated in European rabbits, some of which are now popular pets in the U.S. are occasionally released this time of year. Until last year, the disease had not been known to  affect North American native rabbits or hares, such as cottontails, snowshoe hares and jack rabbits.

A vaccine for rabbits is available at the Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine in Bothell, WA.

The state Department of Agriculture advises rabbit owners to take measures to protect their animals, such as washing hands before and after working with rabbits , not sharing equipment with other owners, avoiding contact with feral rabbits, keep rabbits inside or ensure that outdoor enclosures are elevated off of the ground to prevent contact with wild rabbits.

People are encouraged to report dead wild rabbits such as cottontails and jack rabbits to local wildlife agencies and seek veterinary attention if their rabbit is sick.

Since March last year, the disease has been documented in Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

RELATED: Deadly rabbit disease reported for first time in Idaho