BUNNY owners are being reminded about the importance of vaccinations after a recent outbreak of a highly infectious and deadly rabbit virus strain.

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease Type 2 (RVHD2) can kill within one or two days and is transferred via direct contact with other infected rabbits or urine and faeces.

The virus can survive for months and can even be brought in on the soles of shoes, meaning that house rabbits do not escape a potential risk. The best way to protect against the virus is vaccination.

Today marks the start of Rabbit Awareness Week, and vets have aired concerns that many owners are not ticking all the boxes for keeping their rabbits happy and healthy.

Although rabbits are estimated to be the third most popular pet in the UK, their needs are still greatly misunderstood.

A recent survey of vets carried out by the British Veterinary Association revealed 73 per cent had seen pet rabbits who were not having all their welfare needs met.

Providing a suitable diet topped the list of concerns, reported by 78 per cent of vets, while 76 per cent reported that rabbits were being housed alone or with other species. And 72 per cent were concerned rabbits were being cared for in an inappropriate environment.

As highly sociable animals, vets and animal experts recommend rabbits are housed with a suitable companion rabbit, the ideal being a neutered rabbit of the opposite sex. Although it is generally recognised that a solitary life has a negative impact on the physical health and mental wellbeing of pet rabbits, the survey also revealed 43 per cent of vets saw rabbits that were housed alone.

This year’s Rabbit Awareness Week, however, is focusing on the importance of vaccinations. In a 2018 report, the PDSA reported that preventive healthcare in rabbits was a hugely neglected area. Vets are urging all rabbit owners and those thinking of getting rabbits to register them with a vet and have them vaccinated.

BVA’s junior vice president Daniella Dos Santos said: “Rabbits can make lovely pets, but it is very worrying to see that so many are falling short of having their basic health and welfare needs catered for. Rabbit Awareness Week is a great way to shine a light on some of the ways that we as professionals and owners can help make pet rabbits’ lives healthier and happier.

“This year’s theme is vaccinations, which are essential in helping to protect rabbits against deadly diseases such as RVHD2, Myxomatosis and RVHD1. One of our most recent surveys revealed that 98 per cent of vets had been questioned by their clients on the need for vaccinations. Anecdotally, rabbits are also often one of the pet animals we see the least. Vets are always happy to offer advice on pet care and would far rather be presented with a list of questions from owners than not to see a pet at all! To protect against disease, the best thing you can do is to vaccinate your rabbits.”