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Deadly rabbit disease spreading in Pima County

PACC urges pet owners to vaccinate their rabbits
A healthy rabbit sits and eats inside Pima Animal Care Center. The shelter is currently pausing new rabbit intakes due to the virus.
Posted at 9:43 PM, Apr 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-08 01:10:12-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A highly contagious and deadly disease is spreading among wild and pet rabbits in Pima County, according to Pima Animal Care Center.

Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease Virus — or RHDV2 — has been in Southern Arizona before, but this year it is causing more alarm.

For the first time, a pet owner brought infected rabbits in to PACC.

“We did have a group of 15 pet rabbits that were surrendered to the shelter," said PACC spokesperson Nikki Reck. "We immediately vaccinated them because we knew that this was happening in Southern Arizona. And it still, none of them made it.”

Reck says rabbits are PACC's third most common animal, behind dogs and cats, taking in a few hundred each year.

However, PACC is not taking in new rabbits as it prepares its response to the disease.

Experts at PACC say other animals and people can’t catch the disease, but they can pass it on to rabbits both inside and outside the home.

The virus spreads easily and survives even in extreme heat.

PACC says vaccination is the best defense.

“It’s here, it’s endemic. It’s part of Southern Arizona now," Reck said. "And it’s not something that should be taken lightly. If you have a pet rabbit—indoors or out—you should get your pet rabbit vaccinated as soon as you can.”

While the shelter works to stock up on vaccines, there are private clinics around town now offering the RHDV vaccine.

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.