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Animal Humane Society hosts rabbit vaccination clinic

Two Ramsey County rabbits have tested positive for RHDV2, a contagious virus that can cause bleeding from the nose.

RAMSEY COUNTY, Minn. — The Animal Humane Society is taking no chances after two Minnesota pet rabbits tested positive for a contagious, fatal virus.

The nonprofit held a vaccination clinic Sunday so pet owners could bring their bunnies in for the jab.

"It's so important to vaccinate because this is a fatal condition in rabbits," veterinarian Dr. Kelly Gehlhaus said at the clinic. "You might not see clinical signs right away. Some rabbits might be lethargic, you might potentially see a bloody nose, but by that time unfortunately it's too late." 

Gehlhaus said AHS is vaccinating rabbits before the disease potentially becomes more widespread in Minnesota. All of the organization's shelter rabbits will be vaccinated against the virus and go through a lengthy quarantine. 

"It is an emerging disease that, being fatal, we're trying to be proactive against," Gehlhaus said. 

There's no known risk to humans from the virus, but its recent appearance in Minnesota has animal health officials concerned. 

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According to a September release from the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, red flags first went up when a veterinarian's two indoor pet rabbits died suddenly, one shortly after the other. A test by the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed RHDV2. 

After a vaccine made by South Dakota-based Medgene Labs received an emergency use authorization from the USDA, Minnesota officials authorized veterinarians in the state to start administering it. 

The Board of Animal Health said the hardy virus spreads through direct contact or environmental contact, like on contaminated bedding, food, water or surfaces. It can survive freezing temperatures and live up to 15 weeks in dry conditions. 

If you see a dead wild rabbit on your property, Gehlhaus said you shouldn't touch it. Instead, call the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Ideally, it's best to keep pet rabbits indoors. 

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