The SPCA is urging all pet owners to make sure their rabbits are up-to-date with vaccinations after the K-5 strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease (RHDV1-K5) has been approved for release in New Zealand.
In November 2017, Environment Canterbury applied for permission to import and release a new strain of the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus (RHDV1-K5) in an attempt to help control the wild rabbit population. Despite grave concerns expressed by members of the public and welfare organisations including the SPCA about the potentially severe welfare impact of the virus on rabbits and the potential risk to domesticated rabbits, the release of the virus has been approved. It has been confirmed that nationwide release of the virus will take place over March and April 2018.
The SPCA opposed the introduction of RHDV1-K5 into New Zealand due to the significant suffering and distress this virus can cause affected animals.
“Our organisation advocates for the use of more humane methods where rabbit population control is necessary. We are disappointed that this new virus strain will be released in New Zealand despite the suffering it will cause affected rabbits and the potential risk to companion rabbits,” says SPCA Chief Scientific Officer Dr Arnja Dale.
The RHDV virus causes a haemorrhagic disease with a high mortality rate. Susceptible wild and pet rabbits can be infected if exposed to the virus. The virus is spread by insect vectors, such as flies, and by direct contact between an infected rabbit (dead or alive) and a susceptible rabbit.
In welfare assessments, the level of suffering of rabbits affected by RHDV is reported to be moderate to severe, and the time taken for the rabbit to lose consciousness and die can be prolonged. Rabbits may have fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, fatigue, convulsions, signs of suffocation, opisthotonus (a condition in which the body is held in an abnormal posture with the body rigid, the head thrown backward, and a severely arched back), sudden crying, haemorrhaging, and uncoordinated movements or paddling of the limbs. However, infected rabbits may show no external signs of disease but suddenly die from organ failure within 12-36 hours of the onset of infection.
Rabbits have become a popular pet for New Zealanders in recent years. It is estimated there are a total of 116,000 companion rabbits in New Zealand, with 3% of households having an average of two rabbits. These pet rabbits could be at risk once this virus is released.
“A large number of pets could be at risk so we are urging all rabbit owners to contact their veterinarian immediately for up-to-date advice on how to protect their rabbit from the new strain of this deadly virus,” says Dr Dale.
The vaccine currently available in New Zealand for Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease provides protection against the original RHDV1 v351 strain of the virus. Research with small numbers of rabbits indicates that this vaccine will also provide protection against RHDV1-K5 but there is concern that the vaccine has not been adequately tested in the field and that there is not yet sufficient evidence to be sure that it will provide sufficient protection. Nevertheless, maintaining up to date vaccinations, along with measures to reduce the potential exposure of rabbits to the virus, are currently the recommended steps to try and keep pet rabbits safe.
Tips for rabbit owners:
- Contact your veterinarian for up-to-date advice about the best way to protect your rabbit from the virus. You should have your rabbits vaccinated or make sure they are up to date with their vaccinations. This should be done as a matter of urgency because the virus may be released as early as late March, leaving little time to get rabbits vaccinated and for them to develop immunity.
- Prevent indirect and direct contact between domestic and wild rabbits.
- Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits. Also be careful of fresh vegetables as some may be grown in areas contaminated with RHDV.
- If you are in contact with rabbits other than your own, wash your hands with warm soapy water between handling rabbits.
- Good insect control is also important and will help reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. Insect control could include insect-proofing your rabbit’s enclosure or keeping your rabbit indoors.
- Clean anything that rabbits come into contact with by using an agent such as 10% bleach, 10% sodium hydroxide, or Virkon (which is available from your local veterinarian).
SPCA Inspectors see many cases of shocking animal abuse, neglect and cruelty each year. This List of Shame is the culmination of these – some of the worst cases the SPCA has investigated and prosecuted in 2017.
1. Sully, a spaniel poodle cross, was owned by a woman previously prosecuted by a woman prosecuted by the SPCA and disqualified from owning animals. He was found living in a dark room of darkness. After a court order to forfeit Sully into the care of the SPCA and months of rehabilitation, Sully was adopted by a new loving family. The animal welfare investigation is still ongoing and is yet to be brought before the courts. Sully was chosen as the ‘face’ of the 2018 SPCA Annual Appeal because he demonstrates just how vital the SPCA’s work is. Without dedication from the SPCA Inspectors, vets, canine team, animal behaviourists and his foster family, Sully would not be living the happy life he is today.
2. A man was sentenced to home detention after keeping a large number of birds in abhorrent condition. Upon arriving at his property, an SPCA Inspector found 600 chickens, roosters and ducks being kept in overcrowded conditions, with no dry area, no shelter, insufficient water and no adequate food. The birds had severe feather loss and were in very thin body condition. They were walking around in thick mud and faeces, among the bodies of dead birds. They were so hungry that they were trying to feed on the decomposing birds. A veterinarian examination determined that the health and prognosis of the birds was so poor they were unlikely to regain full health, even with intensive treatment. Sadly, they had to be euthanized to end their suffering. The man was prosecuted by the SPCA and sentenced to six months’ home detention, 150 hours of community work, and ordered to pay veterinary and court costs to a total value of $3840. He was also disqualified from owning animals for 10 years.
3. It wasn’t until Tasha was collapsed and unresponsive that anyone sought assistance for her. The five-year-old Labrador cross was rescued by an SPCA Inspector and taken for immediate veterinary treatment. Sadly, she died the same day due to the severity of her condition. Tasha was so emaciated that she had the lowest possible body condition and clinical signs indicating chronic starvation. She was had flea allergic skin disease, a sore on her leg and fur loss consistent with a collar wound. Tasha would have endured a huge amount of pain and was probably suffering for a considerable period of time. Her owner pleaded guilty to ill-treatment of an animal, was disqualified from owning animals for 10 years and fined $2000.
4. In a very disturbing case of animal cruelty, a young mallard duck was found with catastrophic fireworks-related injuries that SPCA veterinarians suspect were intentionally inflicted. The duck was found still alive, and in extreme pain. Her beak was destroyed and she had suffered a degloving injury. The injuries she sustained could only have been caused by a firework, likely purposely put in the duck’s mouth. These catastrophic injuries were irreparable and the kindest thing SPCA veterinarians could do was end her suffering. Despite launching a full investigation, SPCA Inspectors never found the person or persons responsible.
5. Jimmy was dumped at a beach, malnourished and with bad wounds, bruising to his head and an irreparable eye injury. His injuries suggest Jimmy suffered blunt force trauma to his head – likely inflicted purposely by a cruel person. SPCA Inspectors launched a full animal welfare investigation, but have not found the person or persons responsible. Jimmy amazed SPCA staff with his kind soul and loving temperament – and even wagged his tail while veterinarians stitched up his eye. He is still recovering at a foster home, but once healed, Jimmy will be adopted by a loving family and finally get the love and care he deserves.
6. An SPCA Inspector found Kasey and Keita living alone inside a house among rubbish, faeces and very little food and water. Keita was pregnant and underweight, with visible rib and hip bones. Kasey was suffering from a bad ear infection, scabs and hair loss. Their owner told the SPCA the dogs had been living alone in the house for a year and he had been only visiting once a week. After an SPCA investigation, the owner was banned from owning dogs for five years, sentenced to 120 hours’ community work and ordered to pay $3183.80 in reparations to the SPCA. Both Kasey and Keita were forfeited to the care of the SPCA, where they made a full recovery.
7. Several animals at a property had to be euthanised to alleviate their suffering, after their owner failed to treat their obvious injuries and ailments. The owner’s animal included a goat in severe pain with an irreparable fracture, and a cat suffering from kidney disease, severe painful dental disease and two untreated fractures to its hind leg. The woman was sentenced to 300 hours community work and 9 months supervision, including attendance of any programmes recommended by probation. She was ordered to pay $2000 reparations, $500 towards legal costs, to forfeit ownership of her two cats to the SPCA and was disqualified from owning animals for five years. A cow with a severe, untreated eye injury was also found on the woman’s property but was identified as belonging to her associate. He was also prosecuted and sentenced to 150 hours community work, ordered to pay $788.20 in reparations and a contribution of $500 towards solicitor costs and disqualified from owning animals for five years.
8. SPCA Inspectors arrived at a paddock to find a grey horse, Frosty, in obvious signs of pain and distress. Frosty had undergone eye removal surgery and the sutures had been left in and his head was grossly enlarged and misshapen. The Inspectors immediately called a veterinarian, who said that the horse’s facial swelling, eating and breathing difficulty were obvious even from a distance and should have been tended to immediately. Sadly, due to the extent of his injuries and his pain and distress, the veterinarian recommended Frosty be euthanised on humane grounds. Frosty’s owner was prosecuted by the SPCA and sentenced to 260 hours’ community work, disqualified from owning horses for 5 years and ordered to pay reparations of $1468.41.'
9. When Lemuska was hit by a car, he sustained such leg injuries he couldn’t move. The Staffordshire bull terrier cross suffered open de-gloving wounds on both hind legs exhibited so severe that the bone was exposed. Yet his owner didn’t take him for the veterinary treatment he obviously needed. An SPCA Inspector immediately seized Lemuska to take him for urgent veterinary treatment. The SPCA veterinarian said Lemuska was in severe pain and was also suffering a irreparably fractured foot. Sadly due to the extent of his injuries and the level of pain and distress he was suffering, the SPCA veterinarian recommended that Lemuska be euthanised on humane grounds. Lemuska’s owner was prosecuted by the SPCA sentenced to 150 hours of community work, and ordered to pay reparations of $197.31 and court costs of $60. He was also disqualified from owning animals for two years.
10. Chestnut gelding pony Sandfly’s routine dental check-up was botched so badly by the equine dentist, it caused irreversible damage to the pulp tissue. The equine dentist removed half to two thirds of two cheek teeth without pre, or post-treatment sedation or pain relief. Two months later, Sandfly stopped eating and was diagnosed with an infection in one of the teeth. Because of the irreversible damage to the pulp tissue, recurrence of infection is highly likely. Sandfly is being kept on long-term oral antibiotics and extraction in the long term will be required once this is possible. The SPCA prosecuted the equine dentist responsible for Sandfly’s treatment and he was ordered to pay a fine of $2,500 payable to the SPCA and reparation of $2,500 vet costs payable to the pony’s owner.
11. Four dumped kittens were rescued and brought back to health by the SPCA after they were found in a bin liner. Just six weeks old, the tabby kittens were very lucky to have survived the ordeal. They were given vet care, food, and spent time with a foster family before each being adopted by loving families.Abandoning an animal is an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, but the SPCA Inspector’s investigation into finding the person responsible was not successful. Unfortunately, animals being dumped and abandoned is not uncommon - stories like this can be found at every SPCA Centre across New Zealand.
SPCA Chief Executive Andrea Midgen. says, "We need the public's support to end this shameful cruelty in New Zealand. We receive almost no government funding to run the SPCA Inspectorate, which costs approximately $9 million every year."
Donations for this year's SPCA Annual Appealcan be made to street collectors around the country from Friday 9th to Sunday 11th March 2018, or online.