RABBIT owners are urged to send their pet to the vets for a vaccination as a deadly disease is spreading across the country.

Leading animal welfare experts and organisations are encouraging rabbit owners to get their pets vaccinated against the latest strain of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic disease (RVHD2).

RVHD2 is a fatal disease that can kill rabbits within hours, with many rabbits displaying no sign of symptoms.

Ian Clarke, a veterinarian from Ambleside Vets, in Tolladine Road, Worcester, said: “This disease is very dangerous, and owners should be alerted on the outbreak.

“Rabbits can catch RVHD2 and be dead within 24 hours - there is no cure and that is why a vaccine is essential.

"The disease is new and spreading across the country. Symptoms can include low appetite, lethargic, spasms and sudden death.

“Rabbit breeders are seemed as the leaders of the rabbit community. They are hot on the topic and there has been an increase on rabbits being taken to the vets for a vaccine. We are aware no vaccine is 100% effective, but it is certainly a lot safer than not having it done.

“Pet owners should be aware of this fatal disease and I would recommend them taking their pet to a vet immediately. A rabbit can be vaccinated 30 days after being born.”

Research from the veterinary charity, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, showed 49 percent of rabbits across the country have received a primary course of vaccinations when young, meaning almost half a million rabbits could be at risk from a variety of potentially fatal diseases.

Dr Richard Saunders is one of the UK’s leading rabbit experts and was responsible for getting the vaccine for RHDV2 into the UK following its initial outbreak, helping to save the lives of an estimated 70,000 rabbits.

Dr Saunders said: “Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic disease 1 and 2, which kill a high proportion of the rabbits infected, often so quickly that there is no warning before finding them dead.

“These diseases can be prevented by vaccination and it is absolutely vital to do this even if there haven’t been any outbreaks of these diseases in your area yet. These diseases can spread rapidly and by the time there is an outbreak in your area and your rabbits aren’t vaccinated – it may be too late.”

For expert advice on rabbit welfare visit www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk