Now may not be the best time for Whidbey Island residents or visitors to pick up any furry hitchhikers — no matter how cute.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture has issued a quarantine for bunnies on the island, following the positive testing of a dead feral rabbit for rabbit hemorrhagic disease.
According to a press release, the disease has hopped from Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands, where it was first identified in July.
Adopted Nov. 8, the Whidbey Island quarantine is set to expire on March 7 next year. Until then, pet owners are advised to keep their Lapine friends safe by placing them indoors, practicing good hygiene, using pelleted feed and monitoring for signs of sudden change in behavior.
Besides pet rabbits, the disease also affects the island’s beloved — or detested — population of feral domesticated rabbits. Whidbey residents have reported rapid decreases of feral domesticated populations in places where their numbers are usually abundant, such as Fort Casey State Park.
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease does not affect humans or other animals in any way. However, the virus can be passed along to rabbits by dirty hands or shoes, and other animals can track it around on their feet.
An unlicensed vaccine is available but must be approved by the Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to be used. Pet owners in the quarantine zone should let their veterinarians know if they are interested in getting their rabbit vaccinated.