BRITAIN’S entire pet rabbit population is at risk from a deadly virus which can kill without warning in hours.

The disease – new to the UK and spreading rapidly – is being blamed for a huge decline in the number of wild rabbits.

But experts warn the estimated one million bunnies kept as pets are now at risk from RVHD2, the latest strain of Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic disease which came here from Europe.

It is fatal, has few obvious symptoms and once an animal is infected there is no cure.

Dr Diana Bell, a rabbit disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said: “Rabbits may be at an all-time low. When did you last see a roadkill rabbit? You don’t any more — they simply aren’t around like they used to be.”

Vets are advising rabbit owners to get their pets vaccinated as soon as possible as the disease spreads to all parts of the UK.

Infected pets will die within 24 hours despite showing few symptoms, according to experts.

Ian Clarke, a vet from Worcester, added: “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, lethargy, spasms and sudden death.

“We are aware no vaccine is 100 per cent 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 per cent 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, one of the UK’s leading rabbit experts, said: “Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic disease 1 and 2 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.”