SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — What’s up, Doc? Whether it’s Bugs Bunny, Roger Rabbit or Peter Cottontail, you typically think of bunnies as cute. But for residents of one South Dakota neighborhood, cute’s not the word that comes to mind.
Neighbors in Sioux Falls have seen the poor rabbit: its head and face covered in growths that resembled tentacles. Resident Dennis Schorr walks his dog in the neighborhood and saw the animal on Thursday morning.
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“I’ve never seen nothing like that before, I walk my dogs every day and I see lots of rabbits — but today was very unusual,” said Schorr.
It turns out the growths are caused by a form of the papillomavirus found only in cottontail rabbits.
Game Fish and Parks Biologist Josh Delger says the condition in rabbits is more common than you might think, though it rarely progresses to this stage. Delger says the most common way the infection is spread is through ticks and mosquitoes.
Cottontail rabbit papillomavirus (CRPV) is very similar to the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), according to research published by the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Researchers studied CRPV in rabbits to learn how papillomavirus operates inside of its hosts. Scientists write that CRPV causes “large warty structures” on soft skin areas. These growths are similar to genital warts seen in humans.
Delger says cases this severe are seen every few years. He assures concerned dog owners that it’s unlikely the disease would spread from a rabbit to a dog. The disease can, however, be passed from wild rabbit to pet rabbit.
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The average life span of a cottontail is three years. The neighborhood rabbit will likely die of natural causes unless the growth interferes with its feeding or makes it more vulnerable to predators.