Rhona is a member of the Edinburgh charity Advocates for Rabbit Welfare and is passionate about profiling rabbit welfare needs to give owners the support and information they need. Rhona wishes someone had raised her awareness to the innocent welfare mistakes she used to make and is now on a mission to be that voice for the buns.
Rabbits are our 3rd most popular pet behind cats and dogs. Silent and hidden away in back gardens, the public never see them. They are often invisible and forgotten about when it comes to profiling their welfare needs.
We have around 900,000 pet rabbits in the UK and they are among the most neglected pets. There are plenty of clichés that can be applied to rabbit welfare so here goes……
Two’s company … (well, half a cliché)
Did you know rabbits are highly sociable and should have at least one friend? Wild rabbits live in burrows as part of a community. This gives mental well-being and warmth. 49% of pet rabbits live alone, that’s 441,000 all alone 24/7, bored and exposed to all weathers. Some pet shops sell them singly, so we are led to believe they are solitary and from day one they are confined to a sad and lonely existence. In Switzerland there are measures to prevent this – you have to buy two to ensure their welfare. It is also important to ensure a suitable companion as fighting or unexpected babies can arise if the pet shop has mis-sexed them, and sexual maturity can start at as early as 3 months!
There’s no place like home …
There really is no place like a rabbit’s home, you wouldn’t see a cat or a dog living in a tiny hutch so why keep rabbits in a hutch? Historically they were kept in hutches when bred for meat, as time went by we just believed this is where rabbits live. Don’t believe the hype … let’s remember they live in vast burrows and can roam up to 5 miles a day in the wild. Compare that freedom to a pet rabbit’s imprisonment, 24/7 in a box.
Food for thought …
Physically a rabbit is one big digestive system which constantly needs to move. Diet should be 80% hay and supplemented with a portion of nuggets and fresh greens. Don’t sugar coat it … too much sugar can be fatal as gas can build up, so only small amounts of some fruit should be given as a treat. Munching on hay will keep their gut and ever-growing teeth healthy.
Prevention is better than cure …
Rabbits are classed as exotic pets by some vets as they are so complex. Finding a rabbit savvy vet is key. Neutering is needed not just to stop babies but will improve bonding with bunny friends and reduces cancers and other health issues. Even house bunnies need vaccines as disease can be brought in on shoes and hay. Bunnies teeth and nails constantly grow so regular check-ups are key. Almost half of owners don’t vaccinate or neuter which leaves buns vulnerable to fatal diseases.
Rabbits are often prevented from displaying normal behaviour. Being stuck alone in a hutch 24/7 doesn’t allow them to groom, dig, run, jump, stretch out and stand up or binky. Do you know what a rabbit binky is? If not then have a google, you will not be disappointed!
Scared to death …
Rabbits are prey animals so instinctively they will hide illness to reduce vulnerability and are always thinking something wants to eat them. This is why they usually aren’t good pets for kids as they are often scared of being handled. Always get down to their ground level when communicating and bonding with them.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing …
I’ve had rabbits for over 45 years, ever since I was a wee girl but sadly it’s only over the last 15 years or so that I have been educated on their needs. You live, you learn … I know now they have specific needs but I look back with great sadness now realising the innocent mistakes I made with my childhood buns. You learn from your mistakes … My bun Barnaby died at the age of 16 (same age as Guinness World Records oldest rabbit) so I finally got it right!
Onwards and upwards …
The Scottish Government has published Pet Rabbit Welfare Guidance which sets out standards of care and housing. This is a fantastic support to owners who can discover what their pet rabbit really needs versus what they have been led to believe up until now.
Licensing the breeding of pet rabbits, cats and dogs will soon be introduced by the Scottish Government. This is a massive step forward as finally rabbits are being considered alongside other pets. Rabbit rescues are bursting too so we need to adopt to stop encouraging breeding.
The Charity Advocates for Rabbit Welfare has put forward a proposal to Scottish Parliament to ban the sale of inappropriate pet rabbit housing and we aim to launch a petition soon. Meanwhile there are other petitions online you can support.
Hop along to these sites to find out more….
Follow Advocates for Rabbit Welfare (Reg Charity No SCO44268) on Facebook or see our website:
Scottish Government Pet Rabbit Welfare Guidance:
Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund ‘A Hutch is Not Enough’ petition:
PDSA: (source of stats used above)