There are many issues surrounding the current state of rabbit welfare in the UK. As a result, there is not a simple solution to improve rabbit welfare.
Many factors need addressing at the same time in order to create the much needed improvement.
Rabbits have been kept in a domestic setting as far back as the Middle Ages, where they were treated as livestock. Breeding for shows began in the 19th century, which also saw the creation and definition of breeds. The rabbit as a household pet was first seen in the Victorian era.
Sadly rabbits have always been, and still are still farmed for meat and fur, and widely used in medical and other laboratory testing purposes. Many of the current perceptions the population has today are built on the past mistreatment of rabbits. For example, the traditional rabbit hutch has its roots in the housing of rabbits for meat production!
As a result of their history, rabbits are often viewed as cheap, disposable animals, suitable for confinement and mistreatment. Clearly this view is out-dated and very mis-guided.
Cheap and Easy. The Myths.
There is a general belief that rabbits are cheap and easy pets to look after. There’s a belief they are great pets for children and that they go great with Guinea Pigs.
None of this is true.
Rabbits can cost over £1200 annually – that’s about £100 a month, not including any medical emergency. Click here for further details on the cost of rabbits as pets.
As for being easy? They require a carefully monitored diet, exercise, entertainment, constant vigilance, excellent veterinary health care, frequent health checks and clean-outs. Oh, and a fellow rabbit companion too.
Rabbits generally hate being handled or picked up – they are a prey species so hate the feeling of being ‘trapped’. Children can be clumsy around pets and rabbits can react to this as a natural means of defense; with strong hind legs and very sharp teeth, rabbits are not suitable pets for children.
And other species do not make good companions for rabbits. Rabbits require the companionship of their own kind for their physical and emotional wellbeing.
Here’s a summary of some of the key issues contributing to the poor level of rabbit welfare in the UK today.
A large percentage of the population do nut understand rabbits; they see little more than a silent furry animal sitting in a hutch at the end of the garden
Whilst there is information available to those who are interested in improving their understanding of rabbits and their needs, there is a lack of desire to learn (or find out). This is most likely linked to the long established historical perceptions of rabbits which arose during their keep as livestock. “This is how we’ve always kept rabbits” is often heard by welfare educators.
There is a very easy route of acquisition; most are bought via pet shops, where no checks about their future care are made. Bad accommodation is cheap, and their ‘disposal’, either via a rescue or other means (often proving fatal for the rabbit, such as being set free) is also easy. There are no fines, no accountability and no one to answer to.
Rabbits are, to most, a silent creature. They do not alert their owner when hungry or in pain, nor do they alert neighbours when they have been left uncared for. Being housed in hutches outside, they can easily become ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Because of this silence, they can be mistaken for being dumb or unfeeling creatures, and this makes neglect through ignorance easy.
In reality, rabbits are extremely intelligent, and just like cats and dogs, have feelings and emotions. They get lonely, sad, depressed – and they also know when they are being mis-treated.
The care available for rabbits is mixed. Some medicines are licensed for rabbits, but most are not. Medical knowledge of rabbits amongst some veterinary practices is mixed. This is despite rabbits being one of the most common animals for medicines to be tested on during development. It is felt there is often no financial benefit in licensing drugs for rabbits as they are not seen as pets people will spend money on for veterinary treatment.
So there is much work to do. Please get in touch to learn how you can help improve rabbit welfare.