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1 in 5 Vets Concerned About Lonely Pet Rabbits

12 May 2015

UK - Following a British Veterinary Association (BVA) survey last year that showed 1 in 5 British vets are concerned about rabbits kept as pets, vets are urging owners to give some thought to lonely rabbits and rabbit welfare generally during Rabbit Awareness Week (9th – 17th May 2015).

BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey asked companion animal vets what types of pets the general public should be discouraged from keeping.

Surprisingly high on the list were rabbits, with 22 per cent of companion animal vets responding that people should be discouraged from keeping rabbits unless these animals can be properly looked after.

Overwhelmingly, the message from vets is that while many people think rabbits are easy to look after and ideal pets for children, rabbits have complex needs and the traditional idea of the rabbit in the hutch can mean misery for these pets.

Many of the vets who responded to the survey voiced concern about single rabbits kept in hutches by themselves. Rabbits are very social animals and need contact with their own kind. Being kept on their own causes these animals to experience boredom, frustration and fear. Survey comments from vets included:

  • “Rabbits should not be solitary animals left in the hutch 23 hours a day.”
  • “Rabbits often get forgotten and are kept as single pets.”
  • “Rabbits are often bought for children who grow bored of them – rabbits can live for a very long time in a small hutch and often get quite neglected.”

Last year’s PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report highlights how widespread and serious this ‘Bugsy Alone’ syndrome is, reporting that in 2013, 65 per cent of pet rabbits were living alone.

Vets who responded to the BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey also commented on poor diets and poor husbandry as problems they commonly see when treating pet rabbits.

One vet said: “Many rabbits have poor husbandry, nutrition and clinical care. The traditional hutch does not meet their physical, social or environmental needs.”

BVA President John Blackwell commented: “Pet owners, particularly parents trying to buy a suitable pet for their child, have the very best intentions. But I would urge them to stop, think and ask questions before purchasing any animal, and give careful consideration to their ability to fully provide for its welfare needs as well as the child’s relationship with the animal.

“Do your research first – ask your vet and read through helpful documents such as the Animal Welfare Foundation’s free Caring For Rabbits leaflet.

“Rabbits need the companionship of other rabbits and should never be kept alone or with guinea-pigs. The best combination is a neutered female and a neutered male rabbit.

“Potential rabbit owners also need to think about where their rabbits will live and what they eat. As prey animals, they need to be able to hide from danger and they need to be able to run, jump, and dig as they would in the wild.

“Rabbits eat grass in the wild and pet rabbits need a similar diet. Therefore the bulk of your rabbits’ diet should be grass or good quality hay and a rough guide is that they need a quantity at least the size of their own body a day.

“Do not feed ‘muesli’-style dry food because it can cause a lot of problems. Rabbits pick out the bits they like and leave the rest, leading to an unbalanced diet. The food is almost too easy to eat compared to grass so their teeth overgrow which can have fatal consequences and many eat too much so become overweight.

“We know as vets the pleasure that pet ownership can bring to the whole family, including children. But the golden rule is always to put the animal’s welfare first so that you have a happy, healthy animal who is part of the family.”

TV Vet Emma Milne has written a book for potential rabbit owners to determine if they are the right pet for you. Emma's book is available for pre-order here.

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