Latest News, Wildlife | Posted: Tuesday, August 11th, 2020 at 1:42 pm | return to news

Cruel rabbit hutches should be banned

How often have you seen a rabbit in a hutch where it can barely move about?

Pet rabbits enjoying the freedom to forage
Pet rabbits enjoying the freedom to forage

The UK’s largest charity for rabbits wants to do something about this to improve the lives of pet rabbits in the UK.

As part of this year’s Rabbit Awareness Week (10-23 August), The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund is calling for a ban on cruel rabbit hutches.

The RWAF believes that banning cramped hutches will help more lonely rabbits in rescue centres find loving homes. The RWAF received several reports of mass abandonments of rabbits by backyard rabbit breeders at the start of the COVID pandemic. Many of these rabbits were given to rescue centres as breeders knew they would struggle to sell them during lockdown.

While UK rescue centres are full of rabbits looking for new homes, the results of a recent survey conducted by the RWAF of UK rescue centres found that, on average, less than 25% of rabbit adoption requests are unsuccessful.

The most common reason for unsuccessful rehoming applications was potential rabbit owners were unable to meet the RWAF recommended living space for rabbits. The RWAF’s minimum housing recommendation for two average-sized rabbits is an area of 3m x 2m that’s at least 1m high.

There is currently no legal housing size for pet rabbits, which means many of the hutches sold by online retailers and UK pet shops only have to meet the legal housing size requirements for rabbits that are kept in a laboratory or sold for meat.

An independent analysis conducted by the RWAF examined 46 single-story hutches for sale from eight online retailers and found that only 31% of these hutches even meet the legal requirement provided by Defra for housing laboratory rabbits, and only 9% meet the minimum size recommended by the RWAF.

Rae Todd, Director of the RWAF said, “It’s a terrible misconception that a small hutch at the back of the garden is enough for pet rabbits. Unfortunately, poor quality accommodation is sold by many online retailers for cheap prices, leading to many pet rabbits in the UK suffering in cramped living spaces.

“Banning cruel rabbit hutches and mandating a new legal housing size for pet rabbits will help more would-be rabbit owners recognise the amount of space that rabbits require. Until unsuitable accommodation is removed from sale, people will continue to wrongly believe that a small hutch in the garden will suffice for pet rabbits.”

Debbie Hands, Rabbits and Guinea Pig manager at Devon rescue, Animal in Distress, said, “During the COVID pandemic we saw a leap in applications from people wanting to adopt rabbits. We had 17 applications on the first night of lockdown and nearly 200 in total over the three weeks we were closed to the public. We’re now working through a backlog of adoption requests but we’re having to turn so many of them down because the people that want to take these rabbits home with them are unable to provide the right living conditions.”

Research from the PDSA Paw Report 2019 found 25% of pet rabbits in the UK are kept in inadequate housing conditions. Five of the most common health issues that rabbits can develop due to cramped living spaces are:

Spinal deformities: Caused by the inability to stand up straight for hours at a time.

Obesity: Caused by the inability to exercise, increasing risk of disease and death.

Flystrike: An extremely painful and deadly disease, this is caused when rabbits can’t clean themselves properly due to obesity or confined spaces. Flies, attracted by unclean bottoms, lay eggs in rabbits’ fur, which then hatch into maggots that eat the rabbit’s flesh.

Overgrown nails: Unable to naturally wear down nails by foraging and digging, this results in nails being torn, ripped out of the nail bed and toes being dislocated or broken.

Aggressive behavioural and depression: A combination of stress, loneliness, boredom and frustration causes rabbits to develop negative behavioural issues, aggression and severe depression.

Rabbit Awareness Week is the UK’s largest welfare campaign for pet rabbits. Thousands of veterinary practices, pet retailers and rescue centres will be hosting digital events online to educate the general public on the welfare needs of pet rabbits. Rabbit owners can visit the RAW website to download their free rabbit care guides.

To help improve the lives of pet rabbits living in the UK, the RWAF is once again urging the UK government to ban cruel rabbit hutches and mandate a legal housing size for pet rabbits.

To sign the petition, please visit: https://www.change.org/p/zac-goldsmith-mp-ban-harmful-rabbit-hutches-and-introduce-new-law-for-minimum-housing-sizes

To read the Paw Report visit: https://www.pdsa.org.uk/media/7420/2019-paw-report_downloadable.pdf

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