A new study confirms that the more owners understand rabbits as a species, the more likely they are to give their pet bunnies everything they need to lead happy, healthy and enriched lives.
When you think of a pet rabbit, what do you picture? A fluffy little animal who sits in the corner of a hutch nibbling on hay who doesn’t get up to much? Or do you think of lively, curious, intelligent animals who love to forage, explore, run, jump and play with other bunny chums?
It seems that people’s perceptions and lack of understanding of these wonderful animals means that many are suffering – even though that’s the last thing many bunny owners would want. The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report found that half (49%) of all UK rabbits live alone (equating to around 440,000 rabbits) and a quarter (25%, around 230,000 rabbits) are kept in inadequate housing conditions, such as cramped hutches.
PDSA Vet Lynne James commented: “Worryingly, PDSA’s Report also found that over a 24-hour period, rabbits spend an average of 11 hours inside their hutch. Sadly, one-in-ten (10%) rabbits don’t have a run, living their lives in a hutch, and a further one-in-ten (11%) rabbits don’t even have enough room in their runs to hop. Our research shows that 98% of rabbit owners said that their pet was loved, so it may be that most of the time owners are misunderstanding their pets’ needs as opposed to any intentional mistreatment.”
Do you know your rabbits’ five welfare needs?
The Animal Welfare Act, introduced in 2006, places a duty of care on people to ensure they take reasonable steps to meet the welfare needs of their animals. As a bunny owner, it’s essential you meet your rabbits’ five welfare needs, which are:
Providing a suitable diet: If you follow the Burgess Excel Feeding plan, you’ll ensure your rabbits get the correct balance of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Providing a suitable environment: Whether your rabbits live outdoors or indoors, it is essential they have enough space.
Enabling your rabbits to exhibit normal behavioural patterns: Discover more about what makes your rabbits tick so your interactions are more rewarding for both of you.
Companionship: Rabbits are incredibly sociable animals and if they don’t have the right company and lots of fun things to do, they can suffer. Always keep your rabbits in pairs or groups.
Health: Protect your pets from pain, suffering, injury and disease and learn the signs of common health problems in rabbits.
Bunny know-how is the secret to helping your pets live their best rabbit lives
Sarah McMahon, a final year veterinary medicine and surgery student undertaking an MSc in Animal Welfare and Behaviour, has a great perspective on how humans can help their bunny chums lead happier, healthier lives. Whereas most pet rabbit studies are about the animals themselves, Sarah’s All Ears study is different because it focuses on humans. Her research is into how bunny owners’ perception of rabbits as a species has a huge impact on how they keep them as pets.
Sarah notes: “As a rabbit owner, I’ve frequently encountered the following views: ‘But it’s just a rabbit… They don’t do much. They’re stupid. They’re for children.’ I found these statements quite different to how I see my rabbits – which I see as emotional, mischievous characters full of incredible behaviours and personality. This made me wonder how peoples’ perception of an animal influenced their treatment of them.”
Be aware of the rabbits
Sarah undertook a small survey-based study of 52 owners, at the point of purchase of pet rabbits. The main takeaway from the study is actually strikingly simple – that the more that owners understand rabbits as a species, the more likely they are to give their rabbits what they need to lead happy, healthy and enriched lives.
People whose only experience of pet rabbits is a rabbit sitting motionless in the corner of a hutch think rabbits are boring and don’t do anything. They therefore don’t bother giving their rabbits the space or opportunity to do anything different.
However, people who have seen rabbits exploring a large enclosure, foraging for food and jumping for joy have a much more positive perception of rabbits and are much more likely to provide an environment that allows their rabbits to enjoy these activities.
PDSA Vet Lynne James urges: “During lockdown, many of us will have experienced feelings of isolation, boredom and loneliness. But while we can begin to ease out of lockdown into a new kind of normality, our PAW Report findings show the sad reality that thousands of rabbits will continue to face perpetual confinement, enduring inadequate spaces and a lack of companionship, which can cause immense suffering.”
Rabbits deserve respect
However, Sarah is optimistic that the findings of her survey can be a catalyst for positive change: “Hopefully by improving empathy and compassion towards this species, deemed widely as an inexpensive and replaceable ‘child’s pet’; we can move towards rabbits being seen as a sentient, sociable mammal with a wide range of complex and dynamic behaviours that deserve respect and a high welfare standard.”
Burgess in-house vet, Dr Suzanne Moyes, wholeheartedly agrees: “We recognise that rabbits remain one of the UK’s most owned but least understood animals, which is why, in addition to our annual Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW), we’ve now established the Rabbit Awareness Action Group (RAAG) to throw the spotlight on the particular needs of these wonderful creatures through planned, year-round activity, designed to ensure greater understanding for their health and welfare requirements. This includes a call for all rabbit supporters to sign up to the first Good Practice Code for the Welfare of Rabbits in England.”
Led by Burgess Pet Care, members of RAAG, comprising the RSPCA, Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF), Wood Green, Blue Cross and PDSA, are committed to building on the achievements of RAW, continuing to improve the lives of the UK’s pet rabbits by raising awareness of their five key welfare needs among new and established owners.
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The entire Burgess Rabbit range is made using only the finest quality ingredients and is designed to prevent selective feeding (a common problem with muesli-based diets where rabbits eat some high starch/sugar components, while rejecting the more fibrous pellets, causing all manner of health issues). Naturally high in Beneficial Fibre and fortified with vitamins and minerals for healthy eyes, skin and coat, it’s really no wonder that 92% of UK vets recommend our Burgess small pets range.
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