THE UK’s leading rabbit welfare charity, the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWA&F), is today demanding an immediate pause on the sale of new rabbits by breeders, retailers and on classified advert sites as rescue centres are witnessing an unprecedented rise in abandoned and mistreated rabbits.
During the lockdown, the RWA&F witnessed a huge boom in rabbit ownership, as families who didn’t have the space or time for a dog or cat wrongly believed that having a rabbit, or two, would be an easier pet to manage.
RWA&F’s Welfare Team has reported a huge surge in the number of rabbits for sale online – fuelled by new breeders appearing every month. Since January, the RWA&F has seen an increase of 77% from the previous year.
Matthew Dixon, a vet at Aireworth Vets said:
“The cost-of-living crisis is drastically affecting everyone in society and therefore their pets. We’re seeing issues not only with people struggling to afford treatment for their rabbits and requesting support with this but also issues with a lack of available homes for rabbits. This is leading to issues with the rehoming centres and charities who are also facing these same financial struggles.”
According to the latest data, there are just over 1 million pet rabbits in the UK – making them the third most popular pet after dogs and cats – with 2% (20,000) of these pet rabbits ‘bred’ in the last two years. As life goes back to normal post-COVID-19, rabbit rescue centres are full and are facing the tough decision of having to turn people away as rabbit owners struggle to afford and provide for the welfare needs of their pets.
Recent research conducted by the RWA&F has revealed that whilst people want to provide a high level of welfare for their pet rabbits, there is a lack of education and awareness about how rabbits breed, among other things, which has resulted in a boom in the domestic rabbit population in recent months. Female rabbits can get pregnant immediately after giving birth before an owner has time to get them neutered – yet over 1 in 3 rabbit owners (35%) didn’t know this when asked by the RWA&F.
Rae Walters, Director at the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund said:
“We believe that people have good intentions when they first acquire their rabbits, but it has been the perfect storm because we have seen an increase in the number of people breeding rabbits and a boom in new rabbit owners. This added to a general lack of knowledge about their true care needs and how to correctly sex a rabbit, a backlog of vet neutering appointments due to the Covid lockdown, combined with not knowing how soon a doe rabbit can get pregnant once she has given birth has created a huge rabbit welfare issue in the UK.”
RWA&F also believes recent rises in the cost of food, bedding, equipment, healthcare and inflation could be one of the reasons they are witnessing a spike in owners surrendering their pets, with the organisation calculating an increase of 37% on the average monthly cost of keeping a pair of pet rabbits – rising from £88 to £121 per month.
The study of 2,336 rabbit owners, vet practitioners and rabbit rescue centres revealed that the cost-of-living crisis is taking its toll, with over 50% of rabbit owners saying they are worried about how they will look after their rabbits as prices rise.
The RWA&F is urging people to think twice about where they acquire their new pet rabbits from and are calling on a nationwide amnesty on the sale of new rabbits whilst urging people to adopt rather than shop – especially with Christmas fast approaching.
This sentiment is one supported by rabbit owners with over 98% of those surveyed supporting a complete ban on the sale of new rabbits until the rescue crisis is resolved. Nine out of ten (97%) of the 170 vet practitioners and 86 rescue centres also support the ban.
Rae Waters continued:
“In recent months we have been alarmed at some of the welfare cases coming forward. People are literally overrun with rabbits. Two rabbits can quickly multiply into 12 rabbits in just a few months. With doe and buck rabbits having to live apart and the rising costs of food – we are witnessing a huge increase in pet owners who can’t cope and in turn creating a rabbit welfare crisis. Our concern is that rabbit owners become so overwhelmed and distressed, especially with many rescue centres full, that they just let the rabbits into the wild, which is the same as killing them in effect, as domesticated rabbits don’t know how to fend for themselves in the wild.
“With no legislation in the UK for rabbits to be sexed correctly, nor any requirements for rabbit breeders to be licensed, urgent action is needed.”
Charlotte Tomlinson, Site Coordinator for Fat Fluffs Rabbit Rescue said:
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we had an influx of people that were interested in adopting rabbits, but as of the end of lockdown, we are now seeing those rabbits we have adopted out, return to our rescue, as well as countless other surrenders, which we can only imagine, have come from breeders and shop sales.
“We strive to give our rabbits the best care possible when they are with us and unfortunately with the sudden and overwhelming amount of requests to surrender rabbits, it has put a lot of pressure on rescues, like ourselves, to provide safe havens and correct treatments for those rabbits that need the extra care. We always encourage people to adopt, don’t shop! Help the rescues that are drowning in rabbit surrenders.”
The RWA&F is also appealing to rescue centres who have the capacity to rehome rabbits to get in touch with their team, as well as potential foster families who have space and awareness on how to look after rabbits to come forward.
Patron and vet, Dr Emma Milne, said:
“Rabbits are one of the most misunderstood and complex pets people can have. They need the company of other rabbits; they need much more space than most people think and can live 8-10 years. This is a huge time and financial commitment – the average rabbit owner will spend nearly £1000 a year on looking after their pet. We desperately need an amnesty on breeding until this crisis is behind us and the animals needing homes have found great owners. We need to ease the burden on adoption centres. I would urge anyone wanting a pet, especially in this case rabbits, to do careful research to ensure they can properly meet these complex, wonderful animals’ needs.”
For more information, please visit: https://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/update/adoptdontshop/.