Fears for ‘Bugsy Alone’ – 1 in 5 vets concerned about lonely pet rabbits

29 September 2014

A recent British Veterinary Association (BVA) survey shows that 1 in 5 British vets are concerned about rabbits kept as pets.

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% 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.”

The most recent PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report highlights how widespread and serious this ‘Bugsy Alone’ syndrome is, reporting that in 2013, 65% 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 Senior Vice President and small animal vet Robin Hargreaves 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 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 pile 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.”  

BVA Media Office