Rabbit health and welfare

RabbitIn 2015, the PDSA reported that more than half (57%) of rabbit owners said that their rabbit lives alone – equating to around 680,000 rabbits.

Our 2014 Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey found that 1 in 5 British vets were concerned about rabbits kept as pets; 22% of companion animal vets thought the general public 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. Vets voiced concerns about single rabbits kept in hutches by themselves, as rabbits are very social animals and need contact with their own kind. Being kept on their own causes rabbits to experience boredom, frustration and fear.

Promoting rabbit welfare is currently a specific BVA objective and Ethics and Welfare Group (EWG) has plans to look at the issue of rabbit farming in 2016.

Rabbit welfare vision statement

We lend our support to the RSPCA lead Rabbit welfare vision statement which sets out the following 10 aspirations to help improve rabbit welfare.

Every companion rabbit should: 

  • Enjoy a good life in which they can experience positive welfare (i.e. good physical and psychological health) as well as being protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
  • Have access to an appropriate diet, known to optimise animal health and minimise the risk of disease. This includes having continual access to both good quality fibrebased material (such as hay or fresh grass) to eat and fresh, clean water.
  • Live in an environment which meets their physical, social and behavioural needs (including to run, jump, graze, dig, rest and stand up on their hind legs without their ears touching the roof).
  • Be sold or rehomed in compatible pairs or groups.
  • Be bred, reared and kept in a way known to minimise their chances of developing fear of handling and other stimuli.
  • Be given regular preventative health care as recommended by veterinary experts, eg. vaccinated against myxomatosis and RHD (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease), according to current vaccine licence recommendations.
  • Be given appropriate and timely veterinary treatment to protect them from pain, disease and suffering.

In addition to this, the statement says:

  • All those working with rabbits including vets, retailers, breeders, and rehoming organisations undertake effective training programmes and have resources available to them on current good practice in housing and husbandry, the promotion of health and welfare, and the management of disease and welfare risks.
  • All rabbit health and welfare advice and recommendations are based on international scientific knowledge and professional experience. The veterinary professions offers up-to-date expertise in recognition, management and prevention of disease and in practices to promote good welfare.
  • The number of rabbits requiring rehoming (both privately and via rescue organisations) is minimised.

The next stage will be to develop a strategy setting out in more detail how this vision will be achieved.

The Vision for Rabbit Welfare in the UK was created by the University of Bristol, The British Rabbit Council, the Pet Industry Federation, the RSPCA and the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF).

Animal Welfare Foundation has created a pet owner guidance on caring for rabbits

The PDSA with support from BVA, BSAVA and others have created a leaflet with guidance on the correct way to feed your rabbits ( 3,282 KB PDF )