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Rabbit Welfare Group

A vision for the future of rabbit welfare

A vision covering 10 points to raise the welfare of the companion rabbit in the UK has been identified and agreed by the pet industry, breeders and animal welfare and rescue organisations.

For the first time animal welfare organisations, welfare scientists, breeders, and the pet industry have come together to agree on a vision for improving rabbit welfare. This vision has also been supported by the Veterinary Industry.

The ten-point vision is based on the recommendations from an RSPCA-commissioned University of Bristol study into rabbit welfare in the UK, which concluded that the welfare needs of many companion rabbits are not currently being met.

RWAF is one of the key stakeholders of this group, along with RSPCA, PIF and BRC. It is important that agreement across all of the companion rabbit stakeholders is reached to make this strategy realistic and workable. The next stage is to get wider support from other stakeholders and then to all work together to develop each point in to a strategy with measurable targets, to bring about welfare improvements. There will be some short term goals, but this is very much a long term project which will need to be constantly reviewed.

Dr Nicola Rooney, research fellow at the University of Bristol, said: "We are very excited to have a vision for rabbit welfare that is strongly rooted in evidence-based information. There is a growing body of scientific understanding on how best to meet rabbits' health and behavioural needs, and we're delighted that everyone has joined forces to take this on board."

The Rabbit Welfare Vision Statement states that:

  1. All companion rabbits 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.
  2. All rabbits 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 fibre-based material (e.g. hay or fresh grass) to eat and fresh, clean water.
  3. All rabbits live in an environment which meets their physical, social and behavioural needs (e.g. to run, jump, graze, dig, rest and stand up on their hind legs without their ears touching the roof).
  4. All rabbits are sold or rehomed to be kept in compatible pairs or groups.
  5. All rabbits are bred, reared and kept in a way known to minimise their chances of developing fear of handling and other stimuli.
  6. All rabbits are given regular preventative health care as recommended by veterinary experts, e.g. vaccinated against myxomatosis and RHD (according to current vaccine licence recommendations).
  7. All rabbits are given appropriate and timely veterinary treatment to protect them from pain, disease and suffering.
  8. All those working with rabbits (including vets, retailers, breeders, 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.
  9. 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.
  10. The number of rabbits requiring rehoming (both privately and via rescue organisations) is minimised.

The organisations will now seek for this vision to be incorporated into a Defra Code of Practice for rabbits in England, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (a code for rabbits already exists in Wales and Northern Ireland).

We will of course keep our supporters up to date with progress.

Association members, through the fund, support a variety of educational projects directed at rabbit owners and the veterinary profession, helping both to look after rabbits better. For example, RWF leaflets can be found in veterinary surgeries, rescue centres and pet shops across the UK.

Pet Shops Charter
Although we are fundamentally opposed to the sale of rabbits in pet shops, we must be pragmatic and accept that as long as there is a demand from the general public it will be a fact of life. Therefore we are working with pet shops and encouraging them to stock our leaflets so that potential or existing rabbit owners have access to the correct information. This has been a great leap forward as up until now the current players in the pet chain market have refused to have any information available to customers, other than the information their head office provided. . We intend to continue to communicate with pet shops, otherwise how will we be able to change their opinion towards rabbits and educate rabbit owners?

A Better Deal for Rabbits

The fund also offers grants to pay for humane clinical research. investigating specific health problems. Such work is desperately needed if the understanding of common health problems in rabbits is to improve.

Please note, the RWAF will not sponsor any research that harms rabbits.

Every year, the RWAF runs a campaign, usually around Easter, in order to highlight issues affecting rabbit welfare. In the past these have included:

Rabbit Welfare Fund Annual Conference
As an organisation we have always held an annual get together, but in 2002 we switched the emphasis to make it more informative and invited some world class speakers. The conference was very well received and was attended by vets and vet nurses as well as keen rabbit owners. Since then, the conferences have been bigger and better. For more information about the next conference, keep an eye on our news blog, or contact us.

Veterinary Resident
The RWAF, in partnership with Bristol Zoo, also supports a veterinary resident position at Bristol Vet School. The 'RWF Scholar' is a fully qualified veterinary surgeon (already a knowledgeable rabbit vet) who is gaining additional specific expertise in rabbit and exotic animal medicine. The veterinary resident runs a dedicated Rabbit Clinic at Bristol Veterinary School, seeing rabbits (first opinion as well as referral cases) from South Wales, the south Midlands and the South West of England. The Clinic provides a great service for rabbit owners in the area, but importantly, can also offer advice on managing difficult caases elsewhere in the UK(see our health section). Most importantly of all, the Rabbit Clinic enables hundreds of veterinary students to learn the fundamentals of rabbit medicine from enthusiastic expert rabbit vets. These young vets will be entering practice in the next few years, bringing valuable rabbit knowledge to the profession in the UK and beyond.

None of the above could happen without members' subscriptions and generous donations. But we have to work hard with our fundraisng activities in order to support our work. Some people have carried out fantastic pursuits in their aim to raise money to help rabbits, such as bungy jumping, or leaping out of planes, others simply keep a RWF collecting box at home to stow their loose change. Every effort, no matter how large or small , is vital if we are to continue our important work..

For an update on annual activities, please visit our reports and accounts section.

It is wonderful to know that my membership fees and donations are contributing to an organisation dedicated to promoting the welfare of pet rabbits. There is certainly still a lot of ignorance and mis-information about rabbit care out there, and rabbits most definitely deserve better!
Cathy Maclean, Cambridgeshire Find out more


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Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund - A hutch is not enough...

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