Featured post

Vaccination – please share this message

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please everybody share this poster and message in your emails and on social media, and on any rabbit or pet group you might be on.

Rabbits need vaccination every year to protect them against RVHD2 as well as against Myxomatosis and RVHD1. Unfortunately that can’t be given in one jab. There are two. For Myxi/RVHD1 they need the Nobivac combined jab and then for RVHD2 there is a choice of either Filavac or Eravac. There should be at least 2 weeks between the jabs.

The poster was updated this week and can be downloaded here   https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/campaigns/resources/

We are actually finding that by sharing to general pet groups we are getting the message to new people who weren’t aware.

**RABBIT OWNERS NEED TO KNOW, ALL THESE DISEASES ARE DEADLY**

**ALL THESE DISEASES CAN BE PROTECTED AGAINST**

Full advice is on the RWAF website on vaccinations – https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health/vaccinations/
myxomatosis – https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health/myxomatosis/
RVHD – https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health/rabbit-vhd/
and further reading including biosecurity – https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-health/further-reading/rvhd-further-reading/

Animal Encounters

This photo is from an animal encounter this weekend. Not good is it?

If you go to any attractions or animal encounters this over the Summer please don’t turn a blind eye if you see something you are not happy about. Remember that rabbits kept on display for the general public should be setting good examples of welfare standards, housing and diet. Anyone using animals on display should be licenced by the relevant Local Authority. The licence means they are subject to animal welfare standards. Be polite, but speak up if you see something that needs to be improved, please don’t passively accept low welfare standards. Standards do need to be raised, and owners need to be educated, but breeding baby rabbits and allowing them to be inappropriately handled is not the way to do it. Setting good examples of companionship, housing, and diet are the way to do it. So please, be rabbit ambassadors.

If you see something that concerns you:

– Bring it to the attention of the staff at the time
– Take photos that you can use to document why you were concerned
– Follow it up in writing when you get home with them, and include the local authority that issue their licence
– Sometimes they reply quicker via Facebook or Twitter so that is worth bearing in mind.

If you need help then contact us and our Welfare Officer can assist with the referral on your behalf. In order for us to assist we will need details of the time and place, and photos.

Home Sweet Home – Renting With Your Rabbit

Guest post by Elaine Line

Photo Credit Elaine Line

We know it can be hard to find pet-friendly rental accommodation.

We hear frequently of people having to give up their much loved pets when moving into rented property. This is very distressing for owners and can also place huge burdens on animal rescues who very often have to try and accommodate space for pets when owners are faced with landlord ultimatums and time constraints for rehoming of their pets or the real possibility of having to give up their rental home.

The good news is things are gradually improving and one of the big reasons for this is the introduction of Pet CV’s

A Pet CV can be a great help in providing Landlords with added information and the reassurance they need that you and your rabbits will make great tenants.

The RWAF has put together a brief thoughts list of areas for you to consider together with an online Pet CV Builder which can either be completed on line and exported to PDF or a download version which can be printed and completed manually.

Renting With Rabbits – A Landlord’s View

Photo Credit Elaine Line

Renting property is a risky business.

Landlords rent property to complete strangers and there is no doubt that in some instances landlords have been left with out of pocket expenses as a result of tenants leaving property with serious pet damage.

Landlords also have to adhere strictly to government legislation in regards to rental deposits which can results in very nervous landlords in terms of being able to ensure costs can be recovered for pet damage to property.

However, many landlords are coming around to the idea that not all pets are equal when it comes to potential property damage.

Many landlords are becoming more open to the idea that a well-presented Pet CV can illustrate evidence of a responsible pet owner and reassurance that your pet rabbit is supervised and well behaved.

Considerations Indoor v Outdoor Rabbits

We have detailed below some thought provoking ideas which can be areas of concern for landlords – it’s a great idea to give planning time to these areas and think how you can incorporate solutions and ease your landlord’s concerns. We have detailed a few typical scenarios which may arise together with some possible solution ideas as follows: –

Outdoor Rabbits

Landlord Concern: Rabbit will dig resulting in an unsightly lawn
Reassurance: Rabbits graze area will be rotated and supervised. Have dedicated grazing area with under-grass mesh. Rabbit will be housed on concrete area with grazing box.

Landlord Concern: Rabbit husbandry
Reassurance: Responsible welfare standards will be followed to ensure rabbits are kept in a clean environment.

Landlord Concern: Waste & soiled bedding removal
Reassurance: Give Assurances that all waste will be regularly removed and will not build up. Rabbit area will be kept tidy so as not to attract vermin.

(Check local refuse collection regulations to ensure the council’s Environment Department doesn’t have restrictions, and if they have, what arrangements need to be made)

Indoor rabbits

Landlord Concern: Rabbit will chew timber skirtings and electric cables, strip wallpaper
Reassurance: Rabbit will have restricted supervised play. Timber skirtings, cables and wallpaper will be protected wherever possible.

Landlord Concern: Rabbit hair will transmit to carpets and furniture.
Reassurance: Reassure a quality vacuum regularly used. Rabbit is regularly groomed outdoors to prevent build up. Consider professional carpet clean on leaving property and/or additional deposit to cover carpet clean.

Home Search Under Way?

Photo Credit Elaine Line

Plan ahead and give yourself the time you need to research pet friendly landlords. If possible, build in some flexibility regarding your property type and the area in which you want to live.

Try and adopt a calm and friendly can-do attitude with your landlord and try not to get frustrated if they decline, it is after all their decision but hopefully a well thought-out approach may help you and your landlord work together to look at solutions to initial concerns.

Pet References

A reference from your previous landlord can provide reassurance of your rabbit’s good behaviour and ease of maintenance. Include photographs of your rabbit and accommodation. Your vet may be able to provide an additional reference regarding your rabbit’s general health in that your pet is free from fleas and undergoes regular health checks. Any additional pet references can of course be included with your CV or separately.

Landlord Negotiations?

Photo Credit Elaine Line

Landlords will understandably have concerns regarding damage caused by rabbits kept as pets both indoor and outdoor. Particularly for indoor rabbits, flea infestations and rabbit dander and coat accumulations leading to dirty carpet and possible future tenant allergies will also be a worry for landlords.

Try negotiating a mutually agreeable increased deposit to cover the cost of any damage and offer to pay for a professional house clean when you move out. You may need to consider that some landlords may ask for a non-refundable up front deposit to cover house cleaning.

If you unable to keep your rabbit……….

Always plan and allow yourself plenty of time to plan for the rehoming of your pet.

You will want to do the very best you can to ensure your rabbit’s future welfare. Try and give rescue centres as much notice as possible as most rescues will have a waiting list for rabbits awaiting rehoming.

If you are rehoming your rabbit direct then please ensure you follow welfare guidelines here on our website: –

Rehoming

If you are already in rented accommodation try negotiating with your landlord and show evidence that you are actively seeking to rehome your pet. By doing this your landlord may show empathy and allow you sufficient time to ensure you find your rabbit a suitable home or rescue space.

Now you are ready to create your Rabbit Pet CV – don’t forget to include as much information as you can to promote reassuring responsible pet ownership for your landlord.

This post is also available in Word format, link below

Pet CV Builder

Home Sweet Home

 

Storms and fireworks

Rabbits are prey animals, and often kept outside, and so its worth seeing what you can do to prevent stress, fear and worse occurring as a result of thunder and lightning during storms, as well as fireworks and other loud noises etc. Their behaviour is often to huddle up and get through it, without drawing attention to themselves, rather than the way dogs tend to respond by showing overt fear and excitement, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t scared.

Options to reduce stress may include:

1. Bringing them inside into the house or at least a shed, the thicker and more sound insulated, the better. This may or may not be a possibility, and it may be more dangerous to them to radically change their environmental temperature by bringing them in, and more unsettling to them to change their environment.

2. Providing as much sound deadening insulation as possible, such as lots of straw and hay to burrow into.

3. Providing boxes within their enclosure to hide in, particularly those with more than one exit, to give them the feeling of having escape options

4. Pre-emptively habittuating them to scary noises. However, both summer and winter storms occur, and fireworks may be let off all year round, making this tricky. Starting with low volume noises, reassuring them throughout, and building the volume up MIGHT reduce the eventual stress, but at the cost of some stress during the desensitisation process, which must therefore be gradual, and be kept below the fear threshold throughout.

5. Inhaled anti-stress products. Pet Remedy may be helpful in reducing stress, although more work is needed.

6. Medications to reduce stress may be used on the advice of your vet, should your rabbits respond badly to stressful storms etc.

7. Having companion rabbits to huddle up to, another reason why it is always best to keep rabbits in social groupings.

RWAF Membership

To allow the organisation to be sustainable we are reviewing our income and expenditure to ensure we are as efficient as we can be. One of the outcomes of this is that we will be increasing the cost of membership.
We hate to do this but the last increase was over 7 years ago and so we are sure that everyone will understand that it’s a necessary measure, not least to keep up with the price of inflation and escalating postage costs.
The increase for existing members will be in Spring 2020, but for new members, the increase will start on 1st August this year.
Membership will continue to be fantastic value: 4 copies of the magazine, On The Hop booklets, priceless referral advice from our Specialist Vet to name just a few of the fabulous benefits. We hope that everyone will continue to support rabbits by continuing to support us.
If you’re not a member, why not join before the increase on 1st August?
Thanks!

CAMPAIGN UPDATE Autumn 2019

Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.

Eravac – clearing up the confusion

We wanted to clear up any confusion over the efficacy of Eravac:

Hipra are awaiting the publication of results which prove a 12 month duration of immunity for Eravac

The effectiveness of the vaccine was compared with that of a placebo (dummy) vaccine in three laboratory studies involving 301 rabbits. After vaccination the rabbits were artificially infected with Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease type 2 virus. The studies showed the vaccine to be effective in reducing death. In one study all Eravac vaccinated rabbits survived compared with a 37% survival rate in the group that received the placebo vaccine. In the second study survival of Eravac vaccinated rabbits was 93% compared with 50% for rabbits given placebo. In the third study all Eravac vaccinated rabbits survived compared with less than 70% of the rabbits in the control group, when rabbits were artificially infected with Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease type 2 virus nine months after vaccination.

Secondly, it is important to realise that no vaccine offers 100% protection, and that sensible bio-security measures should also be employed, especially after cases of RVHD2 have been suspected or confirmed in an area, and sadly some of those unprotected rabbits will succumb to the disease, even with a protective dose. We also understand from Hipra that they are awaiting the publication of results which prove a 12 month duration of immunity.

Neutering advice

We have recently updated our neutering advice on our website
Photo credit A Cummings

We have also updated the neutering advice on our website: “Male rabbits can be castrated at any age. If you have taken on young rabbits, it’s best to have them castrated as soon as their testicles descend (10–12 weeks) although take advice from your own vet – some may prefer you to wait a little longer.

“The operation is fairly straightforward and recovery time is quite quick, provided there are no complications. Some vets perform rabbit castrations via the scrotum and some via the abdomen.

“If you have a young male rabbit castrated within a few days of his testicles descending into the scrotum, he won’t have the chance to become fertile and he can remain with a female littermate or companion. If castrated any older, be careful. Male rabbits aren’t sterile immediately after castration (mature sperm may have already left the testicles, and can live a surprisingly long time!). Whilst 90% of sperm die off very quickly, and while the chances of him getting an unspayed sexually mature female pregnant decline dramatically after castration, a period of up to 6 weeks is recommended to be completely safe, although shorter periods may be OK, and obviously allow bonding earlier.

“For females, the spay is a more major operation. Her uterus and ovaries have to be removed via an incision in her abdomen. Females are sterile as soon as they have been spayed, but if they have a male companion, you need to check he is gentle with her until the healing process is well underway. If you think he might mount your female rabbit, keep them apart for a few days, where they can see and smell each other through wire mesh. Does can be spayed from a similar age, but the uterus is very small at this point, and an age of 16-20 weeks is generally preferred. Spaying a rabbit over approximately 9 months can be more challenging due to the amount of fat which surrounds the uterus and its blood supply, and so not leaving it too late is best for her. Waiting till the classic 6 months risks her becoming pregnant, and at least 1 unwanted litter. The physical size of the rabbit is not usually a surgical challenge, but rabbits under 1kg become progressively more difficult to intubate, and so this weight is a useful cut off to await before surgery, where possible (i.e. some rabbits will be barely 1kg at adulthood, in which case there is little to be gained by waiting past 20 weeks)”. Our essentials feature on page 37 focuses on neutering rabbits.

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2

Sensible biosecurity measures should be employed
Photo credit R Sibbald

On the ever topical subject of RVHD2, we are frequently asked about the four month quarantine period that seems to be accepted. This advice did not come from the RWAF but in response to the questions regarding it we have released the following statement. It is not possible for the RWAF to issue blanket advice that covers all situations here as a lot will depend on the biosecurity and vaccination status of individual rescue centres for example. It is up to the rabbit owners to discuss this and agree what is best for them with their own vet. Sensible biosecurity measures should be employed

“Here at the RWAF we are getting a lot of questions about the survival of RVHD1 and 2 in the rabbit and the environment. There are a number of questions to answer, and the conditions in the wild vary, well, wildly. And also it’s good to have some safety margin, but it’s unhelpful to add a safety margin on top of an existing one, at each stage the issue is discussed!

“It’s very important to note that this is one of the few conditions in domestic pets where we have a large reservoir of infection in the wild, maintaining the disease and keeping it in play. This can make the idea of achieving “herd immunity” near impossible, and muddies the waters regarding whether an infection is a new outbreak from the same wild source, or re-infection in a group not given sufficient time for the virus to die away.

“This reference is interesting re survival in the wild population: https:// onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eva.12195, and contains some data relevant to our UK population, including that:

• The virus can survive for nine days in flies
• That whilst theoretically, rabbits who have survived infection can continue to spread it beyond the immediate period (i.e. that at times of stress they can start to shed virus again), in practice they could not make this happen
• The virus spreads at a minimum speed of 15 – 60km/week (too fast to simply be from rabbit to rabbit)
• It can cross 20 – 100km of water via birds or insects
• It can survive over the summer months before flaring up again (note that these are Australian summer months, and therefore much hotter and drier than the UK)
• Viable virus can persist for some months in tissues within a cool burrow (McColl et al. 2002; Henning et al. 2005).

“Another paper is probably the most useful: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ epidemiology-and-infection/article/survival-of-rabbithaemorrhagic-disease-virus-rhdv-in-the-environment /0736D6857EE8B52C073F75989514CDD5.

The results of this study suggest that RVHD in animal tissues such as rabbit carcasses can survive for at least 3 months in the field, while virus exposed directly to environmental conditions, such as dried excreted virus, is viable for a period of less than one month. Survival of RVHD in the tissues of dead animals could, therefore, provide a persistent reservoir of virus, which could initiate new outbreaks of disease after extended delays.

“Another study showed that while viral antigen could be detected for at least 30 days post death in a decomposing liver, infectious RVHD virus survived for only 20 to 26 days (McColl, K; Morrissy, C; Collins, B; and Westbury, H. (2002), Persistence of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease virus in decomposing rabbit carcasses. Australian Veterinary Journal, 80: 298-299. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-0813.2002.tb10848.x).

“The eight month (225 days) figure reflects the longest it is possible for the virus to survive under optimal conditions i.e. held at 4C in a viral nutrient broth. This is a theoretical situation, but the experiment was stopped at 225 days, and so this longevity could be even longer in this situation (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease: an investigation of some properties of the virus and evaluation of an inactivated vaccine (Smid et al Veterinary Microbiology, 26 (1991) 77-85).

“A four month figure has been proposed in the UK and is widely used, probably consisting of three months plus a month for the delay from infection to death, and a safety margin on top”.

Animal Welfare Officer Update January 2019 to June 2019

The last six months have been particularly busy, with a marked increase in complaints and concerns being passed by members of the public to RWAF HQ. These have predominantly been directed to the email address info@rabbitwelfare.co.uk and have related to issues involving not only breeders, but rabbits intended for food and rabbits used in entertainment.

This work has added to the self-generated and referred work on breeder and seller identification that has stemmed from the HINDESIGHT software project.

Given the scale of the issue across the country, reactive work has by necessity had to come to the fore, with proactive work being logistically more problematic, unless issues are identified in areas local to the AWO’s home base. A number of breeders and online traders have been referred to their local authorities and to the tax authorities in this period, as well as further work to identify a geographical pattern for breeders, based on stated and identified locations.
A particular case study in this period involved an individual identified in the Midlands, who is breeding and trading on a massive scale from her home address, she uses Facebook and other platforms to advertise, and breeds and keeps her rabbits in ‘accommodation’ at the rear of her address. The trader has allegedly sold sick rabbits on to members of the public, and reacted in a hostile manner when challenged about this; this information came in the form of a complaint from a concerned buyer, but also was one of those rare occasions when intelligence passed from the public, dovetailed with a proactive enquiry that was already underway into the trader based on her online trading footprint.

She has no license from the local authority to act as a seller of pet animals, so has been referred to them for action, nor does she appear to be declaring her not inconsiderable earnings to HMRC; she has been referred to the relevant authorities on both issues.

HMRC recently undertook a huge non-compliance operation on ‘rogue’ dog breeders who were evading tax on their sizeable earnings, so it is hoped that by consistent reporting and accurate estimation earnings and tax evaded we can start to make them pay attention to the murky world of rabbit breeding.

I have also dealt with two recent complaints involving individuals using pet rabbits for entertainment businesses, an activity which is covered by recent animal welfare legislation; one of the businesses was found to be licensed but there were sufficient concerns about welfare to warrant a referral to the licensing authority but the second had no such license so has been referred to their local authority for further action.

A final recent issue that arose was a little unusual, and involved a concerned member of the public referring a restaurant in SE England that was apparently offering rabbit dishes on the menu, and allowing customers to bring animals with them for slaughter on-site to be consumed in the restaurant. This is obviously of serious concern and the intelligence has been passed to the local environmental health food team for their urgent action.

With regard to breeders and online sellers, the RWAF advise the public that they acquire their rabbits from reputable rescues (adopt don’t shop!).

Sales through online platforms resulting in cash transactions and no receipts mean no recourse in the event of a problem and almost pure profit for unscrupulous traders.

You may remember that I was investigating reports of a beggar on Leicester Square in Central London, who rather than using the traditional dog to attract passers-by, is using rabbits in shopping baskets to entice the crowds and make his money. This is one of my ongoing enquiries and I am hoping to enlist the help of contacts from the local Police Station to identify him and take appropriate action if he can be found.

Additionally, I have identified a trader involved in online fraud involving the sale of ‘status’ and ‘in-demand’ puppies and monkeys, which do not exist and appear to have led to the loss of considerable sums by unsuspecting members of the public, this is another rare incidence where my suspicions and enquiries were borne out by a contact to the Dogs Trust by the National Fraud Investigation Bureau indicating that they were looking at the same individuals linked to the fraud from a different angle.

As an aside, and in a marked deviation from the world of rabbits, during my enquiries I have also identified an international seller of counterfeit watches, the modus operandi and location for which has been passed to the local police and international intellectual property protection bodies.

Statistics for six month period – Winter 2018 to Spring 2019

In the last six months I have looked at the following:

• Eight non-rabbit online traders linked to sales of puppies and monkeys, who are in fact the same fraudulent enterprise

• 271 rabbit breeders located all over the UK, but in the main in England and Wales; of these I have started formal investigations into 11 traders of which four have been completed and referred to the relevant tax and local/international authorities, and seven remain ongoing.

Summary

This has been a very busy six months, and even as I type a further two reactive complaints have arrived today from Head Office; there is no indication that the pace of complaints will slow down, and even where it does as I identify and pursue online traders with the help of the HIDNESIGHT software, new ones crop up on an almost daily basis to take their place.

Whilst these issues are by no means restricted to the rabbit trade, my investigations have shown that the problem in that area remains huge, and whilst the rewards to be made from breeding and online sales remain relatively high, with low outlay and upkeep and even lower chances of sanctions from the austerity-hit authorities, the problem is only likely to become worse.

Mark Dron, RWAF Animal Welfare Officer

Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease 2

Sensible biosecurity measures should be employed
Photo credit R Sibbald

On the ever topical subject of RVHD2, we are frequently asked about the four month quarantine period that seems to be accepted. This advice did not come from the RWAF but in response to the questions regarding it we have released the following statement. It is not possible for the RWAF to issue blanket advice that covers all situations here as a lot will depend on the biosecurity and vaccination status of individual rescue centres for example. It is up to the rabbit owners to discuss this and agree what is best for them with their own vet. Sensible biosecurity measures should be employed

“Here at the RWAF we are getting a lot of questions about the survival of RVHD1 and 2 in the rabbit and the environment. There are a number of questions to answer, and the conditions in the wild vary, well, wildly. And also it’s good to have some safety margin, but it’s unhelpful to add a safety margin on top of an existing one, at each stage the issue is discussed!

“It’s very important to note that this is one of the few conditions in domestic pets where we have a large reservoir of infection in the wild, maintaining the disease and keeping it in play. This can make the idea of achieving “herd immunity” near impossible, and muddies the waters regarding whether an infection is a new outbreak from the same wild source, or re-infection in a group not given sufficient time for the virus to die away.

“This reference is interesting re survival in the wild population: https:// onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eva.12195, and contains some data relevant to our UK population, including that:

• The virus can survive for nine days in flies
• That whilst theoretically, rabbits who have survived infection can continue to spread it beyond the immediate period (i.e. that at times of stress they can start to shed virus again), in practice they could not make this happen
• The virus spreads at a minimum speed of 15 – 60km/week (too fast to simply be from rabbit to rabbit)
• It can cross 20 – 100km of water via birds or insects
• It can survive over the summer months before flaring up again (note that these are Australian summer months, and therefore much hotter and drier than the UK)
• Viable virus can persist for some months in tissues within a cool burrow (McColl et al. 2002; Henning et al. 2005).

“Another paper is probably the most useful: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ epidemiology-and-infection/article/survival-of-rabbithaemorrhagic-disease-virus-rhdv-in-the-environment /0736D6857EE8B52C073F75989514CDD5.

The results of this study suggest that RVHD in animal tissues such as rabbit carcasses can survive for at least 3 months in the field, while virus exposed directly to environmental conditions, such as dried excreted virus, is viable for a period of less than one month. Survival of RVHD in the tissues of dead animals could, therefore, provide a persistent reservoir of virus, which could initiate new outbreaks of disease after extended delays.

“Another study showed that while viral antigen could be detected for at least 30 days post death in a decomposing liver, infectious RVHD virus survived for only 20 to 26 days (McColl, K; Morrissy, C; Collins, B; and Westbury, H. (2002), Persistence of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease virus in decomposing rabbit carcasses. Australian Veterinary Journal, 80: 298-299. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-0813.2002.tb10848.x).

“The eight month (225 days) figure reflects the longest it is possible for the virus to survive under optimal conditions i.e. held at 4C in a viral nutrient broth. This is a theoretical situation, but the experiment was stopped at 225 days, and so this longevity could be even longer in this situation (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease: an investigation of some properties of the virus and evaluation of an inactivated vaccine (Smid et al Veterinary Microbiology, 26 (1991) 77-85).

“A four month figure has been proposed in the UK and is widely used, probably consisting of three months plus a month for the delay from infection to death, and a safety margin on top”.

RVHD2 vaccine failures

“We here at the RWAF are aware of a number of posts regarding cases of RVHD2 following vaccination, and, whilst new information is constantly being obtained and updated, we wanted to make a statement.

Firstly, it is REALLY important to obtain that information, and to make sure it is being reported properly, to the correct authorities, and with as much detail as possible. Only then can accurate data be obtained and decisions made. Its possible to hear of the same case from multiple sources and forums, and equally, to not hear about some rabbits at all. So we do urge people to ask their vet to report any concerns about vaccine side effects or failure (or any drug adverse reaction) to both the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, and to the drug/vaccine company directly. Reporting it to the company as well means that they can act more quickly, and may be able to offer advice and assistance. So far, both the VMD and Filavac have monitored the situation and not found higher than expected numbers of vaccine failures.

Secondly, it is important to realise that no vaccine offers 100% protection, and that sensible biosecurity measures should also be employed, especially after cases of RVHD2 have been suspected or confirmed in an area. And sadly some of those unprotected rabbits will succumb to the disease, even with a protective dose value of 90% for Filavac and sufficient antibody titre of ≥70% for Eravac.
Currently only about 14% of UK domestic rabbits are vaccinated against RVHD2, and that means that the level of protection in the community, or “herd immunity” is poor, making spread of the disease rapid and easy for the virus.Most rabbits (85%) have been vaccinated using Filavac, and so most vaccine failures reported online have been associated with this vaccine.

While we are aware that vaccine failures have been reported, we would urge owners not to stop vaccinating their rabbits, as the current vaccines are the best level of protection we have available. Please continue to report any problems, via your vets, to the VMD and the vaccine manufacturers.

Richard Saunders BVSc DZooMed MRCVS European Veterinary Specialist in Zoo Health Management

RWAF Vet Specialist Adviser

Campaign Update Summer 2019

Welcome to another Campaign Update, keeping you informed of our constant fight to make things better for bunnies.

Animal Welfare Officer Update July 2018 to January 2019

Following on from the Spring 2018 decision by Pets Corner to finance the Animal Welfare Officer (AWO) initiative for another year, this has been a very busy six months.

Given the scale of the issue across the country, reactive work has come to the fore, with proactive work being logistically more problematic, unless issues are identified in areas local to the AWO’s home base.

This has been a busy period with a steady input of reactive work to keep me occupied, some from concerned RWAF members and staff and some from members of the public, but as ever the lion’s share of the raw data has come from the Hindesight net monitoring software, which provides me with details of prolific advertisers and breeders using an array of internet sales platforms. As with any investigation utilising raw data, many of these fall at the early stages, but some are capable of being developed in to actionable intelligence referrals for enforcement authorities.

I have also been involved in contributing to various UK Government consultations regarding animal welfare, and completed a useful course relating to animal viruses with a view to better understanding the risks posed by RVHD2 etc. in the rabbit breeding community.

Much has been achieved in the last 12 months by the Animal Welfare Officer

In my last report I summarised enquiries relating to an individual based in London, who is known to the RWAF and other rabbit welfare groups for some pretty strange ideas about how to raise and care for rabbits. This individual has been using a website and PayPal to raise money using tactics and ‘borrowed’ slogans and phrases that might convince those prepared to donate that they were making a contribution to bona-fide rabbit charities, while this individual had been barred by the Charity Commission back in the early 2000s. The issue has worsened in the last few months and after further enquiries based on new intelligence, a full fraud crime complaint has been completed and passed the individual’s local Police Service via the Action Fraud route, for their action.

A number of breeders and online traders have been successfully referred to their local authorities and to the tax authorities in this period, as well as further work to identify a geographical pattern for breeders, based on stated and identified locations.

A particular case study in this period involved an individual identified in a small riverside town in Essex, who is breeding and trading on a massive scale from her home address. She uses Facebook and other platforms to advertise, and breeds and keeps her rabbits in a converted outbuilding at the rear of her terraced home. She has diversified from breeding and selling rabbits to also selling accessories ranging from feed to straw and toys. Having been identified and visited to confirm the information, it was clear that her set-up was both professional and sizeable, bringing in estimated revenues that would certainly put her on the radar of HMRC.

Sadly, when she was reported to the local authority they stated that they had visited her and since she was only selling rabbits bred from her own pets as a ‘hobby’, she was not covered by pet shop licensing legislation, and they therefore declined to take the matter any further.

As such, following the guidelines of the Capone Campaign she was referred to the Tax Authorities and it will be for her to indicate how her ‘hobby’ income impacts on what she declares on her tax returns.

I also identified an individual in rural Kent who claims to be a hobby breeder, yet has a massive web presence as a breeder and seller not only of rabbits but also hutches, food, toys and other rabbit accessories, on a scale that has led to her having to open her own premises on a trading estate to sell and display her stock.

This is clearly more than a hobby, and a matter that has been referred to the trader’s local authority regarding her lack of a pet shop licence as well as to HMRC regarding her income.

Many rabbits are placed on the market already ill

In August, I received anonymous intelligence that a premises near Peterborough was involved in breeding rabbits for online and pet shop sale, in atrocious conditions, many of which had died of disease and starvation, and were being placed on the market in a diseased state. The informant was very worried that they and their partner might be identifiable from the intelligence, since they were very close to the people involved. This fact led to them only providing skeletal intelligence of a building description and a rough village location, with one extra piece of information leading to a cul-de-sac. After several hours of street view mapping analysis, I was able to provide local authorities with two potential locations, supported by the very brief intelligence provided, and a request that they follow up the matter through their wildlife crime partnerships.

RWAF advise the public that they only purchase their rabbits and other animals from reputable rescue centres. Sales through online platforms resulting in cash transactions and no receipts mean no recourse for in the event of a problem and almost pure profit for unscrupulous traders.

Other unusual issues reported or identified in this period have been reports of a beggar in Leicester Square, Central London, who rather than using the traditional dog to attract passers-by, is using rabbits in shopping baskets to entice the crowds and make his money. This is being looked at with contacts from the local Police Station.

Additionally, I have identified seven traders involved in the online trade of illicit items ranging from products derived from endangered species to counterfeit software, toys and DVDs. These traders have all been referred to the appropriate enforcement agencies, as has a suspected drug factory identified during a rural observation visit in Kent.

One final point of interest was my ongoing work relating to a ‘homeopathic’ rabbit remedy manufacturer and seller, reported by head office. Having confirmed that medicinal claims were being made particularly in relation to RVHD2, this individual was traced to a business premises and has been referred to the Veterinary Medicines enforcement organisation for further action.

Mark Dron – Animal Welfare Officer

Unhealthy ‘rabbit treats’

We have been contacted by a concerned member who found ‘rabbit treats’ for sale and contacted us. Our Specialist Veterinary Adviser, Richard Saunders has written as follows to the manufacturer Happy Pets and the retailer which has already withdrawn them from sale.

‘We are writing to you to express concerns regarding a number of products sold in your stores, with regard to the ingredients of fruit, yogurt and, particularly, chocolate. (eg the Critters’ choice chocolate drops). It’s worth noting that rabbits have both very low requirements for simple carbohydrates, and can develop potentially life threatening caecal dysbiosis if they ingest too much sugar, but that they do select sweet food items. Selling these is therefore a rather cynical case of feeding something that is popular with the animal, but very much not good for it. In a risk:benefit analysis there would appear to be no benefit whatsoever to feeding such items, and a potential risk of severe and expensive GI stasis, and potentially even death.

However, chocolate has far greater potential to cause health issues in rabbits, as it contains the alkaloid theobromine which can cause diarrhoea and death by heart failure in a number of species, notably dogs, but also rabbits. It is proving rather difficult to obtain a nutritional breakdown of this brand, but if this contains theobromine, it is quite a risk selling a product with a known toxin to a susceptible species and we would strongly recommend that you discontinue stocking it as soon as possible. A similar risk:benefit analysis clearly identifies no benefit and a very significant and well known risk of death, which would be indefensible should such morbidity or mortality result.’

Richard Saunders BVSc DZooMed MRCVS European Veterinary Specialist in Zoo Health Management

Clothes, harnesses and pushchairs!

Here at RWAF we are often asked our opinion on things like harnesses, clothes for rabbits and this week taking rabbits out in pushchairs!

It is impossible to cover every eventuality that owners might think up for their pet rabbits, but to try and cover as many as possible we would say that rabbits should be neutered and vaccinated, fed a hay based diet, and kept in compatible pairs and with 24/7 access to a large safe exercise area with a shelter. We recommend a minimum area of 3mx 2m x 2m high for two average sized rabbits, regardless of them being kept inside or outside. Supervised free range time in a safe garden or bunny proofed areas of the house are good in addition to this but should not be instead of.

There is no benefit at all to a rabbit, as a prey animal, to be dressed up in clothes, to wear a harness, to be pushed in a push chair, or taken on an unnecessary car ride at all, in fact they can be detrimental to their welfare by causing them stress, so we do not approve of these things.