Creating better tomorrows for all pet rabbits

2023 Round Up

There are many reasons rabbits are amongst the most neglected of pets and so much work to do to improve their welfare. As we say goodbye to 2023 and welcome 2024, we thought it would be helpful to share with you what we think are the main problems and how we’re trying to help.

We are a very small organisation, and to make the best use of our limited resources, we need to focus on areas where we can make a real change. Our work in education, campaigning and lobbying supports the amazing and difficult work done by rescue shelters.

Many of you will know these important facts already, but they are worth confirming:

  • An estimated 1.5 million rabbits are kept as pets in the UK, a jump from 1 million since last year. Many new owners have no experience with the needs of the species. Rabbits are commonly misunderstood and thought of as cheap and easy children’s pets.
    • If looked after correctly, pet rabbits should live between 10-12 years. They are a big commitment!
    • Rabbits are hugely misunderstood, and a huge proportion are kept alone, with inadequate housing, a poor diet, and a lack of vet care.
    • Most housing sold for rabbits is unsuitable.
    • Incorrect care advice is frequently given to owners.
    • There is no legislation to protect against rabbits being mis-sexed at sale. This, along with the huge increase in new rabbit owners, has resulted in a massive increase in accidental litters.
    • Female rabbits can become pregnant immediately after giving birth. Around 1 in 3 rabbit owners were not aware of this.
    • Lockdown resulted in a surge of unregulated rabbit breeding and sales.
    • There has been a boom in internet sales. These are mostly unregulated, and little or no welfare advice is given to buyers.
    • With the exception of Scotland, there is a lack of licensing for breeders in the UK.
    • Much of the above, combined with the cost-of-living crisis, means that there is an abandonment crisis going on right now. Before Covid, at least 67,000 rabbits a year ended up in rescue. This is now thought to be nearly 100,000. Rescues are reporting a huge increase in rabbits being dumped on their doorsteps. Many simply cannot cope.
    • Rabbits are also rehomed online, increasing the overall number of abandonments, which is thought to be the worst in over 25 years.
    • As well as being kept in people’s homes and gardens. Rabbits can be found at places such as farm parks, petting zoos and agricultural shows. Welfare standards are often inadequate in these locations, which means the animals suffer and also sets a bad example to the visiting public.
NFS Show 2023

Rescue crisis

We launched an urgent appeal for people to support our breeding amnesty and sign our petition to demand government action to make rabbit breeders require the same licensing as dog breeders.

Rabbit Welfare Crisis Breeding Amnesty

Anyone is legally allowed to breed and sell rabbits. This results in uneducated and inexperienced rabbit owners having multiple litters which they can’t look after and are too many to sell to responsible pet owners.

Rabbit breeders are not inspected or required to meet any minimum standards. Babies are mis-sexed and sold with no proper checks or care information. Unsuspecting owners are faced with accidental litters, which results in rabbits being dumped in the wild for a gruesome death and rescue centres being overrun.

We believe that a change in legislation would mean an immediate improvement in the welfare of rabbits being sold and a subsequent drop in the number of rabbits being abandoned or dumped.

Our breeding amnesty campaign calls for:

  • An immediate pause in the breeding of rabbits.
  • Retailers to stop selling rabbits.
  • Classified sites to stop allowing adverts for baby rabbits.
  • Members of the public to support rescue and “adopt don’t shop”.

We had a great deal of support for the amnesty. The RSPCA, Blue Cross, Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare, Wood Green Pets Charity and Burgess Pet Care were all behind it. It was also supported by Gumtree and Preloved who both suspended adverts for new baby rabbits over the Easter 23 period. This was a great start to the campaign and something we will build on for 2024.

Educating and supporting rabbit owners is key to improving welfare

Our website is a fantastic resource for both existing and potential rabbit owners. We get around 40,000 unique visitors every month and work hard to make sure that the information is up to date, accessible and covers all of the essentials.

Our free helpline is open to everyone, from rabbit owners, to concerned neighbours alike. In 2023 the helpline received around 2,000 phone calls.

YouTube is hugely popular, but we know that it is full of inaccurate information. We have spent time identifying many of the most popular rabbit-related channels and have been leaving comments and links to steer people towards the right information on our website.

Farm parks, petting zoos and animal encounters.

In our experience, the majority of these places do not care for their rabbits properly, and often allow handling sessions for children which is extremely stressful for the rabbits. We have written to every farm park, petting zoo and animal encounter in England to share the updated ‘Codes’ and try and make changes.

We have had some great feedback from this, with some asking for more information, asking us to give lectures, and send On the Hop booklets for visitors.

We’ll continue to work at this.

Agricultural shows and rabbit shows.

It’s no secret that we have concerns over traditional rabbit shows, and we know that huge agricultural shows which have hundreds of thousands of visitors maximise the cruelty involved and send all the wrong messages to the public. This year three of the largest shows in England broke with tradition and did not include a typical rabbit show. Instead, we were invited to attend two of the shows and educated the visitors. The feedback from this was fantastic and almost everyone was fully supportive of this progress.

Attending these shows costs us a great deal and it’s hard work, but it’s well worth it to showcase rabbits in accommodation that suits their needs and to promote rescue. Our huge thanks to Burgess for supporting this with a Runaround warren system and Acorn and Angel rescues.

We are keeping the pressure on Defra and the shows themselves to mandate that the Animal Welfare Act is applied to them. We hope that more shows take note in 2024.

TV and Media

For the first time ever we used a PR company to promote our campaigns and as a result we had a really busy year which included an appearance on national breakfast TV, Closer magazine, radio interviews, and 90 online pieces. It came at a cost but the coverage figures were huge – an estimated 6.8 million views! This was great for spreading our messages and getting support for the breeding amnesty and petition. We’d love to keep the momentum going on this, but sadly we don’t have the funds to continue at the moment.

We also responded to some really terrible examples of rabbit welfare on TV, such as the shows ‘Sort Your Life Out’ and ‘Afraid of the Dark’. We challenged the TV Production companies to do better. This is still very much a work in progress.

Unlicensed breeders

For the last seven years we have had the benefit of the brilliance of Mark, our Welfare Officer, who investigated and reported unlicensed breeders.

Unfortunately, despite providing local authorities with a comprehensive dossier of evidence each time, we can probably count on one hand the number of breeders that have been investigated and licensed as a result. This is usually because the local authority doesn’t think that the breeder falls into this category due to not meeting a ‘business test’, even though we can prove categorically that they do. This is another example of the system not working and why we want all breeders and sellers to be licensed.

You can read more about this on our petition.

Not all vets are rabbit savvy

Because of their complex care needs, rabbits are classed as exotic pets, which is a surprise to many owners. Whilst in training, vets spend a worryingly little amount of time learning about rabbits. This does vary between vet schools, but to become rabbit savvy means the vet has to go out of their way to do more training and continual professional development (CPD) on rabbits.

We have a rabbit-friendly vet list on our website, and a big part of our resources are dedicated to keeping the list online and up to date.

Recommended Rabbit-Friendly Vets

In 2023, we ran CPD courses free of charge and hosted three webinars on The Webinar Vet. This was at a cost to us of around £9000, but we had almost 3000 views in over 65 countries! This will make a difference in many practices and improve the outcomes for many pet rabbits.

We also help vets by guiding them in best practices and writing clinical policies. The website has a section dedicated to vets and vet nurses with useful resources available.

Lack of enforcement

Local authorities are supposed to enforce the legislation that exists to protect rabbits. We report many cases a year where, for example, a farm park has poor welfare. Sadly, the results are usually disappointing. Local authorities have limited resources, and priorities mean they do not enforce the legislation. Different authorities can also have very different approaches, which we think should be standardised.

In 2024, we aim to produce a pack for anyone who works with rabbits so they can see which legislation applies to them. This will provide clarity and should help with enforcement.

Bracheycephalic (flat faced) breeds

This is a huge area of concern because Brachy rabbits suffer many health problems. We are working with other organisations to try and make a change here, but it is a long, hard process. Internally, we have stopped using any images of Brachy breeds on our website, magazine and marketing because we need to stop normalising these breeds and the health problems they suffer from.

Sponsor a Rescue

For well over a decade now we have been supporting the brilliant work of rescues and fundraising for them. To date we have raised over £40,000 which has been shared out to rescues.

Retailers

As well as encouraging retailers to sign up to the breeding amnesty, we have contacted several on line retailers with a review of the products they sell, highlighting our concerns and encouraging them to review what they offer for sale. We will keep the pressure up in 2024.

What can you do?

We have made great progress this year, but there is so much more we know we can do.

We don’t like to ask, but we only exist because of donations. Just the basics – hosting and maintaining the website, managing the rabbit-friendly vet list and running the helpline are big overheads, and we want to do so much more. You can donate as a one-off or set up an annual donation.

You could also consider us as one of your chosen charities in your will. There is more information and other ideas for fundraising on our website.

It would really help if you could sign and share our petition and even write to your MP and ask them to support it.

Please share our social media posts with your friends and followers. Links to all of the platforms are on our website.

Subscribe to Rabbiting On! You will be adding your voice to ours and helping us remain the largest organisation dedicated to rabbit welfare in the UK.

If you see something that does not look right at a farm park or anywhere rabbits are kept, please complain to the business themselves and to the local authority.

Thank you so much for your support; we couldn’t exist without you!

Join us today!

Love rabbits? You will love our Rabbiting On magazine.

Be part of something bigger that’s making a difference nationwide.

Join us today!

Love rabbits? You will love our Rabbiting On magazine.

Subscribe to Rabbiting On to be part of something bigger that’s making a difference nationwide.

Subscribe to RabbitingOn

Love rabbits? You will love our Rabbiting On magazine.

Subscribe to Rabbiting On to be part of something bigger that’s making a difference nationwide.

Subscribe to RabbitingOn

Love rabbits? You will love our Rabbiting On magazine.

Subscribe to Rabbiting On to be part of something bigger that’s making a difference nationwide.

Subscribe to RabbitingOn

Love rabbits? You will love our Rabbiting On magazine.

Subscribe to Rabbiting On to be part of something bigger that’s making a difference nationwide.

Subscribe to RabbitingOn
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