Mind matters study

Better perception=better welfare

A fascinating study has been carried out by Sarah McMahon, a Final Year Veterinary Medicine and Surgery Student doing an MSc in Animal Welfare and Behaviour. Most pet rabbit studies are about the animals themselves but Sarah’s study is different; it’s about humans. It’s about rabbit owners and how their perception of rabbits as a species has a huge impact on how they keep them as pets. Sarah’s study is published here and Sarah has written a very incisive summary for the RWAF website.

The main takeaway from the study is so simple it seems obvious:

The more that owners understand rabbits as a species, the more likely they are to give their rabbits what they need to lead happy, healthy and enriched lives.

People whose only experience of pet rabbits is a rabbit sitting motionless in the corner of a hutch think rabbits are boring and don’t do anything. They therefore don’t bother giving their rabbits the space or opportunity to do anything different. However, people who have seen rabbits exploring a large enclosure, foraging for food and jumping for joy have a much more positive perception of rabbits and are much more likely to provide an environment that allows their rabbits to enjoy these activities.

Why ‘the science bit’ is so important

We have always known that the majority of neglect and abuse suffered by pet rabbits is because of the lack of knowledge on the part of their owners. Rabbits are often seen as cheap and easy children’s pets that are happy to live alone in a hutch with little or no space to exercise. As we know, these are misconceptions. The truth is that rabbits are intelligent, sociable creatures with complex welfare needs.

A lot of this will be common sense to people who understand rabbits but studies like Sarah’s are hugely important because they reinforce our messages about health and welfare and help shape the way we try and get those messages out to the people that need to hear them.

Taking the information and running, hopping and jumping with it

Most of what the RWAF does is education. We try to raise awareness of rabbits’ welfare needs so that owners, policy-makers and anyone thinking of taking on rabbits as pets understand what they need to live the lives they deserve and prevent the casual cruelty that they all too commonly face.

We will be bringing the learnings from the study into our various communication channels, particularly social media which allows us to get to people we really need to reach – people who often would not hear of us otherwise.

We’ll be looking to increase people’s perception of rabbits so we can affect a better understanding and better welfare as a result. We will be trying show people that rabbits are intelligent and sociable, that they feel pain, that they can display joy.

So look out for images and videos of rabbits binkying, buddying up with their partners, doing tricks and anything else that shows what curious delightful creatures they are. As with all the material we put out into the world, if you see it, please share it as widely as possible.

Let’s make people… aware of the rabbits!