Creating better tomorrows for all pet rabbits

A Vision for Rabbit Welfare

The organisations listed on the front and inside cover endorse this vision for how rabbits should be bred, kept and cared for in the UK.
To achieve this vision, we believe it is necessary for each of the following conditions to be met:

All rabbits have access to an appropriate diet known to optimise animal health and minimise the risk of disease. This includes continual access to good-quality fibre-based material (e.g. hay or fresh grass) and fresh, clean water.

All rabbits live in an environment that 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 of their enclosure).

RWAF Rabbit Welfare Strategy Document
Download the Rabbit Welfare Strategy document

All rabbits are sold or rehomed to be kept in compatible pairs or groups.

All rabbits are bred, reared and kept in a way known to maximise their chances of being healthy and minimise their chances of developing a fear of handling and other stimuli.

All rabbits are given regular preventive health care as recommended by veterinary experts, e.g. vaccinated against myxomatosis and RVHD 1 and 2 (according to current vaccine licence recommendations), treated for internal and external parasites and neutered unless specifically required for breeding.

All rabbits are given appropriate and timely veterinary treatment to protect them from pain, disease and suffering.

All those working with rabbits (including vets, retailers, breeders, and rehoming organisations) undertake effective training programmes and have resources available 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 profession offers up-to-date expertise in the recognition, management and prevention of disease and practices to promote good welfare.

The number of rabbits relinquished, and thus requiring rehoming (both privately and via rescue organisations), is minimised.

1 be healthy, and must also be psychologically fulfilled.

Find your local Rabbit Rescue

Rabbits are the third most popular mammalian pet in the UK. However, they are also commonly believed to be one of the most neglected species, with owner knowledge about how to meet their welfare needs lagging behind that of dogs and cats (PDSA, 2011; Wensley et al., 2021). To have high welfare, a rabbit must be healthy and must also be psychologically fulfilled.

In May 2024, we launched the Rabbit Welfare Strategy, a collaborative project between several organisations with the long-term aim of improving rabbit welfare in many areas.

As research and knowledge about rabbit welfare is increasing, it is vital to adopt a coordinated approach with all key stakeholders (those organisations and representatives of groups with an interest in rabbits) working together to promote positive welfare. Therefore, below, we describe a long-term strategy devised by the Rabbit Welfare Group (RWG), including representatives of rabbit fanciers, the pet industry, academia, the veterinary community, rabbit-specific and general animal welfare charities, and rehoming organisations.

The strategy is agreed by the supporters (listed on the inside cover), as a viable way to address current issues and maximise improvement in rabbit welfare in the future.

The strategy aims to achieve the following:

  • Improve rabbit welfare by considering each of the five welfare needs;
  • Use current evidence-based information where it exists and current consensus expert opinion where it does not;
  • Define and promote good practice through education and information dissemination;
  • Encourage owners and potential owners to acquire up-to-date knowledge on optimal rabbit care in order to best meet their rabbits’ welfare needs;
  • Work with the retail trade to encourage the sale of welfare-compatible products, promote and improve the training of staff and provide optimal advice to customers on how best to meet their rabbits’ needs (in line with Licensing of Activities involving Animals (2018) legislation);
  • Work with breeders and sellers to best prepare rabbits for a happy, healthy life as a companion animal;
  • Promote research where knowledge gaps exist and encourage the sharing of new knowledge and data, which could lead to improvements in rabbit welfare;
  • Work collaboratively to overcome specific emerging welfare problems, e.g. unregulated online sales of rabbits;
  • Encourage the development of appropriate secondary legislation, including Codes of Practice;

To achieve these aims, the strategy has identified ten strands or priority areas. The first six priorities address the five welfare needs and seek to derive evidence-based good practice:

  1. Define and promote good housing and husbandry
    Det1. Define and promote good housing and husbandry
  2. Determine and promote optimal dietary advice
  3. Describe welfare-compatible social living for rabbits – reducing the number of rabbits living solitarily
  4. Examine and promote best practice for breeding and rearing rabbits well suited to life as a companion
  5. Highlight ways to reduce preventable disease in rabbits
  6. Promote timely and optimal treatment to rabbits with compromised health or welfare. Whilst the remaining four priorities seek to maximise implementation and welfare improvement
  7. Develop guidelines for good practice for those with an interest in rabbits
  8. Review skills and training for those working with rabbits
  9. Seek to balance supply and demand to reduce the number of unwanted rabbits
  10. Set up systems to regularly monitor health and welfare
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