Creating better tomorrows for all pet rabbits

Why rabbit breeding regulations need to change

There is currently a severe lack of legislation for rabbit breeding, and the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund intends to change that

The UK’s leading rabbit welfare organisation, the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund, is demanding changes in legislation to require rabbit breeders to be licensed. They have recently launched a petition asking for a tightening up of the existing legislation relating to the sale of pets to make it a requirement that purchasers know the sex of the animal they are buying – and that the sex of the animal sold is correct. The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund hopes these changes in legislation will improve the lives of rabbits being bred and reduce the number of rabbits being abandoned, dumped, or surrendered to rescue centres.

No requirements

There is currently no legislation for rabbit breeding

The relevant legislation is the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 (the “2018 Regulations”). Under the 2018 Regulations, people who breed three or more litters of puppies in any 12 months or who breed dogs and advertise a business of selling dogs are currently required to be licensed as these are “licensable activities”. The 2018 Regulations, among other things, also make such dog breeders subject to inspections by the local authorities and require them to meet specific standards of care regarding the dogs they are breeding.

“Currently, there is no such legislation relating to rabbit breeding in England”

Rae Walters, Director of the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund, says, “Currently, there is no such legislation relating to rabbit breeding in England. Unless the breeding qualifies as being done in the “course of a business”, anyone is legally allowed to start breeding rabbits and then sell the offspring – which can result in uneducated and inexperienced rabbit owners having multiple litters that they can’t look after or sell-on to responsible pet owners. Incredibly, there is no requirement to correctly sex the rabbits sold, which can lead to more unwanted litters.”

Breeding without a licence

Rescue centers are being overrun with abandoned and mistreated rabbits

Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund is concerned that not all rabbit breeders are licensed due to the lack of rabbit-specific legislation. This means they are not subject to inspections and do not have to meet any standards of care regarding the rabbits they are breeding or breeding from. One result is that babies are being mis-sexed and sold, meaning unsuspecting owners are being faced with accidental litters. This can result in rabbits being dumped and rescue-centres become over-run. In addition, it is known that babies are often sold with no proper home checks done regarding their new homes or care information being provided to prospective owners.

Legally, pet shops must be licensed, ensuring that specific standards are met for the animals they sell. Unfortunately, a licence is unnecessary if a person is breeding and selling rabbits online. This has become a boom area and is causing huge problems. The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund welfare team is currently witnessing an unprecedented rise in abandoned and mistreated rabbits, with an alarming increase in the number of rabbits for sale online.

A breeding amnesty

The Rabbit Welfare Associate is calling for an immediate pause in rabbit breeding

In November 2022, the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund launched its ‘Breeding Amnesty’ campaign, which called for an immediate pause by breeders to stop breeding and for retailers, classified advert sites, and resale sites to stop selling rabbits – as rescue-centres across the UK are struggling to cope with the level of abandoned rabbits.

“The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund welfare team is currently witnessing an unprecedented rise in abandoned and mistreated rabbits”

With the proposed changes in legislation, the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund believes there would be an immediate improvement in the welfare of rabbits being sold and a drop in the number of rabbits being abandoned, dumped, or surrendered to rescue-centres.

The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund and its team of veterinary advisers are calling for Government action to curb this growing rabbit welfare crisis and are urging the UK’s pet lovers to sign this petition and demand action.

What should the legislation be?

The proposed legislation aims to see a significant decrease in animal mistreatment

In essence, the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund is calling for two changes to the current legislation, being the 2018 Regulations: (i) for the breeding of rabbits to be made a licensable activity (as the breeding of dogs currently is); and (ii) amendments to the legislation governing the sales of animals to require purchasers to be told the sex of the animal they are buying, and for the sex of the animals being sold to be correct.

Rae Walters, Director of the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund, continued, “We want the breeding of rabbits also to be made a licensable activity, and we want a Schedule containing specific conditions to be added to offer the protection for rabbits that Schedule 6 gives dogs.”

“I urge all pet lovers to stand with us and sign our petition to improve the welfare of rabbits”

This would mean, among other things, that rabbit breeders would have to be licensed, would be subject to inspections, and it would put some checks in place to ensure that the rabbits used for breeding, and those rabbits that are bred, are:

  • kept in suitable accommodation;
  • given a suitable diet;
  • provided with toys or feeding enrichment (or both); and
  • protected from pain, injury, suffering, and disease.

Legislation like this already exists in Scotland, and the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund would like to see England do the same in the first instance. They want to see this provision tightened up to make it a requirement that purchasers must be told the sex of the animal they are buying and that the sex of animals sold must be correct to prevent, amongst other issues, accidental litter.

Rae Walters, Director of the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund, continued: “Animal welfare legislation is an essential step in decreasing animal suffering, and it gives a legal duty of care to those responsible for animals to house and manage them correctly or at least to a minimum acceptable standard.

“I urge all pet lovers to stand with us and sign our petition to improve the welfare of rabbits.”

To sign the petition visit: https://www.change.org/p/amend-the-animal-welfare-act-2006-to-include-rabbit-breeding-legislation

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