14 March 2016
Vets cite inappropriate diet, loneliness and unsuitable housing as the main health and welfare problems faced by rabbits
As the Easter Bunny hops onto the horizon, findings from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) reveal that at least one in five vets have serious concerns about the health and welfare of pet rabbits in the UK.
Rabbits are often considered a good first pet for children and, with the warmer weather and school Easter holidays, many parents may see this as an ideal time to add a rabbit to the family. Yet there are many common misconceptions about how ‘easy' rabbits are to care for, with vets citing inappropriate diet, loneliness and unsuitable housing as the main health and welfare problems. Loneliness is a particular issue, with a recent report by veterinary charity PDSA showing that over half of owners (57%) keep a rabbit on its own, despite them being highly sociable animals.
This Easter, BVA and other leading veterinary organisations, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS), are offering would-be or current rabbit owners some top tips on how to best care for their pets.
Sean Wensley, President of BVA, said:
“The concerning rabbit welfare problems that vets see in daily practice prompt some of them to think that the public should actually be discouraged from owning rabbits, especially if they are being acquired as a child's or as an ‘easy' pet to keep. Like most vets working in companion animal practices, I have seen some terrible cases, for example, where simply feeding too little hay and grass to rabbits has resulted in dental ‘spikes' growing on their teeth that cut in to their cheek and tongue. This is all too common and BVA would always recommend anyone thinking of getting pet rabbits to do their research and speak to their local vet first to find out about their pet's welfare needs.”
Easter Bunny myth busters:
- The Easter Bunny would never choose to be on his own as rabbits love company, needing at least one other rabbit to be a happy bunny. The best combination is a neutered male and neutered female.
- Although he delivers chocolate eggs, the Easter Bunny would definitely never eat them. Rabbits need fibre based plain diets, with plenty of clean hay, grass and leafy greens such as broccoli, cabbage and kale - not lettuce or rabbit “muesli” otherwise serious teeth and stomach problems can develop. Changing a rabbit's diet should also be done gradually to avoid dangerous digestive problems.
- The Easter Bunny is often shown wearing a jacket, but real rabbits' living environment should be what keeps them warm enough and safe. Their home should be large enough for them to move around freely, waterproof and draught-proof, have plenty of clean, dry bedding and a big attached exercise run that enables them run rather than just hop.
- The Easter Bunny would definitely enjoy an Easter Egg hunt. Although rabbits should never eat chocolate, they are inquisitive, playful animals who need plenty of opportunities to dig, forage and explore.
- The Easter Bunny is happy and healthy, and the same should go for all rabbits. Pet rabbits should be checked every day for any signs of illness or injury and taken to the vet if there are any concerns.
- The Easter Bunny never seems to get any older, but to stay in tip-top condition for next Easter, your rabbits needs regular health checks and vaccinations at the vets, just like cats and dogs.
Owners looking for more information on how to care for rabbits should contact their local vet who will be able to offer the best advice for their pet. They can also visit our rabbit welfare page.