A vision for the future of rabbit welfare

For the first time animal welfare organisations, welfare scientists, breeders, the pet industry and the veterinary profession* have come together to agree on a vision for improving rabbit welfare.

The ten-point vision is based on the recommendations from an RSPCA-commissioned University of Bristol study into rabbit welfare in the UK, which concluded that the welfare needs of many companion rabbits are not currently being met.

It includes, for example, the vision that all rabbits sold or rehomed are to be kept in compatible pairs or groups and that all rabbits should live in an environment which meets their physical, social and behavioural needs.

The next stage will be to develop a roadmap to achieve the vision.

Dr Jane Tyson, rabbit behaviour and welfare expert at the RSPCA said: “We are really excited that stakeholders in animal welfare, the pet industry, breeders and the veterinary profession have been able to come together to share this vision.

“We share a common goal which is improving the lives of rabbits – one of Britain’s most popular pets, but also arguably one of the most misunderstood.”

Nigel Baker, chief executive of the Pet Industry Federation, said: “The aim of the strategy is to create a momentum with which to improve the welfare of rabbits through those involved in the breeding, care and trade of rabbits, as well as rabbit owners.

“Industry has an essential role to play so we were keen to be part of this project. The vision provides the overarching aspirations of the strategy.

“Our next challenge is to tackle the detail of the strategy and then to involve a wider audience in bringing the strategy into operation.”

Dr Nicola Rooney, research fellow at the University of Bristol, said: "We are very excited to have a vision for rabbit welfare that is strongly rooted in evidence-based information. There is a growing body of scientific understanding on how best to meet rabbits' health and behavioural needs, and we're delighted that everyone has joined forces to take this on board."

The Rabbit Welfare Vision Statement states that:

1.     All companion rabbits enjoy a good life in which they can experience positive welfare (i.e. good physical and psychological  health) as well as being protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

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

3.     All rabbits live in an environment which 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).

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

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

6.     All rabbits are given regular preventative health care as recommended by veterinary experts, e.g. vaccinated against myxomatosis and RHD (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease: a virulent and fatal viral disease of rabbits) (according to current vaccine licence recommendations).

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

8.     All those working with rabbits (including vets, retailers, breeders, rehoming organisations) undertake effective training programmes and have resources available to them on current good practice in housing and husbandry, the promotion of health and welfare, and the management of disease and welfare risks.

9.     All rabbit health and welfare advice and recommendations are based on international scientific knowledge and professional experience. The veterinary professions offers up-to-date expertise in recognition, management and prevention of disease and in practices to promote good welfare.

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

The organisations will now seek for this vision to be incorporated into a Defra Code of Practice for rabbits in England, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (a code for rabbits already exists in Wales and Northern Ireland).

Notes to editors

?    * Vision for Rabbit Welfare in the UK was created by the University of Bristol, the British Rabbit Council, the Pet Industry Federation, the RSPCA and the Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF). It has also been endorsed by the Blue Cross, the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA), the National Office for Animal Health (NOAH), PDSA, Wood Green the Animal Charity