Concerns for rabbit welfare ahead of Rabbit Awareness Week

Date published: 31 May 2019

Estimated as the third most popular pet in the UK, rabbits’ needs are still grossly misunderstood.

Sometimes referred to as the ‘forgotten pet’, a recent survey of vets in the UK shows that 73 per cent had seen pet rabbits who were not having all of their welfare needs met.

In the survey, carried out by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) ahead of Rabbit Awareness Week (1st-9th June), vets aired concerns that many owners were not ticking all the boxes for keeping their rabbits happy and healthy.  Providing a suitable diet topped the list of concerns, reported by 78 per cent of those seeing welfare needs not being met. 76 per cent reported that rabbits were being housed alone or with other species, and 72 per cent were concerned that the rabbits were being cared for in an inappropriate environment.

As highly sociable animals, vets and animal experts recommend that rabbits are housed with a suitable companion rabbit, the ideal being a neutered rabbit of the opposite sex. Although it is generally recognised that a solitary life has a negative impact on the physical health and mental wellbeing of pet rabbits, the survey also revealed that 43 per cent of vets saw rabbits that were housed alone.

To help better the lives of pet rabbits in the UK, vets and animal welfare charities are joining forces to support Rabbit Awareness Week, an annual campaign looking at key rabbit health or welfare issues to help the public and professional community better understand their needs.

This year, the week is focusing on the importance of vaccinations after a recent outbreak of a highly infectious and deadly rabbit virus strain, Rabbit Viral Haemorrhagic Disease Type 2 (RVHD2).

 The disease, which can kill within one or two days, is transferred via direct contact with other infected rabbits or urine and faeces.

The virus can survive for months and can even be brought in on the soles of shoes, meaning that house rabbits do not escape a potential risk.

The best way to protect against the virus is vaccination. In a 2018 report, the PDSA reported that preventive healthcare in rabbits was a hugely neglected area. Vets are urging all rabbit owners and those thinking of getting rabbits to register them with a vet and have them vaccinated.

BVA Junior Vice President, Daniella Dos Santos, said, “Rabbits can make lovely pets, but it is very worrying to see that so many are falling short of having their basic health and welfare needs catered for. Rabbit Awareness Week is a great way to shine a light on some of the ways that we as professionals and owners can help make pet rabbits’ lives heathier and happier.

This year’s theme is vaccinations, which are essential in helping to protect rabbits against deadly diseases such as RVHD2, Myxomatosis and RVHD1.

One of our most recent surveys revealed that 98 per cent of vets had been questioned by their clients on the need for vaccinations. Anecdotally, rabbits are also often one of the pet animals that we see the least.

Vets are always happy to offer advice on pet care and would far rather be presented with a list of questions from owners than not to see a pet at all! To protect against disease, the best thing you can do is to vaccinate your rabbits.”

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