RSPCA fears numbers of abandoned rabbits could worsen as lockdown ends

The RSPCA fears there will be an increase in the number of abandoned rabbits coming into its care following a huge increase in pet ownership during the lockdown.

As restrictions lift and people’s lives go back to normal, the charity is concerned that for many the ‘novelty’ may wear off and they will see numbers of rabbits coming into its centres and branches.

In 2020, there were 1,174 abandoned rabbits reported to the RSPCA’s cruelty line and the RSPCA took in 2,653 rabbits altogether – which means 44% of all rabbits coming into the charity’s care last year were abandoned.

This Rabbit Awareness Week (28 June to 4 July), the RSPCA is highlighting why rabbits are not ‘easy, starter pets’ but are actually complex animals to care for and urging anyone who may have bought a rabbit on impulse during the lockdown to reach out for help if they’re struggling.

Dr Jane Tyson, RSPCA rabbit welfare expert, said: “Unfortunately, we do see many rabbits abandoned and rescued by our officers. We suspect that in many cases these rabbits have been bought on impulse as ‘starter pets’ for children but owners quickly realise that they’re complex animals to care for and sadly they end up coming into our rescue centres.

“We have seen a huge demand in pet ownership during the lockdown with Google searches for ‘Rabbits for sale’ rising from 23,000 in April 2019 to 40,000 in April 2020, and whilst it’s lovely that so many people have sought the companionship of a pet, we’re concerned that this boom will mean many people may not have done their research properly and could struggle to care for them once the lockdown ends, or the financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic takes its toll. This is something we’re already starting to see with many of our centres and branches reporting that they were overrun with rabbits back in April.”

Many of the RSPCA’s centres have seen rabbits coming into their care that have been unneutered or mis-sexed and had an unexpected litter. Whilst baby rabbits may be cute, they are costly and time consuming to look after.

Eris and Sawny were abandoned in April in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. They were found in a block of flats after their owner had moved away and abandoned them in the property. The pair were in separate dog crates with very dirty litter trays and some food inside. They were both underweight and seemed to have some injuries suspected to be from fighting. Eris even had a piece of his right ear missing.

They came into the care of RSPCA Block Fen Animal Centre in Wimblington and have both shown to be very confident characters who enjoy nothing more than exploring. They are now looking for a home with a suitable existing rabbit but will need to be rehomed separately to avoid further disagreements.

The RSPCA rescued a group of rabbits which were being kept in small hutches in a backyard in Blackburn in unsuitable conditions. Inspector Vicki Taylor rescued the rabbits, including pregnant bunny Ginny who came into the care of the RSPCA Manchester and Salford branch on April 20 and gave birth to her litter on May 1.

In order to improve the outlook for rabbits, the charity has been working on developing a Code of Practice for rabbits for several years and the Good Practice Code for the Welfare of Rabbits in England, launched this week, which will provide practical guidance for the public on the best ways to care for their rabbits, as well as form a valuable tool for the RSPCA’s inspectorate to enforce their welfare needs.

Jane added: “This is such a fantastic step for the welfare of all rabbits in England and we’re delighted that the Code is launching in time for Rabbit Awareness Week. We want to see an end to the very sad image of a solitary rabbit in a tiny hutch at the end of the garden with no space or stimulation, and often an incorrect diet. Whilst we have definitely noticed a shift in the public’s perception on what rabbits need, this Code will help us go even further in ensuring that every rabbit has the environment, diet, and companionship they need.”

The Good Practice Code for the Welfare of Rabbits is a collaborative effort between the RSPCA and other animal welfare and veterinary organisations, pet industry bodies and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.

In Wales, a Welsh Government code of practice for rabbit welfare was launched in 2011 – and the Animal Welfare Network for Wales recently submitted work to the Welsh Government in the hope of updating the Code, to ensure it contains the latest information, tips and advice for four percent of pet-owning households in Wales who have a rabbit. The RSPCA worked alongside BSAVA, BVA, and Friends of the Animals Wales to update the Code – which now awaits governmental approval.

To help the RSPCA continue rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals in desperate need of care please visit our website or call our donation line on 0300 123 8181.