Despite the UK being a nation of animal lovers, rabbits remain one of the most misunderstood pets when it comes to catering for their welfare needs.
During Rabbit Awareness Week (10 – 23 August), which this year is running online for two weeks, PDSA is helping raise awareness around rabbits’ five welfare needs.
These are the things that all animals need to have met to be healthy and happy: Environment, Health, Diet, Companionship and Behaviour.
According to the latest PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report* nearly half of rabbits in the UK (49%) are kept alone, a quarter (25%) are kept in inadequate housing and a quarter (26%) are given no access to hay in their daily diet.
More than two fifths of owners (44%) say they want to change at least one of their rabbits’ behaviours, and less than half have received a primary vaccination course, leaving them at risk of potentially fatal diseases.
PDSA vet Anna Ewer Clarke said: “Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the UK, after dogs and cats, so the fact that their welfare needs are so frequently not being met is very worrying. Being kept in housing that is too small, with no company and fed incorrect diets is tantamount to them being kept in permanent lockdown – and we know ourselves that isn’t much fun!
“However, it’s not all bad news, as our research shows that most of the time this is not due to intentional mistreatment, but simply owners misunderstanding their pets’ needs. When rabbits are lonely, bored and depressed it can lead to stress behaviours, such as thumping their back feet, hiding and trying to escape, but many owners don’t realise these as signs their rabbit is unhappy.”
Thankfully, with a few simple changes, owners can make vast improvements to their rabbits’ lives. Here are Anna’s top tips:
Companionship – rabbits are social pets and need the company of other rabbits. If you have a single rabbit, it is important to get a friend for them. PDSA has advice on their website about how to do this safely.
Diet – rabbits need constant access to good quality hay or grass – in fact they need their own body size in hay every day! This is an important source of fibre and also helps to wear down their teeth. They also need a handful of fresh greens morning and evening, and a single tablespoon of rabbit nuggets daily.
Environment – rabbits need a nice big hutch – it should be high enough for them to stand on their hind legs without their ears touching the top, and long enough for three full hops. They also need a nice big run, with access to grass and plenty of enrichment activities.
Health – without protection from vaccinations, rabbits are at increased risk of diseases like Myxomatosis, and Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, which are usually fatal. If your rabbit is behind on their vaccinations, give your vet a call today.
Behaviour – chewing and digging are natural behaviours for bunnies, so giving them toys to encourage this is a good way to quickly improve their wellbeing. Check our website for ideas including making a digging box, and other interactive toys you can easily make at home.
For more rabbit advice, go to www.pdsa.org.uk/rabbits
* Findings from the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report 2019.