A quarter of rabbits may be being kept with unsuitable companions
Findings from a new study have reinforced concerns that the welfare needs of many rabbits in the UK are not being met.
Researchers from the University of Bristol, who carried out the survey, say the results have highlighted a number of issues. For example, the number of rabbits living alone or with unsuitable companions, with lack of access to exercise and showing fear over loud noises and anxiety when owners are handling them.
Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the UK, with around 1.7 million being kept as pets. However, little is known about their quality of life, though they have often been dubbed the UK’s most neglected pet species.
A questionnaire was completed by a cross-section of 1,254 rabbit owners in Bristol, North Somerset, Manchester, the Wirral, Norwich and Eastern Norfolk. As well as some expected results, researchers say they found some surprises.
The key findings, published in BMC Research Notes, were:
- Sixty per cent of rabbits are kept alone
- Around a quarter of the rabbits kept with another pet were found to sometimes fight with or avoid each other. Some may be natural but frequent and/or intense fighting could indicate the animals do not make suitable companions
- While 98 per cent of owners did feed their rabbit hay, 10 per cent did not do so on a daily basis, which could be a cause for concern
- Most rabbits had access to exercise areas, but this access was often irregular and not always at the times of day when rabbits are most active – early morning and evening
- A high percentage (61 per cent) were not reported to be calm when their owner was handling them, and 58 per cent showed signs of fear at loud noises. These findings could be a significant concern for the species
- Dental problems were reported in 12.2 per cent of rabbits, eye problems in 12.9 per cent, digestive problems in 11.5 per cent and parasites in 11.3 per cent
Dr Nicola Rooney from the university’s School of Veterinary Sciences said: “Many pet rabbits were found to be in good health, had compatible companions and were provided with enriched living areas. However, we also found numerous unrecognised welfare issues that affect large numbers of pet rabbits.”
Further work is needed to prioritise the issues highlighted and to find out if problems have been under-reported. Researchers say their findings will help with developing education resources to improve rabbit welfare.
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