Is your rabbit a happy bunny?

We and the University of Bristol reveal that it’s feared that more than half of all pet rabbits could be lonely according to a new survey.

Rabbit in tunnel © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary

The survey, commissioned by us and carried out by the University of Bristol, found that 60 per cent of rabbits were housed without a companion, which could lead to suffering as they naturally live in groups.
A large proportion of rabbits – 58 per cent –  were thought to be fearful of loud noises and 61 per cent were reported as stressed when handled by their owner.

Rabbit welfare advice

Rabbits should have constant access to an exercise area. However the study found that some rabbits only had irregular access, which wasn’t given at a time when they needed it – in the early morning or evening when they’re naturally most active.
Providing constant access to hay is one of the most important things owners can do for their rabbit. It’s essential for dental and digestive health, as well as keeping them busy and occupied. However ten per cent of owners didn’t feed their rabbits hay daily.
We recommend that you feed your rabbit a bundle of hay as big as the bunny every day.

Rabbit behaving normally © Andrew Forsyth / RSPCA Photolibrary

To help rabbits feel relaxed around people, owners should try to positively interact with their pet rabbits every day from when they are young. This can include gentle brushing and stroking.
Older rabbits should also have regular positive contact with people. Although if they aren’t used to this, interactions should be built up slowly to avoid startling them. Interactions should take place at ground level, where possible, as people appear less threatening in this position.
About a quarter of the rabbits with companions were found to sometimes fight and avoid each other. More frequent and intense fighting can suggest the companions are unsuited.

Properly research rabbits before getting one

We and experts at the University of Bristol would always recommend thorough research is done before buying rabbits. If you have concerns about your rabbit’s health or behaviour contact your vet or a suitable behaviour expert.
Dr Nicola Rooney, research fellow in farm animal science at 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.

These included living alone or in incompatible groups, numerous health issues, lack of regular access to exercise areas, showing fear of loud noises and behaving anxiously when handled by their owners.

Our findings highlight the ways in which the needs of pet rabbits are often not being met and this information will help target education to best improve the welfare of pet rabbits.

Dr. Jane Tyson, our rabbit behaviour and welfare expert, said:

Whilst it’s encouraging to see that many pet rabbits are living healthy and happy lives, it’s also saddening to hear that a large number of rabbits aren’t having their welfare needs met.

The RSPCA is working with other charities, industry experts and academics to identify a number of different activities to protect and improve the welfare of pet rabbits. The findings of this study will be crucial in assisting this work as well as identifying advice and information for owners on how best to care for their rabbits.

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