Ban the breeding of rabbits in the UK

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According to a 2012 survey from the Rabbit Welfare Association 67,000 rabbits end up in rescue centres each year in the UK. This figure nearly doubles the previous 35,000 recorded in 1999. The rescues cannot cope with the growing numbers of unwanted rabbits, due to lack of space, funds and support. Most rescues have a long waiting list for new arrivals. The unlucky animals that don’t make it to a rescue are usually advertised cheaply online, given away for free or abandoned in the wild to fend for themselves. Most will never be found in time. Some will end up as bait in illegal dog fighting.

Rabbits are often purchased from pet shops or online sellers who advertise baby bunnies as cute, fluffy, easy and cheap to look after and perfect pets for children. This could not be further from the truth. Rabbits are fragile animals with complex needs. They are the third most popular pet in the UK, yet the most misunderstood and neglected. Most rabbits become unwanted when the novelty wears off, usually within a year of purchase - the kids have lost interest, the bunny becomes an inconvenience, too expensive and time-consuming. Many end up in a hutch or a cage to live a miserable life in solitary confinement with very little interaction or veterinary care.

Rescue centres see the result of this suffering and neglect day in day out. They work hard to pick up the pieces of this pet bunny trade. A lot of rabbits arrive so damaged that they cannot be rehomed. Rescue centres cannot always afford the expensive veterinary treatment for some of the rabbits and resort to putting them to sleep. The animals that are rehomable sometimes remain months or years at the rescue because people, misled by the advertising, go and buy a baby bunny from a breeder or a pet shop instead of adopting.

Education campaigns for rabbit welfare and promoting adoption over purchase is not enough. The issue will remain and carry on growing as long as people are permitted to breed rabbits and make a business of selling them to anyone, unneutered or vaccinated.

Recent investigations into puppy farming in the UK has caught the media’s attention. The conditions in which rabbits are bred and kept generate similar welfare issues, yet the breeding and selling of rabbits is mainly unlicensed and unregulated. The breeders who are reported to the RSPCA often receive no more than a suggestion to improve the conditions in which the animals are kept... and the breeding and suffering continues.

Since it is difficult to determine the sex of baby rabbits, breeders, pet shops and even vets make mistakes. As a result of this, accidental litters are common and only add to the issue of unwanted rabbits having to be rehomed.

For all the reasons above, we call for a complete ban on the breeding and selling of rabbits in the UK as well as compulsory neutering of all rabbits until the situation gets under control and becomes manageable again. This means until all homeless rabbits get adopted, neutered, vaccinated and bonded with another rabbit whenever possible following a successful home-check.

Rabbits suffer in silence whilst being exploited, sold as cheap pets, neglected and treated as commodities. It is about time measures are put into place to protect them.