Pets at Home stop selling unvaccinated rabbits!

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FAO Peter Pritchard CEO of Pets at Home.

Dear Mr Pritchard 

As informed rabbits owners are now aware, there is currently a major epidemic of the VHD2 virus (Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) in the UK, which has already caused the sudden death of hundreds of rabbits.

This virus is extremely contagious and is now prevalent all over the UK. According to a recent survey, more pet rabbits are now dying of the VHD2 variant than the VHD or Myxomatosis.

Concerned rabbit owners and customers have contacted Pets at Home following reports of VHD2 infected rabbits for sale in at least three of your stores in the last couple of months. This might be the tip of the iceberg as we know a few of your other stores currently have no rabbits for sale and we are told it is because of a shortage due to VHD2. We understand your suppliers have been affected. Indeed, some breeders have lost dozens of rabbits which is not surprising as most breeders do not vaccinate their rabbits at all, not for Myxomatosis + VHD, let alone VHD2.

Unfortunately, Pets at Home’s response to customer concerns has so far been unsatisfactory.

Despite the risks and virus spreading like wild fire, you are still obtaining and selling unvaccinated rabbits. The breeders deliver them to your stores at 8 weeks old. They could already be infected. It can take several weeks until they are sold. If they don’t sell you move them to your adoption area.  By then the rabbits could be 4 months old and still unprotected from 3 deadly viruses.

Giving vaccination vouchers to your customers is not good enough. Those vouchers only cover Myxi and VHD, not VHD2. It means that you are sending someone home with an unvaccinated rabbit that could be infected. This has sadly already happened. Not only sad for the rabbit but distressing for your customers to find their rabbit dying two days later.

Advising your customers to get their rabbits vaccinated is not good enough. By obtaining unvaccinated rabbits from your suppliers and selling them on you are contributing to the spread of the virus. It is not fair to rabbits, not fair to your customers and not fair to existing rabbit owners and rescue centres who are already dealing with poorly animals. Everybody is at risk. You need to take responsibility and take this issue seriously. You have a duty as a pet shop. The Pet Animal Act 1951 (as amended in 1983) requires that pet shops take all precautions to prevent the spread among animals of infectious diseases. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 also requires that anyone responsible for an animal has a duty to protect them from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Be proactive, not reactive! Don’t wait for anymore outbreaks in your stores. Get your breeders to vaccinate the rabbits (for Myxomatosis, VHD1 and VHD2) BEFORE they deliver them to your stores to prevent any more fatalities.

According to your latest statement dated 8 August you will ensure that your suppliers vaccinate their breeding 'stock'. i.e. the parents. Why isn't this a requirement already?! Whilst it might give the babies a bit more immunity it won’t protect them if they are exposed to the virus.

In that statement you also claim: 'Nothing is more important to us than the welfare of pets and we will always take appropriate action to keep them healthy, happy and safe.' So please prove it!

I am not a vet, but I have done some research as a responsible rabbit owner.

Instructions state the Nobivac vaccine for Myxi and VHD can be given from the age of 5 weeks old and it takes 3 weeks to reach immunity. The Filavac vaccine for VHD2 can be given from 10 weeks of age and the rabbits won’t be immune for another week. However, some vets advise giving it sooner and even before the Nobivac due to the current epidemic. You have to allow two weeks between the two vaccines. So if you want to do the right thing Pets at Home, you need to require from your suppliers that they seek the best course of action from a rabbit savvy vet and vaccinate the rabbits BEFORE to deliver them to you, ensuring they are healthy. This means no sooner than 12 weeks of age.

You have incorporated Vets4Pets and Companion Care Vets into your Pets at Home ‘Family’ (as you call it on your website) so you should be able to obtain the relevant information easily. Simply passing it on to your customers is not good enough! The rabbits in your care are your responsibility. Get ALL your rabbits vaccinated ASAP!

Yes, you might have to charge more for the rabbits you sell but perhaps it is time to stop conveying the idea that rabbits are cheap and easy pets. Rabbits are expensive when looked after properly. You say you care about animal welfare so please do the right thing and give the right example.

And if it is too much hassle for you then please stop selling rabbits altogether!

Over the years, there have been numerous reports of rabbits being sold poorly from your stores, rabbits wrongly sexed, poor handling by staff and inadequate advice given with regards to care and accommodation. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any sign of improvement and many of the rabbits you sell end up in rescue centres.

Thousands of rabbits become unwanted each month in the UK.

Perhaps it is time for Pets at Home to make an ethical decision and stop contributing to this issue.  

We look forward to hearing from you.

Your sincerely

 Isabelle Rineau and all the rabbit lovers who care about their welfare

 



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