Bunny ban: Calls to pause rabbit sales as rescue centres overwhelmed

An animal charity has said a lack of education over rabbit breeding is part of the rising problem.

Welfare charity call for ban on rabbit sales and breeding as rescue centres face rise in abandoned pets Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWA&F)

An animal welfare charity has demanded an immediate pause in the sale of rabbits from breeders, retailers and classified advert sites.

It comes as rescue centres say they are facing an unprecedented rise in abandoned and mistreated rabbits.

Ownership of the animals experienced a boom during lockdown, as families who did not have space for a cat or dog opted for a rabbits as an alternative.

The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWA&F) has called for the ban in sales after reporting a surge in the number of rabbits for sale online – fuelled by new breeders appearing every month.

The charity’s findings show that, since January, there has been a 77% in the amount of bunnies for sale on the previous year.

Latest data shows there are just over one million pet rabbits in the UK, making them the third most popular pet after cats and dogs.

The charity say rescue centres are becoming increasingly full and some are facing the decision to turn people away.

Many rescue centres say they are struggling to cope.

They say lack of education and awareness of how rabbits breed has resulted in the boom.

Female rabbits can get pregnant immediately after giving birth, a fact the charity found just one in three (35%) rabbit owners were aware of.

The rise in costs for food, bedding and healthcare is cited as another reason for the spike in owners surrendering their pets to rescue centres.

An increase of around 37% on the average cost of keeping a pair of pet rabbits has been recorded by the charity – rising from £88 to £121 per month.

The study comprised of 2,336 rabbit owners, vet practitioners and rabbit rescue centres, with over 50% of owners saying they were worried about future care amid the cost of living crisis.

As well as calls for a ban on sales, the charity is asking people to think twice about where they acquire a rabbit.

RWA&F say 98% of owners support a complete ban on sales with nine in ten (97%) vet practitioners and some 86 rescue centres also backing the proposals.

Matthew Dixon, a vet at Aireworth Vets said: “The cost of living crisis is drastically affecting everyone in society and therefore their pets. We’re seeing issues not only with people struggling to afford treatment for their rabbits and requesting support with this, but also issues with a lack of available homes for rabbits.”

Rae Walters, director at the RWA&F said: “We believe that people have good intentions when they first acquire their rabbits, but it has been the perfect storm because we have seen an increase in the number of people breeding rabbits, and a boom in new rabbit owners.

“In recent months we have been alarmed at some of the welfare cases coming forward. People are literally overrun with rabbits. Two rabbits can quickly multiply into 12 rabbits in just a few months.

“With doe and buck rabbits having to live apart and the rising costs of food – we are witnessing a huge increase in pet owners who can’t cope and in turn creating a rabbit welfare crisis.

“Our concern is that rabbit owners become so overwhelmed and distressed, especially with many rescue centres full, that they just let the rabbits into the wild, which is the same as killing them in effect, as domesticated rabbits don’t know how to fend for themselves in the wild.”

Currently there is no legislation in the UK for rabbits to be sexed correctly or for rabbit breeders to be licensed, which the charity say needs to change.

Charlotte Tomlinson, Site Coordinator for Fat Fluffs Rabbit Rescue said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic, we had an influx of people that were interested in adopting rabbits, but as of the end of lockdown, we are now seeing those rabbits we have adopted out, return to our rescue as well as countless other surrenders, which we can only imagine have come from breeders and shop sales.”

Patron and vet, Dr Emma Milne, said: “Rabbits are one of the most misunderstood and complex pets people can have. They need the company of other rabbits; they need much more space than most people think and can live 8-10 years.

“This is a huge time and financial commitment- the average rabbit owner will spend nearly £1000 a year on looking after their pet. We desperately need an amnesty on breeding until this crisis is behind us and the animals needing homes have found great owners.

“We need to ease the burden on adoption centres. I would urge anyone wanting a pet, especially in this case rabbits, to do careful research to ensure they can properly meet these complex, wonderful animals’ needs.”

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