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Animal welfare
Setting out a vision for rabbit welfare

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A 10-POINT ‘vision for improving rabbit welfare’ has been set out by a group of welfare organisations, breeders, the pet industry and veterinary professionals. The vision is based on recommendations from a study commissioned by the RSPCA and carried out by the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences, which found that the welfare needs of many companion rabbits are not currently being met.

Happy bunnies? The vision statement recommends that all companion rabbits should be sold or rehomed to be kept in compatible pairs or groups

Photograph: D. Gill

The Rabbit Welfare Vision Statement states that all companion rabbits should:

  • Enjoy a good life in which they can experience positive welfare (that is, good physical and psychological health) as well as being protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

  • Have access to an appropriate diet, known to optimise animal health and minimise the risk of disease. This includes having continual access to both good quality fibre-based material (eg, hay or fresh grass) to eat, and fresh, clean water.

  • Live in an environment which meets their physical, social and behavioural needs; for example, to run, jump, graze, dig, rest and stand up on their hind legs without their ears touching the roof.

  • Be sold or rehomed to be kept in compatible pairs or groups.

  • Be bred, reared and kept in a way known to minimise their chances of developing fear of handling and other stimuli.

  • Be given regular preventative health care as recommended by veterinary experts (eg, vaccinated against myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease, according to current vaccine licence recommendations).

  • Be given appropriate and timely veterinary treatment to protect them from pain, disease and suffering.

The vision statement also says that:

  • All those working with rabbits, including vets, retailers, breeders and rehoming organisations, should undertake effective training programmes and have resources available to them on current good practice in housing and husbandry, the promotion of health and welfare, and the management of disease and welfare risks.

  • All rabbit health and welfare advice and recommendations should be based on international scientific knowledge and professional experience. The veterinary profession offers up-to-date expertise in recognition, management and prevention of disease and in practices to promote good welfare.

  • The number of rabbits requiring rehoming, both privately and via rescue organisations, should be minimised.

The statement has been drawn up by the University of Bristol, the British Rabbit Council, the Pet Industry Federation, the RSPCA and the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, and endorsed by the Blue Cross, the British Veterinary Nursing Association, the National Office for Animal Health, the PDSA and Wood Green. The organisations behind the vision statement want it to be incorporated into a Defra Code of Practice for Rabbits in England, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (a code for rabbits already exists in Wales and Northern Ireland). They say that the next stage will be to develop a ‘roadmap’ to achieve the vision and improve the lives of companion rabbits.

Nicola Rooney, of Bristol veterinary school, who was joint leader of the original research, was the primary author of the statement. ‘We are delighted to have a vision for rabbit welfare that is strongly rooted in evidence-based information and it's great that Bristol research is one of the key pieces of research underpinning the strategy,’ she said. ‘There is a growing body of scientific understanding on how best to meet rabbits’ health and behavioural needs.’

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