“If you ask any RSPCA officer which animal they feel most sorry for, it’s usually the poor, forgotten rabbit sitting in a tiny hutch without the proper food, or any food at all, and some dirty water. It might once have been loved for a brief time by some child, but it has quickly been forgotten and it’s a very sad sight that I have seen countless times.”
RSPCA Officer *1
Did you know that rabbits are the most neglected pet here in the UK and no doubt many other countries worldwide?
Firstly I would like to introduce you to Patch who was one of three Rabbits we adopted.
My family and I cared for him for two and a half years, he was a house rabbit and part of our family. On March 18th Patch died after suffering a long illness during which he needed intensive care and attention. He is sadly missed, the house and garden where he enjoyed foraging and sunbathing seem empty without him. You can read about Patch on his memorial page on my website:
Patch was an affectionate, intelligent and mischievous creature, aware of himself and the world around him including those who cared for him. In other words he was a sentient being who like you or I or your cat or dog experienced both pain and pleasure, had his likes and dislikes and a personality all of his own. He loved to be stroked and fussed and communicated this need by lying in the flat position you see in the above photo. He loved his probiotic pellets and all you had to do was shake the box and he came running. Though people may say we imagined this and are anthropomorphising I am in no doubt that he was pleased to see us when we arrived home after being out for some time. This was most evident on the occasion that the car broke down and we did not arrive home until very late, his delight at seeing us was obvious. He would sulk and look indignant after having something done he did not like, such as the administration of eardrops. He listened to you when you talked to him.
The following picture shows this quite clearly, he often looked at us in this way when we talked to him or when judging our reactions. Yes he knew we were communicating with him, there is to my mind no doubt about that.
The Neglect and Abuse of Rabbits
Looking after the Patch during his illness was an exhausting and worrying experience that brought to my attention the suffering of these gentle creatures who are the third most popular pet here in the UK, though I refer the term companion animal. Without our intervention Patch like many rabbits would have died in agony alone abandoned in a hutch, his suffering unnoticed. Through care and medical intervention his life was extended by two years and when the time came that his medicine was no longer effective he was humanely put to sleep. As you will read in the link above Patch suffered with Gastro intestinal (GI) Stasis which in his case was the result of a swelling in his intestine which at first was thought to be benign but which was nonetheless causing soreness and putting him into stasis. GI stasis is a common condition in rabbits in its own right or as sign of an underlying less obvious condition. In either case unless treated immediately within twelve hours or less it becomes life threatening therefore veterinary treatment is required urgently. GI stasis without veterinary care not only has fatal consequences it is an extremely painful way to die. If during the course of GI stasis the unfortunate rabbit gets bloat his stomach may fill with gas or liquid and burst. Consequently many rabbits abandoned in hutches at the bottom of someone’s garden will die an agonising death alone and uncared for.
Rabbits are often brought for a demanding child as though the poor creature were some animated toy, the child soon looses interest and the parents can’t be bothered beyond providing water and food – that is if the unfortunate rabbit is lucky. Many are simply let loose, dumped at the local sanctuary or killed.
Below is a typical hutch, were a rabbit will spend his or her life alone, most do not have a companion.
I have seen three rabbits in a hutch not much bigger than this.
“Treacle is a Rex rabbit, this is an average sized rabbit, not a giant.
Her body fills the whole living area of the hutch. She certainly can’t stretch and run freely, and there are no toys, food bowl, hay rack in here.”
http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk/reality-of-small-hutches.htm – lots of good advice about the care of rabbits. I though have to say in my opinion the ideal situation is to look after your rabbit as a house rabbit with access to the garden which includes a large hutch for when he or she wants a bit of quiet time outside as did Patch from time to time. More information about house rabbits: House Rabbit Society http://rabbit.org/
For many rabbits here in this wooden confinement like the one above he or she will remain alone in all weathers day after day, sweltering and subject to the horrors of fly strike in the summer and the rigours of bitter cold and damp in the winter until one day the negligent owner opens the hutch to feed the rabbit only to find him or her dead from a mysterious illness which is only mysterious as a result of ignorance and neglect. Fly strike is a horrific way for an animal to end his or her life as flies lay eggs in the fur and the resulting maggots eat away at the flesh until the poor creature dies of blood poisoning. There are many painful diseases that afflict rabbits which if ignored or missed results in a painful and prolonged death.
Rabbits, who are by nature pry animals, do not show their illness, they hide it so not to make themselves easy pry. This has not changed as a result of domestication and it is difficult to tell when a rabbit needs attention unless you have learned to know the signs. For example with GI stasis a rabbit will be lethargic not eating or drinking and will stop defecating. This may happen gradually with droppings getting smaller and less frequent or occur suddenly without warming and there will be no droppings at all. As a result of ignorance and neglect – to not educate yourself about your companion animal is to my way of thinking neglect- many rabbits die a painful death.
Despite their popularity rabbits are probably amongst the most neglected of the animals we humans have domesticated purely for our own satisfaction and pleasure regardless to the suffering that such domestication often entails.
It is time the law was improved regarding our responsibility to the animals we bring into our homes as so-called pets. Though there are of course laws, these laws are rarely enforced, particularly where rabbits and other small mammals such as rodents are concerned.
Do you know that here in the UK you have a legal obligation to take your animal to a vet, whether he or she is a dog, cat, rabbit or guinea pig,or whatever, species, size and or intelligence is irrelevant?
It may surprise those of you who appreciate rabbits as sentient beings that many people do not take a rabbit to the vet considering that this is not necessary or required? A neighbour once said to me “You don’t take rabbits to the vet” I knew what she meant and was tempted to resort to a sarcastic reply along the lines of “Wow I didn’t know that rabbits don’t get ill, ?” Not to question such nonsense is the height of ignorance and is neglectful and cruel. One dog owner worried about vet bills for the dog but never gave the same worry to the rabbit. Why? Rabbits like your dog or cat get ill, they suffer pain and fear just like your cat and dog and like these more pampered pets need veterinary care as do hamsters and other small furies who in the main are equally neglected.
A recent conversation at the local supermarket greatly disturbed my husband and I. The cashier after looking horrified that the herbs we were buying were for our rabbit – after all the rabbit usually gets old wilted leftovers if he or she is lucky – went on to tell us about her sister whose child had pestered for a hamster and soon got bored once the novelty had worn off and thereafter left the care of this tiny defenceless creature to her mother who openly said she hated the hamster and wanted him to die. The cashier went on to say how the hamster was now sick and her sister hoped he would soon die. No she was not going to take the poor creature to the vet. This story haunted me and still does. I told her she should tell her sister to take the animal to the vet that the poor animal was most likely in pain, but not knowing who these people were, not even a name there was nothing I could do.
There are I am sure many similar situations and far worse.
A lady known for her love of rabbits once told me that you should never give away your unwanted baby rabbits or any rabbit to anyone for free as people will take them and use them for all manner of unimaginable cruelty and intentional abuse. Also with this in mind you should really not leave a rabbit in a hutch were he or she can be seen by passersby as this makes them an easy target for theft.
Shocking how wicked people are. As cruelty and inhumanity have been around a long time, the laws of a civilised society need to do more to protect animals from such vile people.
There needs to be laws that prevent any one and everyone from walking into a pet shop and buying a rabbit or other animal including cats and dogs. Back street breeding should be outlawed for a start off, along with the sale of rabbits and other animals on-line or in newspaper adverts. Animals should not be sold as a commodity in pet shops but rather adopted from sanctuaries where the prospective owner or guardian – I prefer the term guardian as no one has the right to own another living being – is checked out for suitability by a home visit before adoption is allowed to take place and that periodic inspections continue thereafter.
Read about the reality of the pet trade:
Pet Shops: No Bargain for Animals
Time for new Laws
The situation is similar worldwide. Indeed it is time for new laws and tighter regulation but the ideal as always is a cessation of the pet trade and the breeding of animals to sell in pet shops, on-line or back street breeders. Pets should only be obtained from a registered sanctuary or rescue.
It concerns me greatly whenever I go into a pet shop and see these defenceless creatures for sale, openly exposed under bright lights to the gaze of prying eyes – rabbits need places to hide from view. Even more worrying is the fact that anyone over the age of 18, sometimes younger, can go to the counter and buy a rabbit, a guinea pig or other small fury as one would go and buy a bag of sweets or other inanimate item. The defenceless animal has no say in his or her fate, shoved into a pet carrier he or she is taken to who knows where by who knows who for whatever purpose the purchaser desires and no one is the wiser. The rabbit may be fortunate and go to a caring forever home or he may end up abused and neglected with his life expectation likely much shorter or even willfully abused.
Action to Take
Unfortunately there are few petitions currently available which goes to show how little rabbits are thought of. Though this does not imply that many rabbit organisations and charities are not struggling to change things for rabbits and have at times petitioned governments and other authorities to take action, but sadly it seems with little success.
Here are some ideas for actions you can take to help rabbits.
Visit Action for rabbits
“Hundreds of thousands of rabbits face an unhappy, lonely existence in cramped accommodation, whilst being fed an inappropriate diet and suffering from a range of painful diseases. We should re-evaluate the ways in which we have traditionally kept pet rabbits and start providing them with what we know they need to lead healthy and happy lives.”
One of the main causes is a widespread lack of understanding of their basic needs.
Help educate people by sharing posters such as the poster below and other education resources
This poster along with 24 others can be accessed from the home page of Action for Rabbits
http://www.actionforrabbits.co.uk/index.html – click the bright pink button on the rabbit photo on the right.
or click here: http://www.actionforrabbits.co.uk/posters.html
More posters and advice:
Rabbits Require Rights:
Help to change the law by taking the following actions
Please sign the following petitions – all the petitions including the one to the Scottish parliament may be signed by anyone one worldwide.
Scottish Parliament & the UK Government as a whole: Implement urgent (pet) Rabbit Specific Welfare Laws in the UK
https://www.change.org/p/scottish-parliament-the-uk-government-as-a-whole-implement-urgent-pet-rabbit-specific-welfare-laws-in-the-uk – Though most of the comments are old the petition is active, please help it get more signatures by signing now.
Please at least sign the above petition but if you have time read through the suggestions for improvement in the welfare laws included in the petition description, such as No pet Shop Sales, No unregulated Breeding, No inadequate housing, no isolation, no suffering.
Below is the link to the Scottish parliament which is included in the above but which you may well miss if you have not scrolled down the web page far enough.
Help improve rabbit protection in Australia:
Abandoned rabbits – it’s worse than we thought
Welfare of rabbits: the need for a suitable environment
Not all humans are cruel to rabbits, here is a story with a happy ending for a brave rabbit called Ronnie:
The Rabbit welfare problem
Reference quote 1