Harrowing plight of popular pet

Reams of rabbits are spending their lives cramped in cages, deprived of food and water and desperately lacking care and attention – say Derbyshire RSPCA.

Rabbits have long been one of the UK’s favourite pets with owners falling for their cute appearance and believing the common misconception that they are easy to look after.

However, despite their popularity, the RSPCA is inundated with thousands of neglected rabbits every year.

Since the beginning of 2007 over 33,000 rabbits have come into RSPCA animal centres after being collected, rescued or seized by RSPCA inspectors. In addition, more than 8,000 rabbits have been reported abandoned to the RSPCA since 2007 and a further 3,300 rabbits have been signed over to the charity by owners who can no longer look after them.

RSPCA inspector Tony Woodley said: “Rabbits have long been a popular family pet but people often to not realise that they have complex welfare needs which must be met so they are happy and healthy.

“The RSPCA is left to pick up the pieces when these poor rabbits are neglected or abused. Owners need to realise the level of responsibility owning a pet demands so the number of animals suffering dramatically reduces.”

Since the beginning of 2008, the RSPCA has secured 318 convictions due to rabbit neglect or abuse.

Cases the RSPCA has dealt with in the court room recently include:

Four rabbits were found cooped up in a dirty cage with no access to food or water. They were so thin that their ribs, spine and hips were protruding through their malnourished bodies. The owner was prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act and banned from keeping animals for five years.

A male dwarf rabbit was found in a filthy hutch with no food or water and suffering with hugely overgrown teeth. The owner had not taken the rabbit to the vet and was banned from keeping animals for five years.

More than 30 rabbits as well as some guinea pigs and a ferret were found living in dirty conditions in a garden. Some of the rabbits were living on a bed of excrement. The owner was banned from keeping animals for life.

A single rabbit was found dead in its hutch by an RSPCA inspector. The rabbit’s body was decomposing and was infested with maggots. The owner was banned for keeping animals for ten years.

Eleven rabbits were left to die when their owner went on holiday while they were suffering with the lethal but preventable disease, myxomatosis. Five of the rabbits had died before the RSPCA was contacted. The owner was banned from keeping rabbits for life.

The RSPCA is concerned that the complex needs of rabbits are often poorly understood by owners and believes that this is having a negative impact on animal welfare.

The charity recently launched a campaign to improve understanding of how to meet the welfare needs of pet rabbits. It also hopes to use the results of scientific studies currently being carried out to provide detailed advice on rabbit care next year.

For more information on how to care for your rabbit log onto www.rspca.org.uk/rabbits