Britain's pet rabbits leading 'dull, unhealthy lives'

Caroline Cassidy

They are the nation's third most popular pet and are often the first animal a child owns but experts have warned that many of Britain's pet rabbits are leading "dull, unhealthy, short lives".

How to care for a pet rabbit
How to care for a pet rabbit

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According to a new survey, up to three quarters of the two million pet bunnies in Britain are living in unsuitable conditions and being fed a poor diet because of owners' ignorance.

The poll found that more than two thirds of rabbit owners believe carrots are a mainstay of their pet's daily diet (in fact, they should be treated only occasionally as they can lead to obesity or digestive problems), and six out of 10 were oblivious to their rabbit's need for mental and social stimulation.

Cramped hutches, lack of exercise and rabbits being kept alone are also causing problems for Britain's pet rabbit population.

These common misconceptions mean that 75 per cent of rabbits seen by vets in the UK are in poor health and the RSPCA has rescued some 33,000 over the past three years.

RSPCA inspector Tony Woodley told the Daily Mail: "If you ask any RSPCA officer which animal you 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."

He added: ".. People are still buying these small cramped things, and the pet industry is still putting them out there for sale, and they are terrible. Rabbits are gregarious animals - they live in the wild in groups."

Experts advise that rabbits should be kept in pairs (though be careful if you are introducing a new pet to an existing rabbit's hutch) and given a varied diet (including fibre-rich foods that wear teeth down naturally) as well as mental stimulation such as somewhere to dig, cardboard tubing to run through and hidden food to encourage foraging.

The survey coincides with the launch of Rabbit Awareness Week during which the PDSA will be offering free health checks and advice at thousands of vet's surgeries around the country.

What do you think? Are pet rabbit owners guilty of ignorance and should pet shops offer more advice to those thinking of buying one? Leave your comments below...