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News Article

Study highlights welfare concerns within the UK pet rabbit breeding industry


Researchers are calling for the creation of approved guidelines for managing and breeding pet rabbits

A study by researchers at the Universities of Nottingham and Winchester has shed light on the elusive UK pet rabbit breeding industry. They are now calling for more to be done to regulate and improve the breeding of rabbits as pets.

Deliberate over-breeding of some features of rabbits, such as flat faces, can cause distressing health problems for the animal so the researchers wanted to find out what the demand is for these rabbits, what conditions they are kept in for breeding purposes and what local authorities are doing to regulate the industry in their areas.

A survey of rabbit breeders found that the most commonly-sold rabbits were the extreme breeds with flat faces, around half of breeders provided smaller housing that is recommended and only 1% of breeders were licensed. The survey also found that most rabbits were housed singly, against welfare guidelines, and that most local councils contacted did not use their licensing powers effectively to police commercial rabbit breeding. The full results of the study are published in the journal Animals.

Dr Naomi Harvey from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, helped to oversee the project and said: “Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the country with an estimated population of 1.5 million so it is vitally important that more is known about how these animals are kept, bred and sold. It was great that 33 breeders responded to the anonymous online survey to help us paint a more accurate picture of the type of breeding going on and also the welfare and husbandry techniques being used. Whilst most of the breeders provided good diets and toys, the fact that many rabbits were housed singly in too small conditions is concerning.

“It is clear from the Freedom of Information request to local councils in the UK that more needs to be done to make them aware of the extent of the industry and what they can do to help improve the rabbits’ welfare using their licensing powers.”

Animal welfare researcher, Emma Gosling (née Gurney), carried out the work as part of her Masters degree on Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law at the University of Winchester. Emma said: “We know from previous targeted surveys that most pet rabbits are bought from pet shops or garden centres, acquired from rescue centres or from friends and family. But around a third of breeders sell their rabbits online or direct to the public. The majority of breeders in the UK appear to be unlicensed and are therefore untraceable and unaccountable for their animals’ welfare. I hope the new information gathered by my research will fill a gap in knowledge about the industry and foster a new awareness of best practice in rabbit welfare as well as improve licensing compliance among breeders and local councils.”

The researchers conclude that the wide variety of standards of practice by rabbit breeders in the UK may be partly due to a lack of clear and accessible guidance available on rabbit welfare and husbandry. They are calling on organisations to make use of the new study to create interventions to safeguard the welfare of rabbits used for breeding.

Article: The Status of Pet Rabbit Breeding and Online Sales in the UK: A Glimpse into an Otherwise Elusive Industry by Emma M. Gosling, Jorge A. Vázquez-Diosdado and Naomi D. Harvey published in Animals (2018) 8(11) 199, doi: 10.3390/ani8110199

Article details

  • Date
  • 13 December 2018
  • Source
  • University of Nottingham
  • Subject(s)
  • Dogs, Cats, and other Companion Animals