As the third most popular companion animals in the Netherlands, pet rabbits are the primary focus of a new study conducted by the University of Utrecht with the support of Dierenbescherming. Following previous research showing that a considerable number of pet rabbits are kept under suboptimal conditions and fed a poor diet, the new study confirms major animal welfare concerns leading to a variety of health and welfare problems. The study reveals that the poorly informed owners often pay little attention to the expression of their companions’ natural behavior and that there is a lack of transparency in the wider pet rabbit sector.
Although approximately 1.2 million rabbits are kept in Dutch households every year, their origin is often unknown to their owners. This is one of the findings highlighted in a new study published recently by Utrecht University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and developed with the support of the Dutch animal protection organisation Dierenbescherming. In order to ensure rabbits’ well-being, behavioral biologist Claudia Vinke says that the sector should work more closely with breeders, sellers and owners on identifying where exactly the rabbits come from and how they are kept. Elly von Jessen, Senior Policy Advisor at Dierenbescherming, points out that this study is an essential step towards a clearer picture of the sector’s bottlenecks and that more efforts should be made to improve the welfare of these popular pets, throughout the sector’s supply chain.
Another major welfare issue highlighted by the study is the lack of information for those who decide to purchase a pet rabbit. With only 15% of consumers declaring to be sufficiently informed about the costs involved with the care for a rabbit, many owners underestimate the efforts needed to provide pet rabbits with basic care and welfare. As a consequence, rabbits’ average life span is often reduced to 4.5 years despite the fact that some breeds could live up to 13 years. Moreover, every year more than 12,000 small mammals – mainly rabbits and guinea pigs – wind up in rescue centers and shelters as a result of impulsive and careless buying.
In an attempt to turn this trend, Dierenbescherming launched the campaign Happy Rabbit, which since it was launched last year, has raised awareness among rabbit owners and the rabbit sector about the needs of rabbits. In cooperation with the Dutch pet stores and Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, the campaign aimed at keeping the consumers well informed before buying pet rabbits and providing them with tips for their keeping and care. For example, many owners don’t know that rabbits’ best friends are other rabbits. This is why Dierenbescherming advises owners to have at least two rabbit pets if they want to keep their companions happy.