The rabbit is a much-misunderstood pet and companion, often seen as a far easier choice to make than buying a dog or a cat. Many rabbit owners pick their pet having a very poor understanding of what rabbits really need to thrive and be happy as a result, and many choose a rabbit as a pet for their child without doing any meaningful research into their care requirements, or the knowledge and commitment involved in keeping such a pet.
Rabbits are in fact complex and delicate creatures, which when cared for correctly, can be time consuming and costly to keep, and owners who think otherwise are almost certainly failing to provide for all of their pet’s needs.
This is not just conjecture either; the PDSA recently undertook a large-scale survey of pet owners in the UK that encompassed rabbit owners as well as people with cats and dogs, in order to build up a complete picture of how we keep and care for our pets; and how appropriate this is for them.
When it came to the rabbits, the survey’s findings are rather alarming, and indicate that the vast majority of UK rabbit owners are neglecting or failing to recognise and provide for at least one key element of their pet’s welfare and happiness.
One of the main aspects across which this is apparent is in terms of how UK rabbit owners generally keep and house their pets; and in this article, we’ll outline the details of how the average pet rabbit in the UK is kept and housed, alongside of how they should really be provided for.
Read on to learn more, before you buy a rabbit, or to ensure that you’re housing and caring for your rabbit properly if you allready have one.
The PDSA survey encompassed over 5,000 pet owners, and based on the projections drawn from the data collated within the survey, around 2% of people in the UK – or one in fifty – own a pet rabbit. The pet rabbit population of the UK is estimated to be around 900,000.
How many of the UK’s rabbits are house rabbits?
Keeping rabbits indoors as house rabbits is something that has really taken off over the last couple of decades, before which this was virtually unheard of. This is perfectly fine and appropriate in and of itself, and providing that all of the pet’s needs are provided for, it is perfectly appropriate to keep pet rabbits either largely indoors or largely outdoors.
So, what proportion of the UK pet rabbit population are house rabbits? 44% live largely indoors (400,000 of the total) and the other 56% (or 500,000) largely outdoors.
Most people who aren’t hugely familiar with rabbits, and a saddening number of those who are, think of a hutch or a cage as being the most common and appropriate type of housing for a rabbit. However, whilst a hutch or cage can be incorporated as part of a rabbit’s general housing provision, it is by no means enough, nor should it be considered as a comprehensive standalone rabbit housing option.
In fact, rabbits only came to be kept in hutches in the first place as this was a convenient method of housing live rabbits close to a house’s kitchens – so that said rabbits were in easy reach for adding to the pot! As you can imagine, such accommodation was thus hardly designed with the welfare of the rabbit in mind.
Rabbits should not spend all, or anything close to most of, their time in a hutch or cage; and yet the survey found that a solid 25% of rabbit owners keep their rabbits in this manner. Across rabbit owners as a whole, most rabbits spend around 11 hours a day in their cage or hutch.
Rabbits need plenty of access to a large space to move around in, in the form of a secure and roomy run. And yet 10% of the UK’s rabbits live solely in a hutch or cage, with no run at all.
However, even owners who do provide a run and ensure that their rabbits have access to it for the larger part of the day don’t always provide enough space in this respect. 11% of the rabbit owners who do supply a run for their pets provide a run so short or narrow that their rabbits can manage less than four hops before reaching a wall!
Based on information provided by the survey’s rabbit owners on how their rabbit’s days are divided up in terms of different locations and activities, here’s how the average pet rabbit in the UK spends their day:
So, how appropriate is this? The vast majority of the UK’s rabbits should have significantly more time spent in a large run or free roaming, with always-available access to their housing during this time.
** Please note, “free roaming” generally means in a large enough run that the rabbit has ideal freedom of movement; not all rabbits have this large of a run, just as not all rabbits have access to indoors, and the split of hours across the different elements represents an average breakdown for the median model of a theoretical rabbit in the UK.
Rabbits are social creatures that are only happy when kept with another rabbit. This does of course mean that the rabbits need to be spayed or neutered, as there’s a very good reason for that old phrase “breeding like rabbits!” This is one of the key care and welfare concerns surrounding rabbits, and the PDSA, other animal charities and rabbit welfare organisations alike have taken great pains in recent years to highlight the importance of rabbits having company.
Please note also that rabbits need the company of other rabbits specifically – other pets that were historically commonly kept with rabbits, like Guinea Pigs, are not an appropriate substitute.
So, what percentage of the UK’s rabbits are indeed housed with at least one other rabbit? 51%.
This means that almost half of the UK’s rabbits are kept alone; and this is in direct contravention of their best interests, happiness and welfare.