A new survey to build up a picture of standards of animal welfare in the UK rabbit breeding industry is being launched by researchers at the University of Nottingham’s Vet School and the University of Winchester.
Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the country with an estimated population of 1.5 million rabbits, according to the PDSA charity, but very little is known about how they are bred for sale into the pet trade. There are dozens of breeds of rabbits sold as pets, from very expensive pedigree animals like Blanc de Hotot to more common varieties such as the English Lop.
The Rabbit Breeder Project is asking breeders to fill in the anonymous online questionnaire which asks about the housing and husbandry methods they use. The survey takes no more than 20 minutes to complete and no-one taking part will be identified or be asked to give their location.
Leading the project is Masters degree student Emma Gurney from the Nottingham Vet School, who said: “I have a personal interest in this subject as I love rabbits and have four of my own at home. They are increasingly popular as pets, particularly with the new trend of house-rabbits which can even be trained to use litter trays. We are very keen to know more about the extent of breeding for sale in the UK as at the moment it is pretty unregulated. Our survey asks breeders basic questions about the numbers of breeding rabbits they look after, how many ‘does’ and how many ‘bucks’ they keep, what their daily feeding routines are, how many rabbits they breed and sell, what breeds and the type of housing environments they are kept in.”
Dr Naomi Harvey, zoologist and supervisor on the project, said: “There are laws about the breeding and housing conditions of laboratory rabbits in scientific research but our investigation so far has found no legislative guidelines or regulation in rabbit breeding for the pet industry. Rabbit breeders who sell their rabbits commercially or as a business are required to hold a licence from their local authority but an FOI request we made to 40 local councils in the UK showed that no licences were issued in 2016 and some councils were not even aware this needs to be administered by them. Due to how little is known about rabbit breeding in the UK it is vital that some research is carried out to better understand the current state of the industry and we hope that people who breed rabbits will want to help us.”
Dr Jane Tyson, Scientific Officer, RSPCA Companion Animals Department said: “The conditions that animals are bred and raised in can have long term impacts on their behaviour and welfare. As there has been little previous research into this subject, we would be very interested to see the results of this study, which we hope could be used to improve welfare for breeding rabbits and their offspring."
Dr Richard Saunders from the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund said: “We know that there is a huge variation in how rabbits are kept and bred, and with this sort of overview of husbandry one can see what is good, and what needs improving about rabbit breeding, as well as better informing the future owners about how to keep their rabbits."
The results will contribute to a postgraduate masters project and will help the research team form a picture of the current status of pet rabbit breeding in the UK. The online questionnaire will be available until January 31st 2018 and the results of the project will be submitted to Royal Society Open Science.
The researchers can be contacted via the Rabbit Breeder Project Facebook page or via the contacts below. A copy of the online questionnaire is available to the media on request.
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