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Amnesty needed on breeding and sale of pet rabbits, says RSPCA

THE RSPCA is backing a breeding amnesty aimed at tackling the surge in rabbits being abandoned while rescue centres are at bursting point.

The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWA&F) is calling for breeders to suspend their activities temporarily in order to reduce the numbers of unwanted rabbits left needing accommodation at rescues and animal centres, like those run by the RSPCA and its branches.

Thousands of pet rabbits have been abandoned as a result of lockdown breeding and the cost-of-living crisis, which has impacted on owners who cannot afford to keep their pets.

As well as demanding the breeding and sale of all pet rabbits ceases while the issue is resolved, the RWA&F has launched a petition calling for a change in legislation to ensure rabbit breeders require the same licensing as dog breeders in a bid to improve rabbit welfare. 

Presently, the breeding of pet rabbits is unregulated in both England and Wales – but the UK Government and Welsh Government have the power to act. 

As well as the RSPCA, the breeding amnesty is being backed by Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare, Wood Green Pets Charity and classified advertising website Preloved, who plan to stop users of its website placing new rabbit sales listings between March 20 and April 9.

Last year the RSPCA witnessed a large increase (48 per cent) in the numbers of rabbits arriving at its animal centres compared to 2021. In all 1,090 rabbits were taken into the care of centres, while it is estimated that the charity’s branches will have dealt with around two-and-a-half times that number alone during 2022.

Sadly, while the intake of rabbits has surged, rehoming rates have fallen as the cost of living crisis bites. Rabbits – many of whom are rescued from poor welfare conditions – find themselves staying on average 132 days at RSPCA centres. There was a 42 per cent fall in the numbers of bunnies finding new homes last year from RSPCA centres compared to before the pandemic in 2019.

Dr Jane Tyson, rabbit welfare expert at the RSPCA, said: “The number of rabbits entering the RSPCA in need has surged since the pandemic, possibly because people could no longer care for their pets as life returned to normal, but also as a result of the cost-of-living crisis too.

“As more are coming into our care, our centres are at capacity, and we are utilising private boarding which is costly to us as a charity. At the same time, we are seeing rehoming rates slowing, meaning rabbits are staying with us for longer than ever before.

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“We are pleased to support the RWA&F breeding amnesty campaign and would urge anyone

thinking of getting rabbits to do plenty of research first and consider adopting from one of our many

centres across England and Wales rather than buying from a pet shop or online.”

There is no licensing of rabbit breeders in England and the RWA&F says anyone can start breeding and selling offspring without adequate checks. That has meant that inexperienced pet owners often are left with multiple litters they can’t look after.

The RWA&F’s petition is calling for a change in legislation so that breeders will need the same licensing as dog breeders to ensure rabbits are afforded similar protections – the petition has already received over 41,000 signatures.

Director of the RWA&F Rae Walters said: “We are delighted that the RSPCA is supporting our ‘Breeding Amnesty’ campaign. The RSPCA is dealing with neglected and abandoned rabbits every day, and for the charity to support this campaign reinforces how important it is that everyone stops breeding, stops buying from breeders, and supports rescue.”

A spokesperson for Preloved said the company is giving breeders advance notice about the listing ban so they can pause breeding programmes and new litters would not need to be sold off during the period of amnesty.  

Matthew Gough, head of animal welfare at Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare, said: “We are completely full and last month there were 45 people wanting to surrender their rabbits to us, but we rehomed just one rabbit.

“RWA&F’s campaign to stop breeding and sales would address the problem and eventually stop the flow of rabbits onto the market and drive people to go to rescue centres like Raystede and adopt.”

The RWA&F says some breeders fall short on ensuring the welfare of rabbits, including mis-sexing baby rabbits, which results in accidental litters. The charity says introducing a licensing system would raise standards of welfare across the industry.

RSPCA Kent-North West Branch rehomed 50 rabbits last year and regularly take in bunnies that have been abandoned. Branch manager, Becky Blackmore, says the breeding industry needs to come under closer scrutiny.

“Some rabbits are living in squalid conditions and it is too tempting for people to make a bit of money from selling them. Backyard breeding is too easy and has been boosted by the massive demand for rabbits during lockdowns.

“As a result we now have lots of unwanted rabbits, but there are always people ready to buy more from breeders because they are cheap compared to other pets. It often means they are not cared for properly because if you can buy a rabbit for £20 some people will take the view they don’t need to provide care like veterinary treatment as they can just go out and buy another rabbit.

“We would urge anyone considering taking on rabbits to research their needs thoroughly and adopt from an animal or rescue centre like those run by the RSPCA and other reputable organisations and not shop for them.”

To sign the RWA&F’s petition please go here.