Since the Animal Welfare Act came out in 2006, all pet owners and keepers have been required to ensure the welfare of their animals. These requirements apply to anyone responsible for animals and place on owners and keepers a legal duty of care. It is based around 5 welfare needs.
For rabbits, these 5 welfare needs are:
- The need for a suitable environment – rabbits need plenty of space to exercise to keep them fit and healthy. Their housing and exercise area needs to be big enough to allow this. They should not be confined to a hutch or cage.
- The need for a suitable diet – most ‘rabbit food’ is actually detrimental to the health of rabbits. The muesli-type food encourages selective feeding and does not provide all the things your rabbit needs. A rabbit should have a diet of 80-90% hay or grass, with fresh leafy greens and extruded nuggets as extras.
- The need to exhibit suitable behaviour patterns – pet rabbits need lots of stimulation to keep them active and the space to do this. They need places to hide, places to get up high, places to forage for food.
- The need for companionship – in the wild rabbits live in large groups. As pets, they need to be kept with other rabbits in friendly pairs or groups. A neutered male-female pairing is generally best. Guinea pigs are not suitable companions for rabbits.
- The need to be protected against pain, suffering and disease – rabbits need regular vaccination to protect them against two potentially fatal diseases, neutering to protect against some types of cancer, a good diet to reduce the risk of dental and intestinal problems, and regular veterinary check ups. If your rabbit is unwell, you must seek veterinary advice to prevent suffering. Pet insurance is recommended to help pay for those unexpected bills.