Bunny Pet: The Forgotten Companion
A Rabbit’s letter to society
by Ljubitelji kunckov and BuČka&Nero/ photo: Marilyn Manson’s white rabbit
“I am Rabbit. Not only am I a rabbit, my name is also Rabbit. Why is that so? Well, I don’t know, that’s how people call me. People are bad. I don’t like them. Every time they come, I am really scared. Otherwise, life is ok. Apart from the sore feet I have from this cage I live in….and boy, would I like to try and run…or maybe jump a little. But you know, it’s not that bad….at least I get a carrot here and there. My tummy feels funny after it, but I am so hungry most of the time I eat it up immediately. It also gives me a small amount of water. I drink my water so fast. Especially when it’s hot in my cage. The iron gets so hot and it burns my feet and I try to move but the sun reaches everywhere. And then the winter comes. And it gets really really cold. I sometimes think how great it would be to at least have some hay to hide in when it gets cold. It wasn’t always like that…when I first came to the people, they loved me. I think so…they even let me out a couple of times, and then this small person chased me around, but at least I got out. But then they got a dog and I was scared and then they even got a baby. I got my new home a few months after the dog came. The little person started chasing him and i was made redundant. And then, at first, they visited me. Then I think they forgot about me. The dog got his new home when the baby came. He is tied with a leash in front of the house. For the first couple of months he cried and barked all the time and I was really scared. But now he’s always quiet. Just like me…”
The problem with breeding
Rabbits are more than often bought in pet shops or online.
Breeding is a business, and as with “puppy mills”, “rabbit mills” exist as well. As rabbits are an easy specie to breed, they are an easy target for exploitation.
Most pet shops receive their rabbits from breeders with unknown breeding conditions.Those conditions could be unsanitary conditions, dark cages, lack of nesting boxes, lack of exercise.
Some Does are bred constantly until they develop mastitis and then culled for the lack of productivity to the breeding business.
Rabbits are usually purchased young. Handling and transportation at a young age means that many will die en route or suffer stress related issues.
Those rabbits are then displayed in windows in unnatural conditions, and remain in the pet shop until the are purchased or need to be euthanized.
In Australia, the law according to the Animal welfare code of practice – “Animals in pet shops” is that if a rabbit falls sick in a pet shop, they can be killed by a ‘competent person’ rather than a qualified vet who would be required to euthanise a dog or a cat.Rabbits live better in groups of two or three rather than solitary.
Rabbits are prey animals and like to look after each other. Often breeders separate rabbits for disease control and cage them alone which causes distress to the rabbits.
When housing rabbits together in a new environment, such as a pet shop, bonds can also occur between caged animals. Rabbits tend to bond or huddle together due to insecurities, needing safety and the fear of human interference. This bond is usually tight and when sold to pet shops or to customers, the group is often separated through purchase, which causes immense distress to the rabbits being separated.
For comprehensive information about breeding issues:
Adopt don't shop
According to the Australian RSPCA, 47% of animals, other than cats and dogs, which include rabbits are euthanized each year in pounds.
For each rabbit bought at a pet store, one will die at the pound. The ones at the pound are those who originally were bought from a breeder or through a pet store. They usually escape or are surrendered by their owners as the impulse of the purchase wears off.
Rabbits bought at pet stores are not desexed or vaccinated. They are sold to pet stores very young, with many sexes unidentified.
Adopting from a reputable shelter or rescue group, will more than likely mean that the rabbit has been desexed and vaccinated. Desexing a rabbit is of huge importance, due to the ease of breeding, and the high percentage of females dying of a Uterus cancer if not desexed early.
Many people with rabbits in hutches allow them to escape, or simply dump them in the wild if they have no use for them anymore. Domestic rabbits are not wild rabbits and will not survive in the wild.
Pounds are full of rabbits, whether surrendered or found dumped. Animal shelters mostly run out of capacity just before school holidays. This is usually due to unplanned pet sitting, where families decide that surrendering is the best and cheapest option.
Pounds are loud places. There are usually a large number of stray and unwanted pets there. Most pounds in Australia will euthanise a surrendered animal within a week, and those who cannot find a new home will also be euthanised in a limited time frame.
So ask yourself a question before you buy from a breeder, online or a pet store: do you want to be part of this growing problem of pets euthanised due to excessive breeding? Or is there an animal whose life can be saved in the pound or shelter?
You will most likely find that most breeds can be found in shelters and rescue groups, making pet stores and breeders redundant.
For a list of rabbits for adoption in Australia, visit your nearest shelter or pound, or click here on pet rescue listings
Rabbits are incredibly fragile and complex animals.
Sadly, they are still one of the most neglected domestic animals. Most neglect and cruelty cases stem from ignorance. It is customary for people to buy a pet rabbit for a child. This is a bad mistake. A rabbit needs an adult human or a supervised older child.
A rabbit can live between 8-12 years, and needs care and supervision.
Rabbits live in large groups called warrens or burrows, and they rarely stray away from the safety of the warren.
They have a highly developed social hierarchy. This is very obvious when trying to bond pairs or groups. The dominant rabbits mark their territories by “chinning” objects or leaving a scent. This scent is part of group identification. Rabbits even “chin” their humans if they are particularly fond of them.
Rabbits are a highly intelligent species. They are very aware of their surroundings, their groups and their human companions. They thrive on interaction. They often initiate play with other rabbits, pets or people.
Unfortunately, a huge proportion of rabbits live out their days in small hutches with little or no interaction.
Rabbits are very quiet animals and do not vocalise much, unless in extreme terror and pain, which would sound like a high-pitched scream.
Their behaviour, from joy to terror to hunger or pain is obvious through physical observation of their body language or their grimace. For example, fear in a rabbit is demonstrated by crouching motionless with feet beneath the body, head extended, ears flattened and eyes bulging. Inquisitiveness is seen with the head extended and ears pointing forwards.
However the most noticeable behaviour is the “binky”, which is a leap in the air with legs stretched out. This is a sure sign of happiness.
The other extremely important behaviour to notice is that when rabbits are in pain, they will stop eating. Even when offered their favourite treat.
This is an alarm sign, and the rabbit needs immediate veterinary attention.
There are many good comprehensive sites with rabbit behaviour and welfare. We recommend the following:
David Vella Exotic vet pdf sheets on:
For a number of downloadable leaflets on rabbit behaviour and care, click on The Rabbit Welfare Group
What's wrong with a hutch
Exercise plays a very important part in maintaining a rabbit’s physical and mental health.
The result of caging rabbits means that they will be in an increase risk of obesity, pododematitis, and spinal injuries1.
Rabbits should have at basic minimum space required to hop, stand on their hind legs, perch at high levels, and a safe haven to hide1.
Rabbits in cages and small hutches are known to start abnormal repetitive behaviour such as pawing at the corners of cages, biting the wire, over grooming, over eating and playing with the water supply1. This is due to boredom and lack of stimulation and if housed alone, loneliness.
Rabbits do not tolerate temperatures over 28C. They can only sweat through glands on their lips, which means only a small amount of heat escapes their bodies through the surface of their ears.
Heat in rabbits creates stress, leading to exhaustion, illnesses and death. They pant very little, and a sign of dehydration is that they stop panting1.
Rabbits must NEVER be cooled down by bathing under any circumstance. To cool down rabbits, an ice bottle should be placed near the rabbit, with the rabbit taken near a fan, shade or a cooler area
Leaving your rabbit companion in a hutch outdoors will also make him susceptible to the Calici and Myxoma viruses. Those viruses, if caught, will lead to severe pain and death. There is no vaccine against the myxoma virus, and the calici vaccine does not cover all strains.
Rabbits are very fragile and are frightened easily from people and other animals. If under stress, they will go into “gut Stasis”. This is a very common condition that occurs, in particular in outdoor rabbits, as they are not supervised regularly. Once the gut stops working, the rabbit will go into starvation and will die unless vets intervene.
We recommend the following comprehensive website to learn about housing your rabbit indoors:
The House Rabbit society, an extremely comprehensive site for rabbit owners on care and behaviour, feeding and all things rabbit.
: Bays; Lightfoot and Mayer (2006) Exotic Pet Behaviour. Saunders Elsevier: Missouri
Help us raise the status of rabbits through education to a companion animal such as a dog or a cat.