The UK’s pet rabbits are lonely hearts looking for companionship, say vets
Nearly half (42%) of the pet rabbits that vets see in the UK spend their life alone, despite evidence showing that they are healthier and happier when housed with a suitable companion.
The veterinary profession is urging potential owners to consider taking on more than just one pet rabbit due to the importance of companionship for their physical and emotional health and welfare.
According to the 2019 PDSA PAW report, rabbits are the UK’s third most popular pet. However, their needs remain very misunderstood. A recent BVA survey of vets in the UK showed that 73 per cent had seen pet rabbits who were not having all of their welfare needs met and of the rabbits they saw, 42 per cent were housed alone.
In a joint position, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) alongside the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) have called for greater awareness of the health and welfare benefits of housing rabbits in compatible pairs or groups. Compatible rabbit companions - that is two of the same sex (preferably neutered) or of neutered opposite sex - can benefit from better physical and mental health, behavioural opportunities and emotional health. Rabbits are a prey species and traditionally live in colonies in the wild. Research shows that they often actively seek out the company of other rabbits in preference to food.
Vets also say that sufficient indoor or outdoor housing space is essential and that rabbits housed with another of the opposite sex should always be neutered. Contrary to historical practice, guinea pigs do not make good partners for rabbits as they have different dietary needs, can suffer injury and even disease, when housed alongside them.
The organisations are calling for vets, pet sellers, breeders, animal welfare organisations and Government to work together to improve awareness of the benefits of housing pet rabbits in compatible pairs or groups.
Commenting, BVA president and small animal and exotics vet, Daniella Dos Santos, said:
“Whether they are outside or inside, pet rabbits are highly sociable animals and benefit from buddying up with a suitable companion, so it’s a big concern that so many in the UK still live alone. It’s important to acknowledge the significance of companionship and adequate housing space to keep rabbits happy and healthy. We aim to create better awareness of both the physical and emotional health and welfare benefits to rabbits of keeping them in compatible pairs and want to spread the word that #ItTakesTwo!
“Anyone thinking of taking on a pair or group of rabbits should seek expert veterinary guidance to help make sure that the match is successful. For example, if you’re starting from scratch, a neutered pair is ideal but if you already have a lone rabbit and you’re wondering whether you should get a companion, ask your vet what your options are, what companion would be best suited to your rabbit’s health and welfare needs and the safest way to introduce them.”