A new survey to build up a picture of standards of animal welfare in the UK rabbit breeding industry has been launched by researchers at the University of Nottingham’s Vet School and the University of Winchester.
The PDSA charity reports that rabbits are the third most popular pet in the country with an estimated population of 1.5 million rabbits.
Masters degree student Emma Gurney from the Nottingham Vet School, who is leading the project, said that very little is known about how they are bred for sale into the pet trade.
Ms Gurney said: “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.
Ms Gurney added: “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.”