The RSPCA is calling on people to consider adopting unwanted rabbits as rehoming rates plummet leaving many pets in its care searching for owners for more than six months.
The animal charity saw a large 48% rise in the intake of rabbits in 2022 compared to the previous year and with numbers still high this year, it is grappling with a rabbit crisis. The RSPCA fears unneutered rabbits are further contributing to the problem.
Research revealed during Rabbit Awareness Week this week (June 26-30) demonstrates there is a lack of knowledge of the benefits of castrating or spaying rabbits in the early months after birth. Many owners also lack knowledge about identifying the sex of animals to prevent unwanted litters.
The numbers of rabbits rehomed from RSPCA branches dropped by 23% between 2019 and 2022, while there was a 42% fall in rehoming from the charity’s national animal centres during a similar period. So far this year (to the end of May), rehoming rates continue to fall. RSPCA branches have found new owners for 482 rabbits so far this year, but that is just a quarter of the total number that were rehomed by branches during the whole of 2019.
Meanwhile, there has been a 199% rise last year in those rabbits (124) who have had to be cared for by the charity’s branches for more than six months – often at great expense in private boarding establishments – compared to the previous year.
Burgess Pet Care, who the RSPCA is partnering with for Rabbit Awareness Week, has revealed a third of 1,600 people questioned during a recent survey thought rabbits did not need neutering, while 75 per cent believed there was no need to neuter rabbits if they were of the same sex.
Yet the benefits of neutering outweighs the very small risk of surgery and most vets are happy to undertake both castration and spaying procedures. If owners were to neuter their pets it would not only reduce the numbers of unwanted rabbits, but help them live longer, healthier lives. Around 80% of unneutered female rabbits develop uterine cancer after the age of three.
Dr Jane Tyson, the RSPCA’s rabbit welfare expert, said: “Rabbits can reproduce at a very young age. They are pregnant for just one month and they can have large litters, so numbers can rapidly escalate. Many people also don’t realise rabbits can get pregnant again within just a couple of hours of giving birth.
“An unsuspecting owner can quickly find themselves becoming overwhelmed with animals. This is why the theme of Rabbit Awareness Week 2023 is so important, especially at a time when rescue centres are inundated with calls for help from rabbit owners.
“We’d urge anyone who hasn’t yet had their rabbit neutered to speak to their vet about getting them booked in for this very important, and routine, procedure.”
Peter Lancaster, head of marketing at Burgess Pet Care, said: “Our research clearly shows there is a lack of understanding of neutering and the benefits of doing so. It not only prevents unplanned litters, but, with unneutered female rabbits developing uterine tumours it is really important that they undergo the procedure.”
The RSPCA took in over 3,000 unwanted rabbits in 2022 and so far this year (to the end of May) 307 rabbits have arrived at animal centres, while 378 have been taken in by RSPCA branches, many of whom are now full to capacity.
Adding to the problem were seven rabbits cruelly abandoned in a cage and a cat carrier down an alleyway in the Levenshulme district of Manchester in April this year.
Animal rescue officer Lee Ferrans collected the unwanted pets and took them to be checked over at RSPCA Greater Manchester Animal Hospital and he later transported them to a private boarding home in Lancashire.
Lee said: “It may be these rabbits proved too much for someone after they had started off with just a couple. People really need to neuter their pets and they also need to research what it takes to look after them properly. Neither the cage nor the carrier these rabbits were found in were large enough to accommodate them.
“In recent months, I have dealt with three or four rabbit abandonments.”
RSPCA Crewe and Nantwich Branch has been inundated with people looking to give up their rabbits. The branch’s rabbit co-ordinator, Katie Farrie, who cares for many of the unwanted pets in her own home, said: “We are getting a lot of calls from the public asking us to take their rabbits at this time of year.
“People buy rabbits for Easter as they think they are easy pets to look after and sadly in some instances their kids get bored with them and families aren’t prepared for the commitment involved in looking after them properly.”
The theme for this year’s Rabbit Awareness Week is Neutering: Protect and Prevent. The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund, which is also taking part in the campaign, says male rabbits can be castrated from 10 weeks, while females can be spayed from four months. It has a directory of rabbit-friendly vet practices, where owners can seek out help with neutering.
There may be help available towards the costs of neutering and owners can check with their local RSPCA branches to see if they are eligible. Owners can also find advice on sexing their rabbits.
Free resource packs have been prepared specially for Rabbit Awareness Week and they are packed with information for potential and current rabbit adopters.
Among the rabbits seeking new homes at RSPCA centres is Tangy Tom, a two-year-old black and white rabbit, who was abandoned in a box at a park with several other rabbits. But after spending time at Birmingham Animal Centre he is ready to find a new home and the centre hopes to get Tangy Tom a girlfriend in his new home, so his new owners will need to help with the bonding process.
Enki, a crossbreed of unknown age, is hoping for a bit of magic to get her fixed up with a new owner. She is at the Crewe and Nantwich Branch, who say: “We think she might be part Lionhead and her longer hair makes her look like a wizard – so we named her after the Sumerian god of water and wisdom. She is a shy bunny, but she does love rabbit company, so she would benefit from a husbun to live outdoors with.”
Staff at Felledge Animal Centre are taking special care of Snowy, an affectionate girl, who may have reduced vision in both eyes. But, the centre says this does not seem to cause her any issues and she still loves her playtime, especially throwing her tubes around. She will come as part of a pair as she has been bonded with Ash (left in picture), a small rabbit with a big personality.