Rabbits living alone in cages are extremely lonely. A report by the PDSA found that half of all pet rabbits in Britain live alone while 28% are free-roaming. Living alone is a highly unnatural lifestyle for rabbits because they naturally live in large groups and forage for food.
“In rabbits we have a social species that is kept in isolation. That’s the ultimate punishment”.Dan O’Neill, a veterinarian at the Royal Veterinary College who co-authored the research referred to below.
The British Rabbit Council defended keeping rabbits in solitary cages by saying that domestic rabbits are bred over generations to be caged animals. Hazel Elliott, the chairwoman, said that they are used to living alone. She admitted to being aware of the guidance on keeping pet rabbits in groups but said:
“This cannot be applied to breeders as they require their rabbits to be in good condition for exhibition and able to breed future generations.”
We don’t know whether she addressed the findings of the survey by the PDSA referred to above.
Loneliness is not the only problem from which pet rabbits suffer. They are also distressed and diseased. Another survey of more than 2,500 pet rabbits carried out by veterinarians found that many long-term disorders were commonplace. These include anorexia, flystrike (often fatal and caused by flies laying eggs on a rabbit’s skin), myiasis and overgrown claws and teeth.
Keeping rabbits as pets has been a popular British pastime for about 200 years. Breeders have established breeding lines and there are more than 50 breeds and over 500 varieties of purebred, pedigree rabbits.
Breeders of dogs and cats and also rabbits have a tendency to breed to extreme to enhance the appearance of their animals. This can lead to inherited health problems. An example among the rabbit fraternity is the lionhead rabbit which has a shortened muzzle that can make breathing difficult. This compares with the flat-faced Persian cat.
Many health conditions suffered by rabbits apparently go unnoticed by their owners because rabbits have evolved to hide symptoms of distress and illness according to the veterinarians’ report. Domestic cats also hide pain and illness.
Comment: It is sad to read this information in The Times newspaper. It appears that many breeders of companion animals have got their priorities wrong. They should breed for health and behaviour but tend to focus on appearance at the expense of both. It is unsettling to realise that 50% of pet rabbits live solitary lives. I hadn’t realised it. People seem to have a habit of messing up on the domestication of animals. It happens because too many people are self-indulgent and they are not sensitive enough towards the needs of companion animals.