The British Veterinary Association has issued a media alert expressing its disappointment in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ decision not to publish a code of practice for the welfare of rabbits.
Defra believes that “the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to provide for the welfare needs of animals are sufficient to ensure the necessary protection for the welfare of pet rabbits,” said James Paice, MP.
The BVA called the decision a “disappointing blow.”
“Rabbits are such popular pets, but vets are seeing more and more husbandry-related problems with these animals,” said Harvey Locke, president of the BVA. “Dental disease and obesity are two of the most common problems we encounter and both are directly linked to inappropriate diets.
“Another issue of concern is inadequate space for exercise, but perhaps the most neglected of all the welfare needs is a lack of companionship for these very social animals.”
The United Kingdom has more than 1.6 million rabbits. About 700,000 could be suffering mentally and physically because they are not receiving all essential health and welfare services for their happiness and well-being, Locke said, citing a PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report. The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) helps care for the sick and injured animals of people in need.
“The government has missed an opportunity to educate owners about responsible rabbit ownership and improve the health and welfare of the UK’s third most popular pet,” he said.
The Welsh Assembly Government published a code of practice in 2009 that highlighted the welfare needs of rabbits and what the law required owners to do.
“It would be heartening to see Defra follow suit,” Locke said.