Companionship in rabbits is key to their welfare, say vets

The British Veterinary Association (BVA), together with British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), has called for greater awareness of the health and welfare benefits of housing rabbits incompatible pairs. 

According to the 2019 PDSA PAW report, rabbits are the UK’s third most popular mammalian pet, as a recent BVA survey of vets in the UK found that 73% had seen pet rabbits who were not having all of their welfare needs met and of the rabbits they saw, 42% were housed alone.

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The report said the importance of housing rabbits in pairs “demonstrates the benefits to their physical and mental health, behavioural opportunities, such as mutual grooming.” The report also often actively seeks out the company of other rabbits in preference to food.

It also recommends that vets have a role in advising and educating owners about the importance of housing pet rabbits in compatible pairs: that is, two of the same sex (preferably neutered) or neutered opposite sex, as well as the health benefits of neutering.

Daniella Dos Santos, BVA president, said: “Whether they are outside or inside, rabbits are highly sociable animals and benefit from a suitable companion. Year after year, statistics show that a large proportion of the UK’s pet rabbits still live alone.

“I am really pleased to be launching this joint position in which we can offer owners, veterinary professionals, and other stakeholders – from pet sellers to Government – strong advice on the importance of companionship and best practice.”

Sue Paterson, BSAVA president added: “Rabbits are popular pets with their own unique welfare needs which may not be met, often simply due to lack of in-depth knowledge as opposed to any willful intention to neglect their needs when it comes to companionship.”

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