In March 2021, research by Quotezone showed that sales of rabbits surpassed those of cats and dogs during the lockdown, with an increase of 212 percent purchased in 2020 (March 2020-February 2021) compared with 2019.
The UK’s largest rabbit welfare charity, The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF), states that, as the third most popular pet in the UK, rabbits are often considered an easy, low-maintenance and low-cost first-time pet, explaining their popularity during the lockdown. However, misinformation and misunderstanding over the complexity and cost of rabbit care is one of the primary reasons why thousands of rabbits are abandoned every year.
The Bristol Rabbit Rescue had a total of 34 requests to surrender rabbits in October 2021 in comparison to 13 requests the previous October, showing a percentage increase of 262 percent unwanted pet rabbits. Wendy Lloyd of the Bristol Rabbit Rescue said: “we had 24 requests in one day alone. We are a small rescue and are getting requests almost daily.”
The vast increase in rabbit sales has been amplified by a surge in new rabbit breeders. Rescuers have been monitoring free ads sites and have discovered a marked rise in new rabbit breeders “cashing in” on the demand for pet rabbits during the pandemic and its associated restrictions.
Looking at three trading sites, the Rabbit Residence Rescue has identified 66 new rabbit breeders, predominantly offering lops and mini lops, since the first lockdown in March 2020 to October 2021. This is in comparison to 27 new traders between March 2018 to October 2019. This shows an increase of 244 percent new breeders of rabbits since the first lockdown.
Lea Facey of Rabbit Residence Rescue said: “This data is just a drop in the ocean. If the same pattern was replicated across all pet trading platforms and more breeds, we could be looking at a massive and still unregulated market. These figures are very worrying and will only get worse as people look for alternative ways to make the money to pay their bills, particularly at a time when household bills are escalating.”
Cinzia Delegate, co-founder of Little Furries Rabbit Rescue in Stanmore, said: “The number of stray and dumped rabbits is the worst we have ever experienced. It is out of control and unmanageable. Sadly, we feel the recent pet sales have contributed to the spiralling effect of the situation, creating an influx of unwanted rabbits being discarded on the streets or through any means possible through social media and sales channels. Action to stop breeding and stop sales must be considered as a matter of the utmost urgency.”
The possibility of heading into another lockdown and the rise of unregulated rabbit breeders is posing a great concern to the RWAF, the Rabbit Awareness Action Group and rescue centres nationwide, especially as inadequate housing continues to be sold and incorrect care advice remains to be given.
“There is a misconception that rescue rabbits are ‘damaged goods’, and so new owners prefer to get new rabbits from shops and breeders, but this simply isn’t true”, says Rae Walters, director of the RWAF. “Rescue rabbits are not damaged, most have been simply abandoned and are in need of a loving home.
“The issue is the constant supply on demand for ‘new rabbits’, so rabbit breeders will continue to breed rabbits like it’s going out of fashion, intensifying the problem just to line their pockets with zero concern for animal welfare.”
The RWAF’s adopt don’t shop campaign urges anyone who is serious about wanting pet rabbits to “adopt don’t shop” to help prevent this supply on demand, resolve overcrowding in rescue centres, and give abandoned rabbits a second chance at a happy ending. They also implore people to do their research before they decide to become an owner of rabbits to make sure they understand the five fundamental rabbit welfare requirements and ensure these very special pets are not only right for them, but they themselves are right for rabbits too.