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RSPCA in adoption plea after 199% rise in rabbits staying in care for over six months

a rabbit
A rabbit in a caring home Photo: RSPCA Cymru

The RSPSA charity wants owners to neuter their pet rabbits.

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.”

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 were prepared specially for the reent Rabbit Awareness Week and they are packed with information for potential and current rabbit adopters.

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RSPCA in adoption plea after 199% rise in rabbits staying in care for over six months