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QWhy is it that peo­ple get rab­bits as pets for their chil­dren and then leave them in a tiny hutch at the bot­tom of the gar­den, get­ting looked at once a day if they are lucky? I help out in a rab­bit res­cue cen­tre and we see some ap­pallingly treated rab­bits, obese, fly­struck or des­per­ately thin and weak. Surely there needs to be more ed­u­ca­tion in or­der to help these poor an­i­mals?

AVic­to­ria

Roberts says: I do agree that rab­bits are the most com­monly ne­glected pet. I also see a lot of them which have been badly treated, mostly through ig­no­rance, but that is never an ex­cuse. They are more dif­fi­cult than other an­i­mals to keep with good wel­fare than peo­ple re­alise. An es­cape-proof gar­den with free range is the best en­vi­ron­ment for pet rab­bits, but those peo­ple who ob­tain a cou­ple of house rab­bits (com­pany is im­por­tant for them) have the most won­der­fully char­ac­ter­ful pets which don’t need walk­ing. These rab­bits are pam­pered (some­times a lit­tle overfed!) and have great in­ter­ac­tion with their own­ers and are usu­ally very fit as they have lots of ex­er­cise. Rab­bits have strong per­son­al­i­ties and, like dogs, need to know who is top of the pack. They also have very sharp teeth, so elec­tric flexes have to be pro­tected from them. They will use a lit­ter tray and are very clean. Some peo­ple who are al­ler­gic to cat or dog fur can tol­er­ate a rab­bit as they usu­ally only moult once a year. Proper food needs to be given to the rab­bits, prefer­ably the ho­moge­nous pel­leted sort as rab­bits will pick out the food they like and leave the food they need if the multi-coloured muesli type of mix is pro­vided. Lack of the cor­rect pro­por­tion of min­er­als leads to de­formed tooth growth, caus­ing se­ri­ous prob­lems later. They have evolved to sur­vive on a high fibre diet, so hay ad lib plus veg­eta­bles, herbs and a small daily amount of con­cen­trate food will suit them bet­ter than a dish of pel­lets kept con­tin­u­ously topped up. Obe­sity in rab­bits leads to fly­strike as the bunny can­not reach to keep its rear clean, or to in­gest the cae­cotrophs, a vi­tal part of their di­ges­tion. Fe­male rab­bits are very ter­ri­to­rial and are­prone to uter­ine can­cer, so they are gen­er­ally spayed at around four months to pre­vent dis­ease and re­duce ag­gres­sion, neutered males are more friendly af­ter neu­ter­ing.

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