GUEST COLUMN: Owning rabbits can be hard work but rewarding, by Rachel Butler RSPCA

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Every year, the RSPCA works with other animal welfare charities to get across very important messages about rabbit welfare during Rabbit Awareness Week.

RSPCA inspectors deal with hundreds of rabbits every year who are not being looked after in the way that they should - including because they are not being fed or their environment isn’t right.

Rabbits are intelligent and sociable animals and having pet rabbits can be very rewarding. But sadly, the RSPCA sees too many cases of rabbits living unhappy lives stuck in hutches at the bottom of people’s gardens.

More often, rabbits are neglected due to a lack of understanding of what they need. Taking a prosecution is the last resort for the RSPCA and we always strive to offer help, advice and support when appropriate.

Rabbits are not easy to look after well. They have complex welfare needs that must be met if they are to be happy and healthy. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, rabbit owners have a duty of care to properly look after their pets. This means they have to ensure that their rabbits’ five welfare needs are met – which includes providing a suitable environment, diet and company, allowing their rabbits to express normal behaviour and protecting their rabbits from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

As with all pets, the RSPCA encourages people to seriously consider their own circumstances and whether they can afford the time and money any pet would demand. Rabbits can live for 8-12 years, but some can live for longer, and an owner is responsible for the animal throughout their lifetime. Owning pets can be hugely rewarding if you are sure you can provide the permanent, loving home they deserve.

This year, Rabbit Awareness Week - which runs from June 18 to June 26 - aims to highlight the importance of rabbit companionship. Rabbits are sociable animals and are usually much happier if they have the company of another rabbit.

For more information, visit www.rabbitawarenessweek.co.uk.

Advice on looking after a rabbit can also be found at www.rspca.org.uk/rabbits.