The Animal Welfare Act - and what this means for pet rabbits...
The new Animal Welfare Act is the most innovative piece of animal legislation for almost 100 years. In real terms it means that the law now has the teeth to intervene before cruelty has been inflicted upon an animal, by placing a 'duty of care' on the owner / guardian of bunnies.
When does the new law come into effect? From 6 April 2007 in England, and in Wales from 27 March, animal welfare law has been improved. It is still against the law to be cruel to any animal. But now you must also ensure that all the welfare needs of your animals are met.
What does the new law do? It makes owners and keepers responsible for ensuring that the welfare needs of their animals are met.
These include the need:
- For a suitable environment (place to live)
- For a suitable diet
- To exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- To be housed with, or apart from, other animals (if applicable)
- To be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease
- The new law also increases to 16 the minimum age at which a person can buy an animal and prohibits giving animals as prizes to unaccompanied children under this age.
Anyone who is cruel to an animal, or does not provide for its welfare needs, may be banned from owning animals, fined up to £20,000 and/or sent to prison.
What does it mean to me and my rabbit?
It is not acceptable to keep a solitary rabbit in a small hutch, without the opportunity to exercise. Sadly we know that this is still the case for thousands of pet rabbits in the UK, as they are the most neglected domestic pet. Make sure that you are providing your rabbits with everything they need to live a long and happy life.
The Rabbit Welfare Association suggests the following to properly care for your pet rabbits
Environment: Hutches should be a minimum of 6ft x 2ft x 2ft, and preferably with an attached run to allow the rabbits to exercise at will. The run should be 6ft x 4ft x 4ft as a minimum. Hutch size and runs can never be too big, so don't skimp.
Diet: Fresh food and water should be available at all times. A diet that mimics a natural diet, that is one which is mainly hay or grass, with a smaller proportion of greens and rabbit pellets is ideal. Any changes to the diet should be made gradually watching out for upset tummies and closely checking at least once if not twice a day for fly strike.
Behaviour: Rabbits like to dig, run and hide. They should be provided with the opportunity to exercise everyday. Ideally a run attached to their hutch, or even better a garden shed with attached enclosure. Don't forget to include toys that allow them to display their natural behaviour such as hay/willow toys for chewing, a planter filled with earth for digging and a place to hide if they want to.
Companionship: Rabbits are sociable animals and should be kept in pairs or groups, unless living as a house-rabbit with lots of human contact. The companionship and social interaction provided by another rabbit is ideal and much more suitable than housing with another species such as a guinea pig which we would not as a rule advocate.
To comply with this legislation and general bunny welfare requirements, we would not be comfortable in allowing any of our babies to live a solitary life outdoors hence outdoor bunnies must be adopted in pairs or be bonded with a compatible (neutered) partner.
Health Care: Annual or twice yearly trips to the vets are a must for their vaccinations (both for myxomatosis and VHD). Rabbits are prey animals and they hide pain well, so be aware of any subtle changes in behaviour or diet and take them to the vet immediately if you are worried. Regular mini MOT's at home can provide invaluable ensuring teeth and nails are not overly long, your rabbit isn't gaining or losing weight, and very importantly that once if not twice a day you check your rabbits behind for signs of soiling to ensure that flystrike can not become an issue.
Failure to comply with the legislation can result in being served with an Improvement Notice and, ultimately, prosecution.