Friday, 15 March 2013

Better for lab rabbits, but not back yard bunnies

The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund (RWAF), the largest charity with the sole aim of improving the lives of pet rabbits in the UK, is delighted by the EU ban on animal testing of cosmetics. The rabbit is closely linked to animal testing, even to the point of being the symbol used on cosmetics packaging, so the charity welcomes this historic move with open arms. But the RWAF is keen to stress that while society is reducing cruelty to animals in some areas, thousands of pet rabbits are still suffering, not only because of lack of knowledge on the part of the owners but also because there is a lack of legislation to protect this much misunderstood pet. RWAF Vet Expert Advisor Richard Saunders said: "Unbelievably, we have more legislation to protect lab rabbits than for pet rabbits. For example, many rabbit hutches are for sale below the legal requirement for lab rabbits. Rabbits are not battery animals. But if a rabbit is confined to a hutch of less than 4ft x 2ft then that's how they're being kept ... in worse conditions than are allowed for lab rabbits." He continued: "The problem rabbits face is that most are kept, as the Victorians kept them, for food - in a hutch for easy access. We are making great steps in some areas of animal welfare but somehow it's still seen as okay to keep an animal that needs to run, jump and dig confined to a hutch, and there's very little protection through the law." The RWAF asks people not to buy a rabbit this Easter and only to take on rabbits if they have looked into everything that's involved. And the RWAF's message to existing owners is simple: find out how you can improve your rabbits' lives by checking out the RWAF website. www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Pregnancy

Rescue centres are often presented with female rabbits that are either pregnant, soon to give birth to many kits, or with a litter already. This is an extra strain on the limited space for rescuing and rehoming rabbits, which can result in many rabbits being euthanased, or left in terrible homes. It is also largely, if not entirely preventable. The main causes of unwanted litters are mis-sexing of a pair of rabbits, and a lack of awareness that rabbits can breed both at a young age, and also immediately after they have given birth. The former is probably the most common situation. Rabbits may be challenging to sex at a young age. They are actually easier to sex when they are only a few weeks old, but at this stage many people are reluctant to handle them, due to the risks of the doe becoming stressed by this, scenting strange smells on the young, and potentially injuring or even killing and eating them. At 8-10 weeks , the most common age to rehome them, they can actually be very difficult to sex, and mistakes may be made. Referring to textbooks, developing experience in sexing them, and asking more experienced people for assistance is helpful at this point. Once the testicles have descended in the males, sexing is easy, but unless they are separated immediately at this stage, mating is possible. It is therefore vital to sex them promptly before 10-12 weeks, and neuter or group them accordingly pending neutering (noting that males will fight with males if housed after sexual maturity). Rabbits may mate whilst pregnant, but whilst European hares are capable of superfetation (the act of carrying a litter of 2 or more different ages, subsequently born at different times), this is thought to be extremely rare indeed in rabbits. It is far more likely that rabbits will mate either on the day of birth, or over the next few days, if left with the buck. Producing milk does not stop them mating and becoming pregnant, at all. If it did, rabbits would only have 1 or 2 litters per year in the wild, whereas they are capable of multiple litters over the summer, and are often bred in captive situations with a litter to litter interval of 35 days. It is therefore possible for a rabbit to mate, carry a litter, and give birth throughout the whole period that they are feeding a litter.