Thursday, 12 September 2013


We attended the Manchester Pet show last weekend as part of our efforts to educate the public on what rabbits need to lead the lives they deserve. We had been in communication with the organisers beforehand because we had concerns that breeders were going to be in attendance using the dreadful show cages. This was not a breeders’ show, it was for the public, and we were keen to stress that rabbits being displayed in small show cages does not set a good example for anyone owning, or thinking of owning, rabbits. We asked that there would be NO traditional breeders’ cages at the event, and that floor pens would be used, with bolt holes provided so the rabbits would have somewhere to go to relieve the stress of being in a noisy environment with large crowds of people. We also provided text for posters that the organisers agreed to display around the breeders’ area to advise the public that these were breeding displays and that pet rabbits should not be kept in these conditions. We were given assurances that all of our requests would be met. Upon arrival on the day before the show it became clear that the reassurances were not valid and that the rabbits would be exhibited in show cages. We once again spoke to the organisers, were told that some floor pens would be provided for the show, and that the rabbits would be rotated so none spent the whole weekend in a show cage. On the morning of the show only one small floor pen was provided, in which was housed a single giant rabbit, and the rabbits were not rotated. We were bitterly disappointed that we were misled by the organisers. As a damage limitation exercise, we hastily cobbled together some handwritten signs to try and make the point to the visitors that rabbits need space, exercise and companionship but were devastated not only for those rabbits being kept in unsatisfactory conditions at the show but also for the message it sent out to the public. The last straw was when it became clear that the breeders were ‘trancing’ rabbits (holding them on their back which induces tonic immobility, a stressed and panic state in which the rabbit plays dead) for the amusement of the visitors. We were disgusted by this and complained immediately, and it was stopped. However, we fear that anybody coming away from that show who saw it happening will think it’s an acceptable practice. So, please share this poster which makes the point that trancing rabbits is hugely stressful for the animals, not at all fun and not something that should be carried out. Please see our blog for more details on trancing.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Tonic Immobility

Tonic Immobility, often referred to as "Trancing" or "Hypnotising", is a technique for handling rabbits that has been around for many years. It takes advantage of the rabbits' tendency, as a prey species, to "play dead" and stay immobile when placed in a vulnerable position, on its back. In studies, behavioural observation (facial expression, ear position etc) and physiological monitoring (heart rate and stress hormone levels) suggest that the rabbits are both well aware of their surroundings, and are exhibiting a fear response rather than being calmed by the position. It is also very important to note that, even if they do not react, they are still perfectly capable of feeling pain. Although the resulting immobility makes procedures easier for the owner, and repeated use appears to make it easier to perform in the rabbit, it is not good welfare practice to use this technique in prey species. There are some circumstances (for example, non painful procedures such as radiography in sick rabbits with possible gastrointestinal obstruction), where it can allow diagnostic xrays to be taken, and it can then literally be a lifesaver to have the option. However, this should be as a last resort, and not as part of a routine groom or check up. For these reasons, the RWAF does not recommend its use for grooming purposes.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Worming advice

The RWAF does not advocate regular use of worming products for rabbits, ie every quarter, as is recommend for cats and dogs for example. However their are times when the use of 9 day courses might be helpful: 1 to reduce the risk of infection at that specific time (as in the study) eg around introduction for short periods of time eg mating, as per the Suter paper. 2 To suppress chronic infections and reduce the signs associated with them. This is not backed up by any scientific studies, but it is often reported by rabbit owners that improvement occurs within a few days of regular periodic treatments. This could be coincidental, or due to other factors, but requires more work to investigate. 28 day courses are generally advised for animals with clinical signs of infection, as this is the only regime investigated for treatment. It is important to combine this with regular effective cleaning of the environment, especially towards the end of the treatment course, and concurrent treatment of all in-contact rabbits, to avoid re-infection with spores. Anecdotally, some people have found that 42 day courses have been more effective than 28 day courses in clearing EC. This may be due to longer persistence of the organisms in the animal, or the environment, or inadequate hygiene measures. In any case, it is vital to combine treatment with daily cleaning of the environment, in particular, prevention of urine and faeces contamination of food and water, to prevent re-infection by other rabbits or themselves. Longer than 28 day, or repeat courses should only be carried out under the direction of your veterinary surgeon and should not be recommended as standard as they have not been proven to be safe at this point. The RWAF stresses that it is more important to avoid re-infection during treatment than to give a course longer than 28 days.