Last updated 14 October 2017

Overview of the Rabbit Pet Industry

According to the Australian RSPCA, 47% of animals other than cats and dogs, and including rabbits, are euthanized each year in shelters. Shelters have many rabbits, whether surrendered or found dumped. Animal shelters mostly run out of capacity just before school holidays. This is usually due to unplanned pet sitting, where families decide that surrendering is the best and cheapest option.

Shelters are loud places. There are usually a large number of stray and unwanted pets there.  Most shelters in Australia will euthanise a surrendered animal within a week, and those who cannot find a new home will also be euthanised in a limited time frame.

Most pet shops receive their rabbits from breeders with unknown breeding conditions. Those conditions could be unsanitary, with dark cages, lack of nesting boxes, and lack of exercise. Some Does are bred constantly until they develop mastitis and then culled for their lack of productivity to the breeding business.

Rabbits are usually purchased young. Handling and transportation at a young age means that many will die while being transported or will suffer stress related issues. Those rabbits are then displayed in windows in unnatural conditions, and remain in the pet shop until they are purchased or need to be euthanised.

In Australia, the law according to the Animal welfare code of practice – “Animals in pet shops” states that if a rabbit falls sick in a pet shop, they can be killed by a ‘competent person’ rather than a qualified vet who would be required to euthanise a dog or a cat.

Rabbits live better in groups of two or three rather than solitary. Rabbits bought at pet stores are not desexed or vaccinated. They are sold to pet stores very young, with many sexes unidentified. Desexing a rabbit is of huge importance, due to the ease of breeding, and the high percentage of females dying of a Uterus cancer if not desexed early.

What's wrong with a hutch

Unfortunately, a huge proportion of rabbits live out their days in small hutches with little or no interaction.

Exercise plays a very important part in maintaining a rabbit’s physical and mental health. The result of caging rabbits means that they will be in an increased risk of obesity, pododematitis and spinal injuries.

Rabbits should have at basic minimum space required to hop, stand on their hind legs, perch at high levels, and a safe haven to hide.

Rabbits in cages and small hutches are known to start abnormal repetitive behaviour such as pawing at the corners of cages, biting the wire, over grooming, over eating, and playing with the water supply. This is due to boredom and lack of stimulation and if housed alone, loneliness.

Rabbits are uncomfortable at high temperatures. They can only sweat through glands on their lips, which means only a small amount of heat escapes their bodies through the surface of their ears. Heat in rabbits creates stress, leading to exhaustion, illnesses and death. They pant very little, and a sign of dehydration is that they stop panting. Rabbits must NEVER be cooled down by bathing under any circumstance. To cool down rabbits, an ice bottle should be placed near the rabbit, with the rabbit taken near a fan, shade or a cooler area

Leaving rabbits in a hutch outdoors will also make them susceptible to the Calici and Myxoma viruses. Those viruses, if caught, will lead to severe pain and death. There is no vaccine against the myxoma virus, and the calici vaccine does not cover all strains.

Rabbits are frightened easily from people and other animals. If under stress, or given the wrong food, they can commonly go into “gut Stasis”. This is a very common condition that occurs in particular in outdoor rabbits, as they are not supervised regularly. Once the gut stops working, the rabbit will go into starvation and will die very soon unless there is veterinary intervention.

Many people with rabbits in hutches allow them to escape, or simply dump them in the wild if they have no use for them anymore. Domestic rabbits are not wild rabbits and will not survive in the wild.

Rabbit Behaviour

Rabbits are incredibly complex animals. Sadly, they are still one of the most neglected domestic animals. Most neglect and cruelty cases stem from ignorance. It is customary for people to buy a pet rabbit for a child. This is a bad mistake. A rabbit needs an adult human or a supervised older child.

Rabbits are prey animals and like to look after each other. Often breeders separate rabbits for disease control and cage them alone which causes distress to the rabbits.

When housing rabbits together in a new environment, such as a pet shop, bonds can also occur between caged animals. Rabbits tend to bond or huddle together due to insecurities, needing safety and the fear of human interference. This bond is usually tight and when sold to pet shops or to customers, the group is often separated through purchase, which causes immense distress to the rabbits being separated.

A rabbit can live between 8-12 years, and needs care and supervision. They have a highly developed social hierarchy. This is very obvious when trying to bond pairs or groups. The dominant rabbits mark their territories by “chinning” objects or leaving a scent. This scent is part of group identification. Rabbits even “chin” their humans if they are particularly fond of them.

Rabbits are a highly intelligent species. They are very aware of their surroundings, their groups and their human companions. They thrive on interaction. They often initiate play with other rabbits, pets or people.

Rabbits are very quiet animals and do not vocalise much, unless in extreme terror and pain, which would sound like a high-pitched scream. Their behaviour, from joy to terror to hunger or pain is obvious through physical observation of their body language or their grimace. For example, fear in a rabbit is demonstrated by crouching motionless with feet beneath the body, head extended, ears flattened and eyes bulging. Inquisitiveness is seen with the head extended and ears pointing forwards.

However, the most noticeable behaviour is the “binky”, which is a leap in the air with legs stretched out. This is a sure sign of happiness.

The other extremely important behaviour to notice is that when rabbits are in pain, they will stop eating. Even when offered their favourite treat. This is an alarm sign, and the rabbit needs immediate veterinary attention.

Feeding rabbits requires knowledge and advice from an exotics vet. Commercial pellets cause digestive problems and do not help to wear teeth down causing malloclusion.

A rabbit’s diet must comprise 80% hay (examples are Oaten, pasture, timothy), and green vegetables. If pellets are needed, then the only recommendation is Oxbow. For care and feed information visit:



Summary taken from:

Ethical Vegan Earth Research Inc. Campaign: Down the Rabbit Holes