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The British Rabbit Council Codes of Practice

HOUSING

1. The most common form of accommodation is a hutch.

2. Most fanciers now keep their hutches in sheds; however there may still be fanciers who continue to keep their stock outside.

3. If rabbits are kept outside it is essential that:-

  • The hutch is properly constructed to ensure that it is fully weatherproof.
  • The hutch should have a slanted roof and be covered with roofing felt as ideally should be the sides.
  • The hutch should be secure from predators.
  • The hutch should be sheltered from the elements, not facing the prevailing wind or the strong midday sun.
  • The hutch should be raised off the ground in a safe manner to avoid rising damp.
  • Door catches should be secure.
  • The front of the hutch should be constructed of a strong twill mesh.
  • Consideration should be given to covering the front of hutches at night, thus protecting stock from the worst of the weather but still allowing adequate ventilation.

4. If rabbits are kept in a shed there are other considerations:

  • Hutches will need to be of a proper and adequate construction.
  • There must be an adequate circulation of fresh air.
  • In the summer months it is essential to avoid excessively high temperatures building up in the shed.
  • Waste materials should be swept up regularly and every effort made to ensure that the atmosphere in the shed remains “fresh”.
  • The use of good hygiene practice will avoid the build up of ammonia fumes in the air, it will also discourage flies and other insects so helping in the prevention of other conditions such as “fly strike”.

5. Whether rabbits are kept outdoors or in sheds there are some considerations relevant to both circumstances

  • Hutch size will be dependent on the breed of rabbit.
  • The hutch must always be large enough for the rabbit to move around, stretch out full length or make the minimum of three consecutive hops.
  • The height of the hutch must allow the rabbit to sit up on its hind legs.
  • A hutch may be partitioned into two compartments one providing a resting area and the other an exercise area.
  • Breeding hutches should always be large enough to comfortably house the doe with her young for the anticipated period prior to weaning.

6. Lighting

  • Rabbits should be exposed to natural light as far as possible.

FEEDING

Feeding the correct diet to rabbits is fundamental to maintaining health, particularly of the dental and gastrointestinal systems.

  • Correct feeding is also an essential requirement for successful breeding and is equally important
    in the preparation of show rabbits.
  • It has been argued that the most appropriate diet is the one that resembles as closely as possible
    the natural grass based diet in the wild. Grass is approximately 20-25% crude fibre, 15% crude protein and 2-3% fat.
  • Whatever feeding regime is followed the diet should contain a long fibre eg straw, grass (fresh or dried) and either good meadow or timothy hay.
  • Green foods are important for rabbits of all ages, their introduction, in small amounts, should commence at weaning and can be increased slowly. Most green foods and root crops are suitable foods.
  • Wild plants are useful, but care should be taken to ensure they are clean and unpolluted. Raspberry, blackberry and strawberry leaves are all beneficial.
  • Commercial concentrate rabbit foods have become popular, however some may be too low in fibre but too high in fat, carbohydrate and protein. Concentrates should never be the sole source of food, grass or hay should provide the bulk of the diet. Some authorities claim that overfeeding of concentrates can be a factor in gastrointestinal and dental disease, which may predispose a rabbit to other conditions such as fly strike and arthritis.
  • Frosted or mouldy food and grass clippings should be avoided.
  • If a balanced diet is fed, dietary and vitamin supplements should not usually be required.
  • FRESH WATER IS ESSENTIAL AND MUST BE AVAILABLE AND ACCESSIBLE AT ALL TIMES. Bottles are generally preferred to bowls as they are easier to keep clean and avoid the spillage associated with bowls.
  • Sudden changes in diet are to be avoided. Changes in diet should be made gradually over several days. When acquiring a new rabbit written details of its feeding regime should be obtained and if concentrates have been fed a supply of these should also be acquired so that any changes can be gradual. Likewise when a rabbit is passed to a new owner written details of its diet and a supply of its current food should go with it.

RABBIT STRESS

The term stress is usually used to describe a situation in which environmental conditions are having an adverse effect on an individual. Stress is a state, the environmental factors that lead to stress are stressors and the individuals under stress show stress responses. There are many factors that influence the response of an individual to stress; these include previous experience and/or familiarity of the stressor, genetic predisposition and individual vulnerability. Stressful situations are usually associated with a lack of control and can be particularly severe if the individual is unable to predict events. The most stressful situations are often those that would be most diligently avoided in the wild.

Stressors can be categorised as emotional or physical.

Examples of stressors that may affect rabbits:

  • Novelty – examples include the first trip in a car, the first visit to a show, handling by a “stranger”
  • Fear inducing stimuli – examples include sudden noises, other animals or poor handling.
  • Social stress – examples include a lack of social contact or interactions with many individuals in a limited space.
  • Inability to perform normal behaviour patterns – examples include a lack of social contact, exercise or an inability to retreat from a stressor.
  • Pain, discomfort or illness
  • Anticipation of pain or discomfort – examples include poor or excessive handling.
  • Inability to control environmental factors – examples includes poor ventilation, temperatures at shows, travelling in a car on a hot day, and poorly lit shed.
  • Lack of space – examples include hutches and show pens.
  • Withdrawal of food or water.

Behaviour pattern occurring in response to various stressors:

  • Fear related behaviour – As a prey species, rabbits are likely to freeze when a fear-inducing stimulus is encountered. This may be associated with a decrease in heart rate and an increase in rapid breathing. If they have space, rabbits will also try to hide or flee from the stressor. If there appears little option they will use aggression. Occasionally displacement activities are used to deal with stress – for example chewing of novel items.
  • Anxiety related behaviour – anxiety lasts longer than fear and is usually associated with anticipation of an event or interaction. Behavioural signs include jumpiness, frequent urination and defecation.
  • Behaviour pattern due to frustration – barren environments are associated with abnormal behaviour patterns such as excessive destruction, over-grooming and self directed aggression.
  • Behaviour patterns due to position in social order – where rabbits are living in groups but have limited space and reduced access to food and water certain animals may become the target of aggression from other individuals.
  • Separation behaviour – female rabbits and youngsters may display an increase in apathy and a decrease in social behaviours associated with the suddenness of weaning.
  • Apathy of depressed behaviour – rabbits in barren environments with no social contact can appear relatively unresponsive or lethargic.

TRANSPORT

Although it has generally been agreed that there are no specific regulations for hobbyist animals within The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006, the Welfare of Animals (Transport) (Scotland) Regulations 2006 and the Welfare of Animals in Transport (Wales) (Order) 2007 there are requirements that apply to anyone transporting animals. Owners also have a duty to ensure that the welfare of their animals is adequately protected, as required, by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, and this duty extends to transport. The advice within this code of practice is intended to ensure the welfare of rabbits during transportation.

No person shall transport animals or cause animals to be transported in a way likely to cause injury or unnecessary suffering to them.

Rabbits must be fit to travel.

Travelling boxes should:

  • Be designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to avoid injury and suffering and ensure the safety of animals.
  • Be free of sharp edges and projections, which could cause injury to animals.
  • Have secure fastenings, sufficient to contain the rabbit/s.
  • Be constructed to ensure adequate ventilation and air circulation.
  • Be of sufficient floor space for the breed and age of the rabbit/s to be comfortably transported.(However, it is accepted that during transportation it is not necessary for the height to enable a rabbit to stand erect).
  • Have partitions within a box that have sufficient height, depth and strength to separate individual rabbits, but allow for air to circulate between compartments.

Car travel:

  • The travelling box should be placed in an area of the vehicle that is secure, but has adequate air circulation.
  • Rabbits should not be left in a car or other vehicle in warm weather.
  • As a safety precaution, on long journeys, it is recommended that rabbits are checked at regular intervals.

SALE OF RABBITS

There are a number of Acts that affect the sale of animals. These include the various Protection of Animal Acts between 1911 and 1964 and the Trade Descriptions Act, but the main Act is the Pet Animals Act of 1951. Many people quote this Act particularly when they wish to prevent the sale of domestic rabbits or to cause difficulties at shows where rabbits are being sold. But (and this is a very important but) the Pet Animals Act refers only to rabbits sold by persons carrying on a business of selling animals as pets. The Act specifically says ‘No person who is only keeping or selling rabbits bred by him or the young of any animal kept by him’ is covered by this Act.

Any person therefore who takes a rabbit to a show or any show that offers animals for sale in any way, for example in a selling class, cannot be regarded as coming within the Pet Animals Act.

There is complete freedom for any breeder (who doesn’t keep a pet shop or deals in rabbits as a business) to sell any rabbit in any way he likes, provided that he does not mislead the customer or acts fraudulently

There is however one exception to this. The Animal Welfare Act does say that any person who sells an animal as a pet to a person whom he has reasonable cause to believe to be under the age of sixteen years is guilty of an offence. It is therefore, very important to ensure that if a child wishes to buy a rabbit then the seller should sell it to the parents.

In the interest of any animals being sold, and in the interest of the rabbit fancy as a whole, all sellers of rabbits should act responsibly and follow the recommendations:

1. No rabbit should be sold before it is at least 10 weeks of age.

2. No sick or injured animals should ever be sold.

3. The seller should make absolutely certain that the buyer fully understands the care and handling of the rabbit. The seller should give the potential owner information on VHD and Myxomatosis and advice as to the vaccinations available. The seller should provide the new owner with at least a week’s supply of the rabbit’s current food and details of where that food may be purchased and should advise as to how to change from one rabbit food to another. The seller should provide the new owner with information as to how much food to give the rabbit and what extras the rabbit is accustomed to - this could be by means of a care sheet.

4. The seller should provide the new owner with contact points for the British Rabbit Council and details of their Local Adviser.

5. The general conditions under which the rabbit has been kept should be explained.

6. Any animal sold should both conform to a standard and be a reasonable show specimen or the buyer should be informed that it is not suitable for show.

7. No rabbit should be sold to a child under the age of 16 years.

8. Care should be taken that at all times the animals should be kept in satisfactory surroundings. This also applies to shows where sometimes too many animals are confined to pens (when they are for sale), which causes overcrowding.

The BRC has a range of leaflets for members and new owners on topics such as Keeping Rabbits, Housing and the Law, the Importance of Diet and Showing. Please contact us on 01636 676042.

ACQUISITION & SALE OF DOMESTIC RABBITS

Acquisition:

1. Before acquiring any rabbit for the first time it is advisable to research the subject thoroughly to ascertain the correct information concerning housing, feeding etc. There is an abundance of expertise waiting to be sourced.

  • Experienced breeders and exhibitors.
  • BRC Representatives, BRC literature and the Fur & Feather bookshop.
  • Local Library, school library
  • The internet

2. The breed of the intended rabbit must be distinguished in order to determine its finished size so that adequate accommodation can be provided.

3. The prospective new owner must evaluate his/her ability to provide proper daily care and to provide for the rabbit’s care and welfare when on holiday.

4. It is not advisable to purchase a rabbit from a local newspaper advertisement, if however this method is chosen ask to see the parents of the potential purchase.

5. Local pet shops and garden centres acquire rabbits from various sources, commercial breeders, hobby breeders. Watch out for stressed and lethargic animals, all rabbits should be bright and very alert. Avoid purchasing if you have any doubt as to the well being of the rabbit. The staff at all these establishments should have sufficient knowledge to be able to provide information on the rabbits in their care and be able to provide a comprehensive care regime i.e. feed sheet to the new owner.

6. Exhibitors who breed may sell their excess stock. Variation of breeds would be limited as each exhibitor may only keep four breeds. However, if correctly researched a breeder/exhibitor who keeps your chosen variety would be able to provide much advice and determine which animal would be most suitable to your needs.

7. Sales at shows. Many clubs provide selling pens where surplus stock can be sold; this more often than not leads to impulse buying.

8. Animal sanctuaries. These places house and re-home unwanted and abandoned rabbits. Most are usually adults and the background and history may be sketchy. The people at the sanctuary are usually well minded and often visit prospective new owners before releasing the animal.

Sale:

1. The intended purchaser must be an adult or a person over the age of 16 years.

2. The rabbit must be old enough to sustain itself and survive without the help from its mother. (Minimum 10 weeks of age)

3. The rabbit should be free from all known rabbit diseases and should appear fit and healthy.

4. The rabbit should not knowingly have been exposed to any known rabbit disease.

5. The potential new owner should be briefed about the breed regarding its need and expectations.

6. The seller should satisfy him/herself that accommodation and essentials are ready and waiting for the rabbit in its new home.

7. The seller should satisfy him/herself that the potential new owner displays/indicates some competence regarding the new acquisition.

We, the British Rabbit Council is unable to give any guarantee as to the health, fertility or suitability as a Show animal of the stock being sold, neither can we give any guarantee as to whether any rabbit conforms to the Breed Standard. Although the persons registered with this Directory are BRC Members it is the responsibility of the individuals concerned to check that the rabbits are healthy and of the required standard prior to purchasing. All sales and purchases of rabbits which might take place following a contact made through this Directory is the responsibility of the buyer and seller respectively and the British Rabbit Council is involved only as a means of introducing prospective purchasers to BRC Members who keep a particular breed of rabbit.


THE FIVE FREEDOMS

Freedom from hunger and Thirst

By providing fresh water and the right amount of food to keep them fit.

Freedom from Discomfort

By making sure that rabbits have the right kind of environment including shelter and somewhere comfortable to rest.

Freedom from pain, injury and disease

By preventing them from getting ill and by making sure animals are diagnosed and treated rapidly.

Freedom to behave normally

By making sure rabbits have enough space and proper facilities.

Freedom from fear and stress

By making sure their condition and treatment avoid mental suffering



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