AN animal welfare charity has appealed to parents to think twice about buying a rabbit for their children following a 40 per cent rise in the number of the pets given up or abandoned by owners in the past five years.
The appeal was launched by the Scottish SPCA to highlight the plight of the animal at the start of the charity’s annual Rabbit Awareness Week.
A spokeswoman said: “The Scottish SPCA is keen to encourage existing and would-be owners to consider taking on a rescue rabbit rather than buying a new bunny from a shop, with the number of abandoned, unwanted and neglected bunnies coming into its care steadily increasing over the last five years.”
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn added: “In 2012 we rescued a staggering 766 rabbits across Scotland, almost a 40 per cent increase on the 548 rabbits we cared for in 2008.
“This year is proving to be very challenging as well, with 390 rabbits already rescued, and this worrying trend demonstrates why we need to raise awareness of the hardships many pet rabbits face.
“There are lots of loving rabbit owners who treat their pets like one of the family and give them all the care and attention they need. But, sadly, this isn’t true in all cases.
“Some rabbits arrive in our care in a terrible state, having been denied basic nutrition and veterinary attention, while others are sadly forgotten pets children have grown tired of.”
Chief supt Flynn said the biggest problem was pets being left at the bottom of the garden and enduring a life of solitude and boredom.
He said: “Often the only interaction they have is a brief visit from their owner to bring food and water.
“Many owners even find this to be a chore and it is these rabbits which tend to be dumped outdoors or handed into one of our rescue centres unwanted.
“While we never encourage taking on a pet on impulse, we currently have over 100 rabbits in our care looking for good, permanent homes.
“Anyone thinking of rehoming a rabbit should ensure they have the time, commitment and financial ability to provide a happy and healthy life.
“Rabbits are highly intelligent, sociable and can make fantastic family pets, though we strongly advise parents that they, and not their children, need to take responsibility for their welfare. Pets are not toys and should never be given on a whim or as a gift.”
The Scottish SPCA spokeswoman said rabbits were often best kept as pairs, adding: “If people are considering rehoming a rabbit to accompany a current pet then they must be introduced safely and any males and females being kept together should be neutered. All of our rescue rabbits are rehomed with full veterinary checks. Rehoming fees can vary from £15 to £20.
“On rehoming a new pet from the Scottish SPCA the new owners will receive four weeks’ free insurance from our partner Petplan. The policy provides the new owners with up to £4,000 worth of vet fees cover offering peace of mind that they can get help towards any unexpected vet bills.”