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50 years of….. Rabbit Ownership!

Until recently, it was thought that rabbits were introduced to Britain from France, after the Norman Conquest around the 11th Century.

Whilst they were farmed for their fur and meat, many sources suggest that some of the medieval gentry women started to keep rabbits as pets.

However, recent carbon dating of a bone found in Chichester has turned this notion on its head, suggesting that rabbits were kept as exotic pets in Roman Britain times, some 1000 years before the French were supposed to have introduced them.

Rabbits are now listed as the third most popular companion animal after cats and dogs in the UK, with a PDSA 2020 report estimating approximately 1 million rabbits are being kept as pets in 2020. 

Whilst we can only imagine how the pet rabbits might have been kept in Roman Britain, we know that owning a rabbit 50 years ago was a rather simpler affair. It generally consisted of buying a single rabbit from the local pet shop, and keeping it in a hutch in the garden. If it was lucky, the rabbit would be let out of the hutch occasionally to nibble on some grass, and from time to time friendly children would bring some dandelion leaves for it to munch on.

Nowadays, we understand a lot more about how best to keep a pet rabbit both happy and healthy. For example:

  • We now know that rabbits are very sociable (herd) animals, and will be happier when they are housed as a compatible pair or group, rather than as an individual animal. Indeed, many advisers now say that a rabbit living by itself will become bored and depressed.
  • We also know that rabbits are quite intelligent. They are capable of learning to respond to basic commands, such as their name, and can also be litter trained.
  • Rabbits need their space, and should be housed in an area (inside or outside) that is big enough for them to lie down, stretch out, stand on their back legs without their ears touching the top, and long enough for them to have a little sprint. Many rabbits also need access to outdoor space – so a secure run with access to shade is essential.   
  • Rabbits are very inquisitive and so tend to get bored rather easily. This is where toys come in! They need lots of toys to keep their brains active, and to promote healthy play and interaction.

Over the past few decades, attitudes towards rabbits as pets have undergone a gradual shift. The promotion of rabbit welfare has resulted in a greater understanding of rabbits; from their basic needs to their intelligence, personality, and behaviour.

Rabbits are increasingly seen in the same way as cats and dogs, as a rewarding companion or family pet, and provided with the same level of care and attention, from routine vaccinations and healthcare, to greater freedom and interaction with their owners.

Whilst there are still many misconceptions about owning rabbits as pets, one thing is for sure, their popularity as a pet in the UK is on the rise.  Like our other furry friends, Rabbits are winning over pet-lovers across the country.

If you are thinking about adopting your own rabbit or pair of rabbits, you may just find your perfect bunny companions by visiting the NAWT website.