UK's new code of conduct for rabbit owners

Experts and MPs in England claim pet rabbits are being treated as 'second-class animals' and need better legal protection.

The all-party parliamentary group for animal welfare says Britain's one million domestic rabbits are routinely given the wrong food – and that includes carrots – and suffer depression at being confined alone in often unsuitable hutches.

It has drafted a new code of conduct calling for rabbits to receive similar protections to dogs, cats and horses.

The classic depiction of Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit and the cartoon character Bugs Bunny munching on carrots is also dangerous, say experts, because the vegetable is too sweet and risks damaging the rabbit's teeth and making them obese.

A cuddle can also be harmful as rabbits are inherently frightened when picked up, believing they are about to be killed.

The code, which experts want incorporated under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, aims to ban people from keeping single rabbits – as the law already requires in Switzerland – because lone animals are known to suffer depression.

Other demands include that the minimum hutch size should be three metres long by two metres wide and one metre high plus a three metre run, and a ban on the sale of muesli-style feed, which experts say is too high in fat and sugar for rabbits to digest.

Rabbit ownership soared by 200 per cent during lockdown – with miniature lops, dwarf lops and lionheads among popular breeds – but many are now being abandoned as people realise they require proper care and attention.

The Government has already expressed an interest in adopting the new code.

A spokesman at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the forthcoming Animal Welfare Sentencing Act meant 'cruelty to animals, including pet rabbits, will see offenders receive a maximum sentence of five years in prison and an unlimited fine'.