Rabbits are the most popular pet mammals after dogs and cats in the UK. Owning and caring for pet rabbits can be great fun and very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility and a long-term caring and financial commitment. Your rabbits rely on you; it is your responsibility to make sure that their needs are met, whatever the circumstances.
Animal owners and keepers must take reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of animals for which they are responsible. Section 24 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 states that:
"A person commits an offence if the person does not take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which the person is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice".
The Act then specifies that the animal's needs for which the owner or keeper is responsible, include the animal's:
- need for a suitable environment,
- need for a suitable diet,
- need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns,
- need (if any) to be housed with, or apart from, other animals,
- need to be protected from suffering, injury and disease.
People are responsible for animals if they own them or manage their care, on a permanent or temporary basis. When a person under 16 years of age is responsible for an animal, the person responsible for that young person, for example their parent or guardian, is also responsible for their animal. This ensures that an adult can normally be identified as the person responsible for an animal.
Responsibility for an animal includes having an understanding of the specific health and welfare needs of the animal and having the appropriate knowledge and skills to care for the animal properly. Those responsible for animals will also have to be aware of and comply with the legislation, and to know when to seek qualified advice and help. If an owner leaves an animal in the charge of another person, responsibility for the animal transfers to that person. It is up to the owner to ensure that the person is competent and has the necessary authority to act in an emergency.
This guidance provides more detailed information about the needs of pet rabbits and how to meet these needs in accordance with good practice. Your own rabbits might have additional needs that must be met to ensure their welfare. If you are unsure, if you are worried about the health or behaviour of your rabbits, or you would like advice about their husbandry or future health care programme, you should consult a veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse competent and experienced in rabbit health and treatments. Your local Scottish SPCA, pet care specialist or animal welfare organisation will also be able to advise you on how best to meet your rabbits' husbandry needs. Some of the main organisations are listed in Appendix 2.
This guidance applies to pet rabbits and is intended to support pet rabbit owners and others responsible for the care of pet rabbits. The guidance is not intended to apply to pet shops as they are subject to a separate licensing and inspection regime, although it may nevertheless provide useful advice.