Is your rabbit a happy bunny?
The RSPCA has issued advice on the welfare needs of rabbits as a survey shows more than half of the commonly owned pets could be lonely.
The survey, commissioned by the RSPCA and carried out by the University of Bristol, found that 60% of rabbits were housed without a companion, and a large proportion - 58% - were thought to be fearful of loud noises while 61% were reported as being stressed when handled by their owner.
Rabbits should have constant access to an exercise area but the study found that some rabbits only had irregular access and this was not given at a time when they needed it - in the early morning or evening when they are naturally most active.
The RSPCA recommends that providing constant access to hay is one of the most important things owners can do for their rabbit as it is essential for dental and digestive health as well as keeping them busy and occupied.
To help rabbits feel relaxed around people, owners should try to positively interact with their pet rabbits every day from when they are young, the charity said, and interactions should take place at ground level, where possible, as people can be perceived as less threatening in this position.
Dr Nicola Rooney, research fellow in farm animal science at the university's School of Veterinary Sciences, said: "Many pet rabbits were found to be in good health, had compatible companions and were provided with enriched living areas.
"However, we also found numerous unrecognised welfare issues that affect large numbers of pet rabbits.
"These included living alone or in incompatible groups, numerous health issues, lack of regular access to exercise areas, showing fear of loud noises and behaving anxiously when handled by their owners.
"Our findings highlight the ways in which the needs of pet rabbits are often not being met and this information will help target education to best improve the welfare of pet rabbits."
Dr Jane Tyson, from the RSPCA, added: "Whilst it is encouraging to see that many pet rabbits are living healthy and happy lives, it is also saddening to hear that a large number of rabbits are not having their welfare needs met.
"The RSPCA is working with other charities, industry experts and academics to identify a number of different activities to protect and improve the welfare of pet rabbits and the findings of this study will be crucial in assisting this work as well as identifying advice and information for owners on how best to care for their rabbits.
For more information on how to care for rabbits, visit www.rspca.org.uk/rabbits.
:: Questionnaires were completed by 1,254 pet rabbit owners in the South West, the North West and the East of England.