The sad plight of rabbits

A grey and black rabbit with their faces together
Rescued bunnies Sammy and Ivy, photo: Hannah McKay

Rabbits are one of few animals in western society who are kept as pets and also killed for food. Not only that, but they’re experimented on in labs, shot for sport, and killed as “pests”. 

There are so many ways in which these sweet, gentle, innocent animals are used and abused by humans. 

Rooted in each type of exploitation is the view that rabbits are unfeeling, disposable objects. My nine furry nieces and nephews, seven of whom are rabbits, remind me every day that this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

My sister’s adopted rabbits, Joey, Freddy, Ivy, Sammy, Rosie, Danny, and Ollie, each have their own personality. 

Freddy is confident and likes to be the boss. Ivy is hyper and never sits still. Sammy is quiet, patient, and affectionate. Rabbits have taught me that animals are not defined just by their breed or species. They are complex individuals who even have their own favourite toys and foods. 

When you start to think of animals in this way, the massive scale on which they suffer becomes hard to fully comprehend. Over a billion rabbits are slaughtered for meat each year. 

Most of these animals are raised inside factory farms where they spend their short, miserable lives in tiny wire cages. They are then brutally slaughtered at just eight to twelve weeks old, the same age Ollie and Danny were when I first met them. 

Fatal rabbit viruses
In the wild, rabbits are often seen as agricultural “pests” because of the damage they can cause to crops. This leads to unknown numbers of these beautiful wild animals, who are every bit as loving as Joey and Freddy, being shot, trapped, or poisoned. 

Further to this, scientists create and release fatal rabbit viruses, known as biocontrols, in areas with a high rabbit population. 

It might seem as though pet rabbits have an easy life by comparison, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The pet industry mass breeds baby rabbits in filthy conditions and then sells them at a low price, often to people who are not prepared to care for a living animal. 

All of my furry friends are victims of the pet industry, but it is in Rosie in particular that I have seen firsthand the long-lasting impacts that mistreatment can have on an animal. 

People often assume that rabbits simply forget and move on, but there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that animals can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Rosie was found as a stray, so we don’t know where she came from or what she went through, but it’s clear that she had a bad experience with humans. Although she bonded immediately with my sister, it took a whole six months before she let anyone else come anywhere near her. 

Today, Rosie is like a different rabbit to the scared, anxious girl she was the first time I met her. She zooms around her run, plays with her toys, and has a huge appetite for hay, but she still feels the scars of her past. 

She has flashbacks and nightmares almost every day. She also has a lot of back pain. An x-ray earlier this year showed that this is caused by a spine injury from before she was rescued. As a result, she will most likely be on pain medication for the rest of her life. 

When I see how much Rosie hates taking her pain medication, it is heartbreaking to think of the hundreds of thousands of rabbits who live in research laboratories around the world. 

For Rosie, taking the pain medication is worth it because of how much better it makes her feel. For rabbits who are imprisoned in laboratories, the opposite is true. 

Drugs are force-fed, injected, and rubbed onto shaved patches of the rabbits’ skin, not to help them, but for unreliable scientific experiments which cause pain and death

A brown bunny with black ears
Rescued rabbit Rosie, photo: Hannah McKay
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