Rabbits: Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock (PB0080)


  1. The welfare of rabbits can be safeguarded under a variety of management systems. The system employed should be appropriate to the health and behavioural and physiological needs of the rabbit. This, together with the facilities available and the skill of the stockman, will determine the number of animals kept at any one time and the way in which they are grouped. Rabbits are animals which need individual and frequent attention. It is essential that the stockman should watch for signs of distress or disease and take prompt remedial action.
  2. The signs which, taken together, indicate good health in a rabbit colony are set out in paragraph 3. The stockman should be able to recognise impending trouble in its earliest stages and may often be able to identify the cause and institute remedial measures, failing which veterinary or other expert assistance should be quickly obtained.
  3. Important indications of health are alertness, clear bright eyes, good posture, vigorous movements if unduly disturbed, active feeding and drinking, firmish dark-coloured pelleted stools, clean and healthy fur and skin, and grooming. Earmite infestation is a common debilitating and disfiguring disease of rabbits and it is important that the external ear canals and ears should be free of debris and encrustations. Attention should be paid to any departure from the normal. 
  4. The signs of ill-health may include listlessness, dullness in the eyes, tucked-up posture and grinding teeth, shaking of the head (suggesting ear canker), loss of appetite, running eyes and tear-stains, nasal discharge, abdominal distention, scouring, stained fur, the presence of wet droppings, sneezing and snuffles, scratch marks (suggesting ectoparasites), swelling of the face (suggesting myxomatosis), sore hocks and lameness.
  5. Ailing or injured rabbits should be segregated wherever possible and treated or, if necessary, be killed humanely without delay.
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