Rabbits and hares have had a special place in our lives for many decades. Around the world, bunnies are being bred for various reasons, from housing them as pets to using them as food to keeping them as symbols of cultural beliefs.
Successors of the European Bunny
The bunnies being bred today originate from a single common ancestor – the European Bunny. Here’s a list of the countries that breed the most rabbits and hares:
The ownership of bunnies as pets is slowly gaining momentum, making it the third most-favored pet for families with children. In this report, we’ll look at bunny pet ownership in different parts of the world.
1. United States
A growing fascination in the US
67% of American households have a pet today. Although dogs and cats still rule the roost, the number of families choosing to keep bunnies as pets is increasing.
According to the American Pet Products Association’s Pet Owners Survey, rabbits and hares were the most commonly kept small pets in the 2009-2010 period. In 2012, over 2.5 million households in the United States owned a pet bunny.
In a 2017 survey on pet preferences conducted by Hal Herzog Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Western Carolina University, it was found that 40% of respondents considered rabbits to be the ideal pet. By the end of 2017, American households owned over 3.2 million pet bunnies.
(Source: Psychology Today)
This number has only increased today, and over 5.4 million households in the United States keep a small animal, such as a bunny, as a pet. Over the years, 25% of American bunny owners have adopted abandoned or orphaned bunnies, while 14% have purchased their bunnies from the local pet store.
Pet adoption has surged during the coronavirus pandemic, with 4% of Americans choosing to adopt small mammals like bunnies for solace during the lockdown and isolation.
2. United Kingdom
Rabbits and hares are much loved in the UK and are the third most-loved animals for pets.
According to the PAW report 2020, the pet parents in the UK are becoming more open to the idea of owning a bunny:
|Year||Rabbit population in the UK|
|Paw Report 2020||1*|
|Paw Report 2019||0.9|
|PAW Report 2018||1|
|PAW Report 2017||1.1|
|PAW Report 2016||1.5|
|PAW Report 2015||1.2|
|PAW Report 2014||1.3|
|PAW Report 2013||1|
|PAW Report 2012||1.7|
|PAW Report 2011||1.7|
*Findings from February 2020, estimated populations were not significantly different in our August 2020 survey.
Bunny pet owners in the UK have been observed being very responsible when caring for their rabbits and hares. More than 82% of bunny owners are registered with a vet and have followed all health, safety, and pet registration requirements. Here are additional data on the percentage of UK bunny owners who have met all bunny care requirements:
The British Rabbit Council is the country’s most important bunny breeding and care institution. They grade bunnies based on four categories – fancy, lop, normal, and rex breeds. Bunny owners in the UK use their breed specifications to buy bunnies from pet shops. Institutions like Rabbit Rehome and Blue Cross encourage the adoption of bunnies in the country.
61% of all Australian households have pets. But fewer than 5% of these house small mammals like bunnies as pets.
65% of pet owners come from households with income of over $50,000. 64% are women. Both the 18-24 years age group and 40-54 years age group are the two highest pet-owning cohorts in Australia.
The Australia Rabbit Council is a voluntary council that collaborates with state-specific rabbit breeding associations to manage bunny breeding, bunny pet sale, and bunny rights management in the island-nation.
Japan has one of the lowest pet ownership rates in the world, where almost 73% of the population does not own a pet. Of the people who do own pets, only 0.9% of the population own pet bunnies.
Kenya, just like the rest of Africa, depends heavily on rabbit breeding. But, only 2% of the bred rabbits are kept by the breeders and their acquaintances as pets. The rest are either sold internationally for pet trade or local consumption.
(Source: Research Gate)
The main problem in Kenya is the low-availability of resources to maintain pet bunnies. This deters people from keeping them as pets. Additionally, in African society, rabbit meat is considered an integral part of their cuisine, and this may also contribute to the lack of desire to house bunnies as pets for life.
The Rabbit Breeders Association of Kenya is the primary body that governs bunny breeding and pet trade in the country.
Contrary to many other countries around the world, French households love to keep fish and sea life at home, not dogs or cats. France’s pet preferences tend towards the exotic, as birds and amphibians come in the second and third most favored pets ranking.
When it comes to small mammals, bunnies are the fifth most popular type of pet in French homes, after rodents like hamsters and white mice.
The surprising fact about Brazil is that there are more pets in a single household than there are children. However, the highest pet concentration in Brazil is dogs, followed by birds and cats. Small mammals like bunnies have the lowest representation in the pet industry in Brazil.
Based on the above data, the US and the UK are the biggest pet bunny markets in the world. While rabbits and hares are kept as pets in other countries, they aren’t in as high a concentration as in the UK and the US.
We can also safely assume that the demand for bunnies as pets is growing across the world. This creates a large market for both bunny rescue centers and bunny breeders to find forever homes for their rabbits and hares.
Bunny breeds kept as pets around the world
The American Rabbit Breeders Association is one of the leading organizations dedicated to the breeding, rearing, and homing of healthy bunnies. They are also involved in protecting rabbits and hares from abuse.
Bunnies qualified by the ARBA are one of the most popular choices for pets around the world.
The ARBA recognizes 47 sub-species of rabbits and hares that are further sub-divided into:
- Bunnies for eating/meat
- Bunnies for show
- Bunnies as pets
The breeds highlighted in yellow are considered to be the ideal candidates for pets due to their:
- Low maintenance
- Easygoing personality
|American||9-12 lbs||Semi Arch||Flyback|
|American Chinchilla||9-12 lbs||Commercial||Rollback|
|American Fuzzy Lop||Max 4 lbs||Compact||Wool|
|American Sable||Max 10 lbs||Commercial||Rollback|
|Belgian Hare||6-9 lbs||Full Arch||Flyback|
|Beveren||8-12 lbs||Semi Arch||Rollback|
|Blanc de Hotot||8-11 lbs||Commercial||Rollback|
|Britannia Petite||2.25-2.50 lbs||Full Arch||Flyback|
|Champagne d’Argent||9-12 lbs||Commercial||Flyback|
|Checkered Giant||11+ lbs||Full Arch||Flyback|
|Creme d’Argent||8.25-11 lbs||Commercial||Flyback|
|Dwarf Hotot||Max 3 lbs||Compact||Rollback|
|English Angora||5-7.5 lbs||Compact||Wool|
|English Lop||Min. 10 lbs||Semi Arch||Flyback|
|English Spot||6-8 lbs||Full Arch||Flyback|
|Flemish Giant||13-14+ lbs||Semi Arch||Rollback|
|Florida White||4-6 lbs||Compact||Flyback|
|French Angora||9-10.5 lbs||Commercial||Wool|
|French Lop||11+ lbs||Commercial||Flyback|
|Giant Angora||9-10.5+ lbs||Commercial||Wool|
|Giant Chinchilla||13-15 lbs||Semi Arch||Flyback|
|Holland Lop||3-4 lbs||Compact||Rollback|
|Jersey Wooly||3-3.5 lbs||Compact||Wool|
|Mini Lop||5-6 lbs||Compact||Rollback|
|Mini Rex||3-4.5 lbs||Compact||Rex|
|Mini Satin||4 lbs||Compact||Satin|
|Netherland Dwarf||2-2.5 lbs||Compact||Rollback|
|New Zealand||9-12 lbs||Commercial||Flyback|
|Rhinelander||6.5-10 lbs||Full Arch||Flyback|
|Satin Angora||8-9 lbs||Commercial||Wool|
|Silver||Max 9.5 lbs||Compact||Flyback|
|Silver Fox||Max 12 lbs||Commercial||Rollback|
|Silver Marten||6-9 lbs||Commercial||Flyback|
|Standard Chinchilla||6-7.5 lbs||Compact||Rollback|
|Tan||4-6 lbs||Full Arch||Flyback|
(Source: Rabbit Breeders)
While most countries follow the ARBA’s listing for bunny ownership and bunny showing, some countries also include other bunny breeds like French Lope, Newzealand White, and California White breeds in their list.
Institutions like the ARBA have a lot of power in deciding which bunny breeds can be commercially sold in pet shops. But bunny owners who choose to adopt their pets sometimes house wild bunnies as well (which may not be on the list approved by these institutions).
What type of bunnies do pet owners want?
In terms of what type of bunny pet owners prefer, surveys show that pet owners aren’t choosy about body shape. As long as the bunny is healthy, pet buyers are willing to home a bunny of any age and gender.
(Common bunny body shapes preferred by pet owners – Source: Rabbit Breeders)
However, the general consensus in certain European countries is that they want a medium-sized, two-toned, pink-eyed and lopped ear female who is sociable and active.
Wild bunnies, if found when they’re kittens, are also reared as pets. However, research by Rabbit Advocacy has shown that adult feral rabbits are seldom kept as pets because of the animals’ inability to integrate successfully into human society.
Cost of maintaining bunnies
Although the cost of owning and rearing bunnies differs slightly around the world, on average, you can expect common bunny breeds to cost $20 per bunny. Show-quality breeds can be worth over $100. If pet parents adopt bunnies, adoption charges are on average $70.
Then, there’s the cost of:
- Play/exercise pen – $30-$40
- Litter box – $5-$10
- Feeder – $50-$100
- Hay – $15-$20/-month (this can increase when you have a litter)
- Pellets – $2-$5
- Dishes – $5-$10
- Water bottle – $6-$10
- Nail clippers, hair brush & comb – $$15-$20
- Cleaning supplies – $2-$5/-month
- Toys, tunnels & hidey house – $15-$20 (this can increase if these need repairs)
- Veterinary bills – $25-$55/-visit
So, compared to other pets, bunnies can cost pet owners:
Are pet bunnies happy?
A study of over 6000 bunnies by The Royal Veterinary College in the UK showed an appalling state of affairs. Poor nutrition, bad living conditions, and neglect had led to pet bunnies in the UK developing a variety of diseases, such as Anorexia, respiratory illness, flystrike, dental damage, collapse, and stomach ulcers.
Most times, these problems come from a misunderstanding that pet owners have about the rabbit care requirements.
Bunnies require a lot of care and socialization. Ideally, pet parents need to actively interact with their bunnies for a few hours each day, in addition to an hour’s worth of exercise outside their pens. Bunnies also need plenty of space to move around and a simple hutch is not a long-term solution. Keeping pet bunnies in small spaces such as the basement or the attic can be detrimental to their health. Finally, bunnies require gentle and quiet handling, which is not possible in families with children. The extensive work taken to keep pet bunnies safe, plus the lack of excitement they offer (compared to cats and dogs), often becomes too stressful or boring for pet owners, which leads to neglect or abandonment.
But this problem isn’t just restricted to the UK. Across the world, many pet bunnies are not given the care they need.
Consider the United States. According to studies, bunnies are the third most-abandoned pets in the US. In fact, the Easter holidays have become the biggest bunny buying and bunny abandonment period in the US. Thousands of families adopt or buy pet rabbits and hares to usher in the Easter spirit. But they end up abandoning them within three months of Easter. The reasons for abandonment are the same as mentioned above.
Government measures to protect pet bunnies
To prevent the abuse and abandonment of rabbits and hares, the United States has very strict laws about the sale and ownership of pet bunnies. Most states have prohibited the sale/barter of baby bunnies under two months of age. Bunnies cannot be given away as a prize at competitions in the country. They cannot also be displayed or dyed in order to effect a sale.
Some states like California have also banned the sale of bunnies from breeding mills. This ensures that bunnies from rescue centers are given precedence and given to caring pet parents responsible enough to care for them.
The United Kingdom too has very robust animal welfare legislations, such as The Pet Animals Act, Animal Boarding Establishments Act, The Performing Animals Act and Animal Welfare Act, which protect the rights of pet bunnies in the UK. However, while these legislations offer protection to rabbits and hares, they don’t specify bunny care requirements. In fact, the UK has come under criticism for not providing stringent instructions about factors like litter size in a single pen, hutch size, etc. Other countries around the world too have their very own animal and pet welfare laws in place. All of these legislations cover pet rabbits and hares from neglect and abandonment.