Rabbits purchased during the pandemic are causing unanticipated pressure on staff and resources at an animal sanctuary, the Oxford Mail was told at a behind the scenes visit.

This week, I went to Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary in Stadhampton to see the work the team does on a day-to-day basis, as well as get my hands dirty helping the staff clean.

It has been well documented that sales of pets soared throughout the pandemic and, as result of restrictions easing, people are now handing them into rescue centres.

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The impact on Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary has been specifically “rabbit-orientated”, with the sanctuary receiving so many they are having to house them in the cattery.

There are currently 17 adoption-ready rabbits staying at the site and sanctuary manager Iain Atkin believes they have become a “casual purchase” for people.

thisisoxfordshire: Some of the rabbits looking for homes at Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary. Picture: OASSome of the rabbits looking for homes at Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary. Picture: OAS

He said: “The Covid-19 situation must have impacted people’s decisions to go out and get a pet. It seems that rabbits – because they are cheap and available in well-known pet shops – have become a casual purchase.”

Mr Atkin explained the small creatures can be brought for £30 from chain pet shops but people do not realise the care and space rabbits really need, as well as how costly they can be compared to cats and dogs.

This is was something I was made acutely aware of during my visit.

As I was able to get my hands dirty and help the staff members clean up a cat and rabbit room, I saw first-hand how much care goes into looking after all the animals at Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary.

I was amazed by the number of colour coded wall charts, tables and check sheets the workers need to fill in every single day which track the progress and daily experiences of the animals.

The in-depth cleaning and care routines, including things such as diet, medication and socialisation, for each individual animal cannot be underestimated.


thisisoxfordshire: I was able to get my hands dirty and help with some of the cleaningI was able to get my hands dirty and help with some of the cleaning

I learned the rabbits, in particular, are offered a huge variety of toys and enrichment activities to keep their brains ticking over, as well as different hays, grasses and pellets to chew to keep their teeth healthy.

This level of care is something most people are unaware of. The end result is rabbits with health, and particularly dental, issues alongside the mental traumas of being locked in hutches with nothing to do.

Whilst I assisted with cleaning the rabbits I saw just how unique their personalities were and how the one-size-fits-all, cheap and easy pet ideal they are marketed as is completely incorrect.

One rabbit loved to tear up his room and keep it like a messy teenager, another was quiet and nervous while a third was very friendly but had weakened back legs following a suspected blood clot.

Each one had exceptionally specific social, medical and environmental needs.

Certainly more care and attention is needed than what the £30 price tag at a chain pet store markets them as.

Rabbits, which can often live to be 10 years old, need to be paired up with another rabbit and this in itself takes time and patience to find the right match. Imagine First Dates: Rabbit-Edition.

Again, I was told this is something people often do not realise and the lack of a proper mate can leave rabbits feeling very lonely.

thisisoxfordshire: Rabbits need 3m by 2m by 1m worth of spaceRabbits need 3m by 2m by 1m worth of space

While at the site I was also given a tour and was shown the outdoor enclosures used for the rabbits who are used to living outside, as well as the indoor rooms for their house-rabbit counterparts.

I will admit: both of these spaces were far bigger than what I would have ever thought the minimum for a rabbit would be.

Which, of course, is exactly the problem.

Mr Atkin said: “We follow the rabbit association guidelines on what the minimum standard of space is.

“The minimum space a rabbit should have at home and at all times is 3m by 2m by 1m.”

Most rabbit hutches which are sold in chain pet shops are only 50cm by a meter, Mr Atkin explained, and so people have come to believe that is “acceptable”.

He added: “Lots of rabbits come into our care because they have been kept in such a tight space that their health begins to suffer – both physical and mental health.

My lack of knowledge about what rabbits really need was not unsurprising, a big part of what Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary try and do is educate and change the “perception” people have.

Mr Atkin said: “We spent a lot of time educating people who are adopting rabbits as to what the minimum standards are.

“That means that a good sized rabbit accommodation might cost you around £500.

“When people go into a shop and can get a rabbit and a hutch for less than £100 it is a much easier decision to think: ‘that is a good starter pet for a child’ or ‘we need a pet lets get a rabbit because they are easy’

“That is not the way rabbits should be thought of.”



Mr Atkin went as far as to say that rabbits are one of the UK’s most neglected animals, simply because the common knowledge people have about them is so poor.

The effect of the pandemic on animal welfare may not end with rabbits though, as Mr Atkin believes there is a delay in people returning so-called ‘Covid dogs’.

He explained many people paid high prices for the dogs and so when something goes wrong they will choose to resell them online, rather than hand them to a rescue centre, in order to make their money back.

“By the time they come into us they may have been in two or three different hands so these poor dogs are going to be in quite a state,” Mr Atkin noted.

If you are interested in adopting an animal from Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary you can do so at oxfordshireanimalsanctuary.org.uk/adopt/.

If you wish to donate money to the sanctuary you can at oxfordshireanimalsanctuary.org.uk/donate/.


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