In April 2018 we created the petition urging Pets at Home to stop selling rabbits. The list below is based on complaints and feedback from customers, ex-members of staff and rescue centres. If you haven’t signed the petition yet, please do so here:
Welfare issues prior to sale
- Exploiting animals for profit is unethical. Somewhere away from the public eye, there are mothers used as breeding machines to supply pet stores.
- Suppliers and breeding conditions unknown. Lots of secrecy and no transparency. Staff not normally aware of where the rabbits come from.
- Reports of sick, injured and too young-looking baby rabbits delivered to the stores. By law no rabbit should be sold under the age of 8 weeks but the age of the rabbits delivered from the suppliers cannot be verified.
- Stressful environment within the stores (bright lights, noise, dogs barking, kids tapping on the glass of the pens, customers disturbing at any time of the day when rabbits normally sleep, rabbit used in kids’ workshops. Rabbits and small furry areas turned into kids’ playgrounds in the new stores and regular dog parties organised which add to the stress of prey animals.
- Cramped conditions (not space to exercise). Young rabbits can stay in small pens for months deprived of their basic need to run around and play.
- Staff reports of small cages at the back of the stores where the animals are kept, waiting to be displayed for sale or being treated or quarantined
- Fights and bullying within groups of rabbits kept together, resulting in injuries. Some rabbits are moved to the adoption section, unfairly labelled as aggressive and that they should be kept single, condemning them to a solitary life and again, depriving them from their basic need – companionship. Some have to have stitches. Many end up with ear damage. Staff don’t always separate the rabbits even when customers point out they are fighting. Recently a customer had to buy a rabbit who was being bullied after the store assistant said he couldn’t be moved due to lack of space.
Misleading or incorrect information
- No vet-check prior to sale – the rabbits are only ‘health-checked’ by a member of staff, which means that many health issues and injuries are missed out for customers to find out later.
- Poor or incorrect advice provided during the sale process, especially with regards to companionship and bonding.
- Sale process not always followed: customers reporting being able to walk out with a rabbit, no questions asked.
- Rabbits sold with unsuitable accommodation (small cages and hutches). No decent size housing available to buy. Harmful accessories also sold (e.g. harnesses) giving the wrong example.
- Members of staff reported receiving insufficient training and being forced to sell animals when they weren’t supposed to and before their training was completed.
- Pets at Home gave a very poor response to our petition urging them to stop selling unvaccinated rabbits, claiming the baby rabbits were ‘temporarily’ vaccinated for VHD2 prior to being delivered to the stores yet they are unable to provide any proofs or vaccination cards.
- Members of staff are often inexperienced in keeping rabbits themselves and do not notice the signs of illness. The training they receive is not enough.
- Rabbits promoted to kids via workshops during all school holidays and playground areas incorporating rabbits within the stores, despite Pets at Home’s own rabbit care leaflet stating unsuitable for young children. Promotions at Easter and any other opportunity, e.g. release of Peter Rabbit film in 2018. Many of these rabbits are purchased by the parents who are unaware of rabbits’ complex needs and give them away when the kids get bored. The kids have lost interest is one of the main reasons why rabbits end up in rescue.
- Pets at Home claim they don’t sell rabbits over Easter yet anyone can buy a voucher and reserve a rabbit to collect on the Tuesday. i.e. rabbits are still sold as Easter gifts.
- Many of the adoption rabbits in the stores are actually those they cannot sell. Some have been moved from other stores. Some have been returned by customers. Some are those that were fighting in the stores or had health issues or injuries. Many of these rabbits are sold for a cheap donation and end up in the wrong hands. A rabbit was even sold to a couple who tried to feed him to their snake.
Welfare issues after sale
- Rabbits leave the stores unneutered resulting in accidental litters and fighting when they reach maturity – more rabbits to find homes for. By the time the owners notice the babies and separate the male, the female is usually pregnant again.
- Unneutered males sold by staff together and customers told they would be fine. Some rabbits have fought to death after being kept together in a cage.
- Rabbits sold in pairs resulting in unwanted litters and serious fights.
- No home-checks are carried out. Many rabbits are locked up in small cages and hutches. Many are given away and advertised online after a few months/weeks or even days. Many end up in rescue in various states of neglect. Some abandoned rabbits were found to have a Pets at Home microchip.
- Pets at Home claim they accept returns but they don’t always have space so the rabbits have to be on a waiting list.
- Many customers don’t return the rabbits they no longer want because they prefer to sell them (Pets at Home don’t refund) together with the cage and accessories, or they want the rabbits to be collected for convenience, or they feel bad for returning the animals.
- The vaccination vouchers are not always used as some customers don’t bother. This leaves the rabbits vulnerable to viruses and they could spread to others.
- Customer offered another rabbit as a replacement without a post-mortem carried out (i.e. in the case of VHD2, the replacement rabbit would die as well due to the virus being airborne).
- The returned rabbits are not checked by a vet (Pets at Home say ‘Support Adoption’ do not have the funds for it) and are given away for a donation.
- The rabbits returned poorly are at risk of being put to sleep if ‘unsaleable’.
- Many reports of rabbits sitting in the adoption section with untreated health problems.
- Rabbits purchased from pet shops are often bought on impulse by uncommitted people who haven’t done their research. The rabbits become rapidly unwanted when the novelty wears off. The questions asked by staff to assess the customers are not enough. Customers can lie.
Impact on customers
- Lots of the rabbits sold already sick and some with life-long conditions (pasteurella, coccidiosis, megacolon etc) or teeth problems. Customers end up paying the vet bills and Pets at Home are often reluctant to refund and blaming the customers, despite vets confirming an existing condition.
- Some of the rabbits do not get treated in time and end up dying because new rabbit owners do not realise it’s serious. Others die despite the treatments leaving the owners heartbroken and the children traumatised.
- Some of the rabbits are put to sleep because the customers cannot pay or do not want to pay for their treatment.
- Frequent mis-sexing by the staff (resulting in unwanted litters)
- Rabbits leave the stores unvaccinated (risk of VHD, VHD2, Myxomatosis) – Breakouts of VHD2 in some of the stores and customers have had rabbits dropping dead shortly after being purchased.
- Customers often feel they have to rescue the rabbits from Pets at Home and bring them home to take care of them properly.
Impact on rescues
- Lot of Pets at Home rabbits end up in shelters. In 2018 a survey involving three UK rescue centres revealed that the highest number of rabbits came from pet shops. Out of 361 rabbits of known origin, 117 rabbits (32%) came from pet shops, out of which 77 rabbits from Pets at Home (21%). This included adults and unwanted babies from mis-sexed and unneutered parents.
- 67,000 rabbits end up in rescue each year (RWAF survey published in 2012). Why encourage the breeding of any more that will end up in rescue too. Rescue centres only have limited capacity so lots of rabbits end up in the wrong hands instead or are abandoned, or carry on suffering from neglect.
- Some Pets at Home customers deliberately breed the rabbits adding to the number of rabbits needing a home. Many of the rabbits sold are siblings resulting in health issues and teeth problems (inbreeding).
- Instead of giving grants to rescue centres in an attempt to buy their silence whilst continuing to sell animals who will end up in those rescues, Pets at Home should stop selling animals altogether and advise customers to adopt.
Impact on staff
- Staff report taking poorly animals home with them to save them being put to sleep.
- Many staff leave the company disillusioned when they realise the animals do not come first and there is only so much they can do to help. Some describe the job as soul-destroying.
It’s the right thing to do
- Selling rabbits in a shop perpetuates the idea that they are a product and a disposable commodity. An animal shouldn’t be on display in a shop.
- Puppies and kittens are no longer sold from pet shops, thanks to Lucy’s Law. It would be fair to extend it to all animals since they all suffer from this third party selling.
- Our survey carried out in 2019 showed that 87% of the 4247 people who took part want pet shops to stop selling rabbits, 77% of people think pet shops should stop selling pets and 59% of people boycott pet shops that sell pets.
- Pets at Home have stopped selling chinchillas and degus so why not rabbits.
- Other pet shops and garden centres have stopped selling pets on welfare grounds. Very well received by customers and doing well (e.g. Dofos Edinburgh, Dobbies garden centres).
- Over 33,000 people have signed the petition urging Pets at Home to stop selling rabbits.
- Instead of selling pets, Pets at Home could make good use of the space and widen the range of ethical supplies and larger housing to meet the growing customer demand for better rabbit accommodation.
- Pets at Home needs to stop being part of the problem and be part of the solution, direct customers to rescue centres who will in return recommend Pets at Home for supplies.
- Turn words into actions, genuinely put pets before profit by not selling them. The pet owners who currently boycott for ethical reasons would shop at Pets at Home again. No more pets for sale would also save costs – not having to refund customers for sick or dead pets – less complaints to deal with. Improved reputation.
Top picture: Patch when he was rescued. Patch was purchased from Pets at Home as a baby just after Christmas, in December 2017. Four weeks later he was advertised for free on Facebook because his owners didn’t want him anymore. He was extremely thin and in a terrible state of neglect. With love and care he has since turned into a happy and healthy boy who lives happily bonded with two other rescued females.