House Rabbit Society has long said, and the Humane Society of the United States has backed this up, that rabbits are the third most surrender animal to animal shelters in the United States, after cats and dogs.
We say that because for 25 years of doing rescue in different parts of the country, that has been our experience.
But are there any statistics to back this up? Unfortunately, most American shelters still track rabbits as “other” animals, lumping them in with birds, small animals, and reptiles, while quantifying the numbers of cats and dogs taken in, adopted out, and euthanized, making it extremely difficult to track rabbit numbers.
However, in 2012, a pair of researchers with the University of Guelph in Canada published a study (Cook and McCobb 2012) which tracked shelter intake and adoption numbers at four shelters in Massachusetts and Rhode Island from 2005-2010, which found that in those shelters, during those years, rabbits were usually the third most frequently surrendered animal, but that in some years, bird intake rates were slightly higher than rabbit rates. This suggests that birds and rabbits may be “competing,” if you will, for the dubious honor of third most surrendered animal.
In terms of euthanasia rates, the authors found that rabbits had a combined 22.61% euthanasia rate, much lower than that of cats and dogs, and adoption rates ranging from 58.82%-79.85%. They also noted that adoption rates were higher when local foster groups were used to help care for the rabbits.
The majority of the rabbits (77.26%) at all four shelters were owner surrenders, and unlike the case with dogs, behavioral reasons did not rank high as a reason for surrendering rabbits. Instead, rabbits were surrendered because the owners were unable or did not want to care for them, and next, because of housing problems or having too many rabbits. Most (81.47%) of the rabbits were unaltered, and most (71.11%) were adults.
In 2017, a similar study was done (Ellis, McCormic and Tinarwo 2017), but this time, in the UK. This most recent study aimed to investigate the characteristics of rabbits relinquished to 2 UK rehoming centers and explore reasons given for relinquishment. The authors found that most rabbits were relinquished by a guardian, as with the Massachusetts/Rhode Island case. Similar numbers of males and females were relinquished, and most were adults, and unneutered. The most common reasons for relinquishment were: too many rabbits/unplanned litters and housing problems–again, just like in the US. This points to the continuing lack of education among those who purchase or adopt rabbits in the UK.
Cook AJ, & McCobb E (2012). Quantifying the shelter rabbit population: an analysis of Massachusetts and Rhode Island animal shelters. Journal of applied animal welfare science : JAAWS, 15 (4), 297-312.