Quantifying the shelter rabbit population: An analysis of Massachusetts and Rhode Island animal shelters

Cook, A. J., & McCobb, E. (2012). Quantifying the shelter rabbit population: An analysis of Massachusetts and Rhode Island animal shelters. Journal of applied animal welfare science, 15(4), 297-312.

Research question: (1) What is the size and scope of unwanted rabbit populations in the United States? (2) How and why do rabbits enter the shelter system?

Sample: Rabbits (n=5,408) entering 4 study sites (animal shelters in Massachusetts and Rhode Island) between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2010.

Methodology: Shelter records included intake date and category, outcome category and date, and rabbit age and status (spay/neuter). This study excluded wild and dead upon arrival rabbits, as well as those with incomplete records. Owner-requested euthanasia was reported separately. Categories defined for intake and outcome were established by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Young rabbits are defined as less than 1 year of age, adult rabbits between 1 and 6 years of age, and older rabbits as greater than 6 years of age.

Main Findings: Rabbits in this study were mostly likely to enter the shelter as a surrender from their caregiver (77.26%). Across all sites, 70% of surrendered rabbits were adults, with the average age of 3.87 years (± 2.55). The most common reason for relinquishment was inability or lack of interest to care for the animal (27.19%), closely followed by housing issues (22.05%; landlord-related, moving homes, etc) and too many animals (21.61%). The most common outcome was adoption (59.32%), followed by euthanasia (22.61%). The Live Release Rate for all sites was 75.54%, which is calculated by summing the live outcome categories (adopted, returned to owner, and transferred) by all total outcomes. Owner-requested euthanasia (4.15% of total intake) was not included in this calculation. Most rabbits (81.47%) are unaltered at the time of intake. The authors found that statistics were highly similar across all four shelters, suggesting that this study gives an accurate representation of the shelter rabbit population in this geographic location of the United States.

Limitations: Shelter population dynamics can vary greatly based on geographic location, community demographics, shelter size and type, and the focus species. Therefore, this study cannot be generalized on a national scale. In this study, the transfer outcome was not followed beyond leaving the shelter, and therefore it is unknown in what proportions transfers ultimately resulted in adoption, euthanasia, etc. Relinquishment due to rabbit behavior problems (3.38%) is lower than that previously reported in the literature for cats and dogs. However, it is unknown if this is due to low incidence of behavior problems, or if this reason is under-reported due to lack of education, not perceived as a problem by the owner, or not reported due to fear of affecting the rabbit’s ability to be adopted.

Summary by Katherine Grillaert

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