The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund has criticised Homebase and Argos for stocking hutches that are smaller than those used in laboratories for animal experimentation.
The welfare organisation is urging retailers to review their ranges of pet rabbit accommodation on sale and warns that many of the rabbit hutches offered by Britain's retail chains are so small that keeping rabbits in them is cruel. The RWAF added that the hutches could even cause pet owners inadvertently to break the law.
Argos and Homebase have been slammed by the organisation for selling a rabbit hutch that is only 77cm long, which, the RWAF says, is described by its marketing literature as big enough to allow the rabbits to "stretch on their hind legs and run freely".
The truth, says the RWAF, is that the hutch is barely more than half the size of that recommended for rabbits kept in laboratories for experiments, while four separate hutches in the Argos range are smaller than the minimum for lab rabbits.
The RWAF believes that this is particularly hypocritical, as Argos has earned a 'cruelty free' status from the anti-vivisection group, BUAV, and yet is selling hutches that are deemed too small even for laboratory rabbits.
Any hutch smaller than 122cm x 45cm gives a floor area below the minimum requirement for laboratory rabbits.
The RWAF recommends a minimum hutch size for a pair of pet rabbits of 183 x 61 x 61 cm, with a permanently attached run measuring 244 x 122 x 61 cm, which provides a total floor space of 4m sq.
The Animal Welfare Act makes it a legal obligation for owners to provide for the welfare needs of their pets, which include:
· somewhere suitable to live
· the ability to express normal behaviour
· being housed with (or apart from) other animals as they require.
The RWAF's explains that rabbit owners cannot meet these legal obligations if they keep their rabbit alone in a hutch, adding that a hutch should only ever be a shelter as part of a larger living area, never the sole accommodation.
Argos and Homebase parent company Home Retail Group responded with a statement that said it is "committed to being a responsible retailer." It continued: "Our policy is to ensure that our products are produced to appropriate welfare standards and will not cause harm or injury to animals through normal use or foreseeable misuse.
"We have reviewed similar products that are offered by other major pet retailers and have previously discussed your concerns with the RSPCA. The RSCPA has advised that it has no current recommendation for the size of a hutch for a single rabbit.
"In our Autumn /Winter catalogue we do make it clear that hutches should be used in conjunction with a 'run', we will be amending the website to that effect. We also offer a discount on a run if purchased in conjunction with selected rabbit hutches.
"If the RSPCA recommendations change in the future, you can be assured that we will follow their guidance."
RWAF Patron, TV personality and author Ingrid Tarrant commented: "Too many rabbits live in hutches that are too small for them and I find it highly irresponsible of retailers like Argos to encourage rabbit owners to contravene the guidelines of the Animal Welfare Act and to ignore our message. Their attitude amounts to animal cruelty."