We have a rabbit crisis in Ottawa

(Stittsville resident Vivian McLean is a rabbit owner – she shared her thoughts and the photo of Gabriel the Lionhead with Stittsville Central.)

The Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) is alerting the community of a burgeoning “bunny crisis” in Ottawa and provincewide. Shelters across Ontario are seeing the population of bunnies grow. Even other parts of North America are seeing an influx in the number of bunnies. However, few homes are willing to adopt these rabbits.

A contributing factor to the explosion in the bunny population may be that new rabbit owners are unaware rabbits should be sterilized, much like cats and dogs typically are. Sterilizing a rabbit benefits their health and helps to control the domestic rabbit population.

“At the OHS, every rabbit is spayed or neutered before they’re adopted,” said Bruce Roney, OHS President & CEO. “Adopting a rabbit rather than buying is one way the public can help address the approaching crisis.”

Vivian McLean a rabbit owner here in Stittsville told Stittsville Central, “the crisis is awful. So many people acquired rabbits during Covid when the rescues ran out of cats and dogs. Exotics vets are already thin on the ground, and they were swamped with spay/neuter requests. Many practices, including Carp Road where I go, stopped taking new exotics as patients. People think that rabbits are wild and can fend for themselves outdoors, thus the dumping. And when they found out what a spay or neuter costs, more dumping. The pet rabbits we have are domesticated and not related to the wild Cottontail. So they may be able to survive during decent weather, barring being killed by predators, but come winter, it’s a death sentence. Thank you for doing an article on this very real problem. The rabbit rescues in Ottawa are at capacity.”

Vivian added, “I wish people would do their research before bringing a rabbit into their home. Rabbits are NOT cats or dogs, they have their own unique characteristics and behaviours. Rabbits are considered exotics, and, as such, require specialized vet care. This care is now hard to find and is not cheap. Rabbits have to constantly chew to keep their teeth down, and this chewing is often exercised on the owner’s belongings. I have been lucky; four out of my five rabbits have not chewed! But this is more the exception than the rule. Rabbits make absolutely delightful pets, but do have housing requirements that pet shops simply know very little about. A cage is not a suitable habitat for a rabbit. The more room the better is the rule of thumb. My rabbits have been free roam.”

Over the last decade, the OHS has seen a steady increase in their rabbit intake, especially in comparison to the intake of other species. Close to twenty rabbits – a third of which are being housed by foster volunteers – are currently waiting for adoption from the OHS.

The OHS never turns an animal away. However, when the shelter population grows, intake can be delayed. The delay could last either a few days, several weeks, or potentially even months to ensure that resources are immediately available for animals in life-threatening emergencies. The ongoing global health crisis has resulted in constraints, leading to a large number of rabbits on the OHS waitlist for admission.

“I do worry that if we’re unable to immediately admit a rabbit, the owner might consider something drastic like releasing their pet outside,” said Roney. “This is possibly the worst-case scenario as that rabbit has gone from being safe in a home on a waitlist to be admitted to the OHS, to being in danger and in immediate need of shelter care.”

If you would like to help with this growing bunny crisis, consider adopting a rabbit from the OHS. Another way to help is to become an OHS foster volunteer.

If you have a rabbit you’d like to surrender, call 613-725-3166 ext. 221 to speak to the OHS. Admitting your rabbit may take some time but waiting is a much better choice than the alternatives.


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1 thought on “We have a rabbit crisis in Ottawa”

  1. Thank you for shedding light on this very real problem. Rabbits are seen by many to be disposable pets if they don’t “work out”. A rabbit is not for everyone. They are not replacements for a cat or a dog. Being furry creatures, they appear as though they should be cuddly. As creatures of prey, most are not. But for the right person, they make incredible pets.

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