rabbits

Rabbits

Overview

Rabbits are active, social animals. With proper care and nutrition, rabbits can live 10 to 15 years, though the vast majority are killed at three months old for meat. Rabbit production farms use confinement-rearing practices, which translate into space restriction and social deprivation, an unnatural existence.

Most rabbits raised for meat in Canada are destined for a life of over-breeding, stressful transport, and potentially inhumane slaughter practices. In 2016, 172,489 rabbits were raised on 2,838 farms in Canada, most in Ontario and Quebec.

Most rabbits are kept in barren wire cages in long rows, in large sheds, with only a drinker, feeder and wire mesh floor, precluding natural behaviours such as hiding, foraging or moving away from one another. With little space, rabbits cannot adopt normal postures such as lying stretched out, sitting and standing with their ears erect, or rearing up to explore surroundings. Some don't have enough space to perform a single hop - conditions leading to boredom and frustration.

Canada's NFACC Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Rabbits, published in 2018, is a science-based compilation of standards for rabbit producers. However, there is no guarantee of compliance, or penalties for failure to follow the code.

Production for meat

Immature rabbits, or "fryers," as they are known in the rabbit meat industry, are slaughtered for their meat when they are 8-12 weeks old,and weigh 1.5 to 3.5 pounds. Adult rabbits, known as "roasters," may be marketed for meat when they are no longer productive as breeders, usually eight months or older.

Large-scale "rabbitries" usually house from 100-150 does (adult females). Numbers of young animals produced (called "kits") vary by breed. If rabbit families are not monitored and provided proper veterinary care, kits can die from infectious diseases.

Transportation and handling

Rabbits destined for slaughter may be slaughtered on site or transported to slaughter facilities. They can be harmed from long transport times, unsafe crating, food and water deprivation, extreme temperature and environmental stressors.

Slaughter

Rabbits are slaughtered in both federal and provincial plants in Canada. For federal standards for rabbit slaughter, visit the CFIA's website.

Some commercial abattoirs slaughter rabbits as they do chickens, by live-shackling them upside down by their hind legs and dipping them in an electrified water bath for stunning. However, shackling conscious rabbits is an "unacceptable procedure," according to the NFACC Code of Practice. In addition, electrical stunning is not guaranteed to render all rabbits unconscious. Rabbits that kick, move or are hung improperly may miss the electrified water bath. After stunning, rabbits are decapitated.

Electrical stunning is considered an acceptable method for rabbits, but not through use of a water bath on conscious rabbits. Head-only electrical stunning can be achieved by applying a current across the cranium using a stunning device designed for rabbits.

Captive bolt stunning may be performed in transport crates before hanging. Best practice standards require rabbits are stunned and insensible before shackling or hanging. Bleeding out (exsanguination for death) requires animals to be previously stunned.

For further information on slaughter, see "Methods of on-farm euthanasia," NFACC Rabbit code of practice, Appendix G, or see an OMAFRA video about on-farm euthanasia of rabbits.