Non-native, domestic European rabbits that are free-living in the environment as abandoned pets, or offspring of such animals, are legally designated “feral rabbits” under the BC Wildlife Act. The BC SPCA still considers these rabbits as domesticated animals.
The BC SPCA is opposed to the abandonment of domestic rabbits into the wild, which is a criminal act under the Criminal Code of Canada¹ and an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act². The BC SPCA strongly encourages municipalities to enact bylaws that prevent the sale or adoption of unsterilized rabbits and manage free-living domestic (“feral”) rabbits.
The BC SPCA does not support the lethal control of free-living domestic (“feral”) rabbits for nuisance reasons (including culls). When control is needed, the BC SPCA strongly encourages the use of non-lethal, non-contact, prevention and exclusion techniques. In addition, the BC SPCA supports activities that aim to humanely trap, sterilize, and re-home adoptable rabbits in approved homes or sanctuaries that can provide for their needs for the remainder of their lives.
Approved by the Board of Directors – February 2017
(replaces previous version, December 2008)
Free-living domestic (“feral”) rabbit populations are generally the result of rabbit guardians releasing their animals into the wild, and the rabbits’ subsequent breeding. Currently in B.C., once established in the wild, domesticated rabbits (European rabbits, Oryctolagus cuniculus) become recognized and regulated as wildlife under the BC Wildlife Act and are listed as Schedule C animals of the Wildlife Act Designation and Exemption Regulation. As such, transport and possession of these animals must be approved by permit. The BC SPCA supports the removal of free-living domestic (“feral”) rabbits from Schedule C designation in order to allow local governments to manage the animals under animal control bylaws.
The welfare of free-living domestic (“feral”) rabbits is suboptimal because the availability of resources is often limited; injured or diseased animals do not receive care; and unsterilized animals lead to females being constantly impregnated despite poor resource availability. Further, as a domestic species, these rabbits do not have the defensive instincts to avoid predators or vehicles. The BC SPCA understands the management of free-living domestic (“feral”) rabbit populations, whether in urban centres or on rural properties, is a complicated issue: a humane, multi-approach strategy may use euthanasia, as well as placement of some sterilized animals in homes or sanctuaries.
If free-living domestic (“feral”) rabbits are to be live-trapped, humane trapping practices include: placing traps in locations sheltered from the weather; ensuring that rabbits are not left for more than 4 hours in a trap without access to food and water; or if food and water is provided in the trap, checking traps at least once per every 24 hours; and releasing any lactating females that are caught until baby rabbits have been located and removed. Euthanasia should only be carried out by a professional wildlife rehabilitator or under the supervision of a veterinarian. Euthanasia of injured or diseased rabbits surrendered to BC SPCA branches will be conducted in accordance with veterinary advice.
Background updated – February 2017
¹ Government of Canada 1985 Cruelty to animals. Criminal Code of Canada Section 446.1b.
² Government of British Columbia 1996 Offences. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act Section 24(1).
Abandonment (of an animal): The act of leaving an animal in a situation where the animal must fend for herself/himself. Abandonment is illegal.
Adoptable: Having characteristics that indicate an animal can have a positive relationship with humans and other companion animals. An adoptable animal’s needs are not beyond what can be provided by a caring and responsible guardian. The animal does not pose a risk to humans or other companion animals. These animals should be placed for adoption.
Euthanasia: An act of humane killing causing a minimum of pain, fear or stress.
Feral animals: Domesticated animals who have partially or fully readapted to natural, wild habitats.
Free-living animals: Wild or domestic animals who are currently not living in captivity and may be independent of humans.
Humane: Actions that promote good welfare and minimize suffering.
Welfare: An animal’s quality of life. An animal’s welfare depends upon both his/her physical health and affective state. Animals experience good welfare when they are able to experience positive feelings arising from pleasurable activities and the fulfillment of behavioural needs, and when they are free from poor physical health and negative feelings (e.g., pain, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, frustration).