Premier Small Animal Show – Good Advice or Promoting Abuse?

EDIT: 4.2.16 – Burgess have announced they will no longer support the Harrogate Show. Thank you Burgess for making a stand for rabbit welfare.



Widely promoted as ‘the UK’s biggest small animal show’, the Burgess Premier Small Animal show has been held in Harrogate since 1921. It is a meet up for breeders of rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, chinchillas and more who enjoy showing the best of their stock and hope to come away as winners. As my expertise is in rabbits – this will be the species I focus on here. The Guardian has posted an interesting article on the most recent 2016 show.



Rabbit handling at the 2007 Excel show in Harrogate. CC:BY-NC-ND

  Rabbit handling at the 2007 Excel show in Harrogate. CC:BY-NC-ND.

Photos from the event and those from previous events (see above), show some common handling techniques used at shows. For example, rabbits being held on their backs. This is called ‘trancing’ or ‘tonic immobility’. This has been proven to be very stressful for rabbits (as well as increasing the risk of a back injury). As they are prey species, this is an auto response they enter when tipped over. See here for more info on trancing. Many people use this method of handling for checking, grooming and judging rabbits and many refuse to change their ways and disregard the scientific facts. Many top organizations and specialists do not agree with trancing, including The Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) who are the UK’s largest organization dealing with domestic rabbit welfare.

The British Rabbit Council (BRC) are the UK governing body for fur and fancy rabbits. When previously questioned about trancing, they were adamant that this was NOT a part of their routine handling – yet it seems, this happens all too often AND at BRC approved events by BRC approved judges.

Also some of these photos show that the judge is grasping the ears as part of the support / restraint. This method can easily cause damage and pain to the rabbit and is not recommended as a standard form of acceptable and safe handling.



Example of show cages. 2007

        Example of show cages in 2007

Sadly not – as you can see they are tiny, one rabbit per cage, wood shavings for bedding, some don’t even have food and / or hay (hay and fresh water should be available to a rabbit 24/7). Thankfully no cages were observed that did not have a water available. Each rabbit can be stuck in these cages for many hours, some will spend the entire day there. Surely this doesn’t meet the Five Freedoms welfare standards? Is this even legal if you consider the Animal Welfare Act 2006?


Wire floor show cage

         Wire floor show cage

The photo above (taken by me in 2007) shows the types of cages that the long haired rabbits have to sit in. They have wire bottoms as clearly shown in the picture. Wire floors are not recommended by welfare organizations and rabbit specialists as they can cause pain and damage to the feet. See this RSPCA factsheet for more information on rabbit accommodation.

Next question… where do they stay overnight? That’s another thing I urge you to ask the show organizers. At this particular event a message was shared publicly to the exhibitors explaining that the animals would have to spend the whole of the first evening in their travel boxes as the venue was not safe due to weather problems. Yes the weather is not under anyone’s control, but is it fair to keep an animal in a traveling box overnight? What size are these boxes and where were they placed? When staying at a secure venue with no weather problems, where do the rabbits spend the night – in these show cages? or somewhere else.

Many of the rabbits that do have food in with them, are being fed on a muesli diet – again this has been scientifically proven to contribute to dental and digestive problems. If these people care SO much about their live stock – why are they not adhering to basic welfare guidelines and following the most up to date veterinary advice?

The RWAF state that rabbits should live in bonded, neutered pairs, be fed on a good quality diet (not muesli style mixes) and be housed in spacious accommodation that allows at least 3 full hops in any direction. Clearly – show accommodation is NOT adhering to any of these guidelines. What message is this sending the general public who flock to this event? Charities and veterinary professionals work tirelessly to promote good husbandry, handling and welfare – then for a bit of fun and entertainment (for the humans not the animals), these animal shows can do untold damage to the welfare messages in just a few hours.


Some diseases are very easily spread between rabbits and other small animals. I’m focusing on one – Viral Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (RVHD). This is a rapid and often fatal disease that is easily spread from rabbit to rabbit and from human to rabbit too. It has also recently mutated into a second strain that is currently not routinely vaccinated against in the UK. The disease can live in the environment for many weeks and is easily spread on shoes, car tyres, clothes, hands etc. The following statement is displayed on the BRC’s own website with regards to RVHD:

“Clothes should be changed between handling rabbits from different places. Newly arrived rabbits should be quarantined for at least a week before mixing with others, and different clothing worn between established and new groups of rabbits.”

So – take a look at the image of the rabbit show cages again… These rabbits are side by side, above and below many other rabbits from other breeders. The judges wear their ‘coats’ for the whole show and do not change them in-between each rabbit. The judging tables have tablecloths on that are not changed between each rabbit. Do the judges wear gloves? Oh and the public have full access in and out the building, can get right up to the show cages and touch them too. Final question: Why are there no apparent disease risk controls in place?



I advise anyone who agrees that these types of shows DO NOT promote animal welfare, to contact the companies involved. Burgess are the main sponsor and the BRC are heavily involved.

Thankfully I have seen that Burgess have responded to a tweet today and are “reviewing their involvement with the show” (EDIT: and have WITHDRAWN their support for the show. PLEASE contact Burgess to thank them for putting welfare first).

burgess trance replyPlease do consider contacting Burgess, the show and the BRC directly (via email, Facebook, Twitter, letter etc) to see if you can get answers to some of the questions raised and show your displeasure with the event.

Finally a thank you AGAIN to Burgess for putting welfare first.




19 comments on “Premier Small Animal Show – Good Advice or Promoting Abuse?

  1. Dr Joe Carey says:

    The article relating to the Burgess Small Livestock show is both inaccurate and misleading. No rabbits were hypnotized whatsoever and it is puzzling why the author may have thought this? The BSLS are highly experienced rabbit fanciers and some of the UK’s top judges, highly professional and experienced in all aspects of rabbit welfare. Within the rabbit fancy there are also several members from the vet profession. So any assertion of mistreatment is wholly without foundation. All rabbits are fed and watered and treated carefully to avoid stress. The article was unhelpful in many aspects but especially so in its assertions of ill-treatment of our behoved rabbits.

  2. confused says:

    I can’t believe reading this. I saw those rabbits at Harrogate and was impressed by the welfare standards and the enthusiasm the exhibitors, judges and officials showed for their animals and their hobby. It’s no different to riding horses, or training dogs. We should encourage more people to take part in hobbies involving animals instead of vilifying these people. When I spoke to these people – yes, actually I remember watching this judge, maybe not with this particular rabbit – they knew much more about rabbits and how to care for them than any or so-called rabbit rescue I ever encountered.

  3. Rebecca Blake says:

    You have no idea what you are talking about.. We do not trance our rabbits and rabbits do NOT like living in pairs they kill each other.. My rabbits are my children and this is such an insult our rabbits are train some have been going to shows for years.. The acomidation is big enough for them to hop around in and as for the over night stay we have people that sleep there and feed and water them read the entry forms… And do us a favour keep your nose out of what you don’t know.. I’ve used excel for many years and due to this post I will never use it again and will encourage others to do the same. Do gooders like you should be banned..

  4. Personally I don’t show my own rabbit’s but have been to shows & have witnessed some judges handling rabbits rather roughly for my liking, some good points bought up in the article

  5. Sophie Rossi says:

    You really know NOTHING about the show world!!! All rabbits are vaccinated as no one wishes to lose their stock!! A lot of the animals are shown from young and are happy in their pens!! Look at the amount of PET RABBITS that are left at the bottom of the garden locked up, sitting on neat feces because they can not be bothered as ONLY a rabbit!!! Have you been to a cat show??? They are also in pens! Are you going to try and stop them as well??? Try using some common sense, it will be the same in every world of owning animals, there will be the GOOD and BAD owners!!!!

  6. Mark says:

    Silly article

  7. Mary says:

    Even my ‘non rabbit’ friends when asked, will say that this is the correct way to hold and support a rabbit. The rabbits learn through careful handling to trust, I find they relax without going into ‘trance’ What IS WRONG with people!!! they’ve obviously not been to cat shows, poultry shows. and seen the similarities. Nor it seems know how everyone involved in the care and maintainance by those who love them, treat livestock appropriately according to their species. Conditions at a show are not the same as being at home. Can you imagine people trying to drag hutches into the show area. This person needs to get real and go and see life in the show world. Imagine going on holiday and taking your house with you!! Some silly people knocking around and I think that all our comments made in defence of these allegations should be made public in the same paper they were presented, just to put the record

  8. Ros Lamb says:

    Not intending to get involved in any argument with those who have vested interest in breeding and showing. Wholly accurate article. I for one am very pleased with Burgess’ decision to cease supporting this event.

  9. Susan Taylor says:

    I cannot believe the number of inaccuracies, incorrect assumptions and misleading comments in your article, I was at the show, not showing rabbits, so I am no biased, and was very impressed at the healthy rabbits, calm dispositions and good handling of all the exhibits.
    Your article is not only wholly wrong, but very damaging, and will cause great harm , as people who are unaware are of these inaccuracies will believe your untruths and boycott such a wonderful even.
    Please research your information before you post such bad new items, maybe visit a few shows yourself and speak to the exhibitors, instead of relying on Google and its many many answers

  10. Knows a lot more says:

    Ah dear. What a silly biased article.
    We all know the real reason burgess pulled out. £$£$£$£$

    Rabbits are not put in a trance and how they are held when judged does not hurt. Normally when an animal is hurt and abused it retaliates. No rabbits have done this. You know why? Cos they are not harmed.

    Rabbits do not need to be housed in pairs. Yes some like it. Others don’t.

    As for their cages, These are for the show only. A rabbit goes home. It does not love there.

    What a silly article, did you forget the about the pigs, rats and mice?

    Have you got one for the dog shows, cat and horse???

  11. Nat Birchall says:

    Using sites such as this, your Facebook account and other media portals to whip up an uninformed campaign of hate is disingenuous and actually has a lot in common with the fundamentalist tenets of so-called Islamic State, especially the ‘everyone who doesn’t agree with me is evil’ theme.

    The briefest of glances at some photographs (that, as far as you know, may have been staged or otherwise misleading) is insufficient for anybody to draw an informed opinion, let alone to pontificate on the detail of the subject or to incite others to action. Putting the frighteners on Burgess, the BRC and (by implication) and on the attendees of such shows is not progress, is not democratic, is not in the best interests of animals. You are imposing your blinkered, introspective and fundamentalist opinions via the spectre of the Animal Rights ‘bovver squad’ that implicitly hovers around the corner from any ‘animal rights’ story such as this. Whipping up a frenzy of protest and inciting others to effectively intimidate Burgess and the BRC is disproportionate, unfair and little more than mob rule. Why would that make anyone happy?

    You should be ashamed of yourself – having a website, a podcast, a Facebook account and the ears of the Huffington Post (who they? – Ed) does not give absolute power.

    Believe it or not (and you probably won’t) there are other people who care about the welfare of rabbits as passionately as you claim to; if the showing world is in any way diminished as a result of your actions you can wave goodbye to many of the rare breeds, to the research into genetics, the research into healthcare and many other aspects. The Law of Unintentional Consequences will kick in and rabbits will be available only from the out-of-town megastores (sold by a bored teenager with a pre-printed care-sheet) and not by a breeder who takes time to make sure their rabbits are sold to a good home and provides follow-up advice.

    By your actions you have scared and upset a great many people across a huge age-range – from the youngsters soaking-up every piece of information on rabbit welfare, to the old-timers who have decades of knowledge and experience to pass on (much more than fits on a care-sheet). You have upset my niece who cares passionately for her rabbits and who (until today) wanted to be a veterinary nurse: she cannot understand why someone who is supposedly employed to care for animals would be so hurtful to those who so obviously do.

    Burgess pulling out is not a “Victory” for rabbitkind and it may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for you: your actions have exposed your true motivation, your lack of pragmatism and your wholly undiluted misanthropy. Your narrowmindeness, introspection and over-confident attitude (so fully expressed via your vituperative utterings) have helped nobody.

    All of the other good posts on this blog, e.g., imploring and/or achieving action against angora, prison-hutches, etc., will be for nothing if your values and judgement system are called into question by your recent actions. How will you mobilise the fanciers against the next real outrage?

    What a terribly hollow and soulless life you must have that you feel the need to fill it with spite and hate. You will, one day I’m sure, get over the trauma of being told that you were not good enough to be a vet but until then please don’t let your bitterness affect others in such a negative way.

    Don’t drive rabbit shows underground.

  12. Ann Timmer says:

    This article is grossly inaccurate. Show bunnies are some of the most well cared for rabbits. They are absolutely spotless, accustomed to interacting with humans, fed a pampered and well balanced diet, and doted upon. If they were not they would be a sad, raggedy bunch and that does not win ribbons. Rabbit fanciers are dedicated to the welfare of their animals and presenting them to the public at their absolute best.

  13. Ilene E says:

    So…. Unless your rabbits are kept on posh pet beds, allowed to roam free with their multitude of friends, fed carrots 24/7, and people aren’t allowed to hold them, the public should be outraged. IT’S A BLEEDING LIVESTOCK SHOW. GTFO!!!! No animals are being harmed, simple as that. You AR nut jobs go take a Xanax and get on with your lives. Go save animals who are truly in need, like shelter pets and rhino’s and elephants. [email protected]’s sake.

  14. Jennifer Claucherty says:

    Completely, 100% inaccurate and misleading. Total rubbish article and a cruel-hearted attack on a welfare oriented hobby!

  15. Jennifer Claucherty says:

    Especially misleading is the reference to “trancing”! This is a PHYSICAL EXAMINATION meant to check for disease, bugs/mites, dental malformations..NOT a parlor trick!!!!!!!!!

  16. Corinne says:

    Think this article is utterly terrible, uninformed, full of wrong information, and obvious agenda driven-an agenda of ending all animal use aka animal rights fanaticism. I don’t know where to begin to correct your misinformation. For one how the Hell are you suppose to properly examine a rabbit if you people oppose turning them over??!!! No wonder “re$cue” and those who follow their drivel have so many issues with teeth problems and broken limbs. The best way to examine the underside of a rabbit is turning them over. Newsflash, breeders do it safely the rabbits are used to it and everybody wins. What do you people do to examine rabbits underside and mouth for problems, or to cut nails? As far as diet newsflash the hay diet is not the only option out there that works. I’m sick fo the diet misinformation touted by re$cue groups. Wood shavings are safe for bedding. Small cages, guess what it isn’t going to harm the rabbit and there are space issues at big shows. If you people weren’t such fanatics maybe you would use some common sense. As it is you obviously just want to see rabbit showing ended. Also the part where you state rabbits must be kept in pairs and neutered….so how exactly are we suppose to get future rabbits if we have to neuter them all?

    The organization promoting this article is obviously run by fanatics and nobody should even give them the time of day!!

  17. R. Hutchinson says:

    The writer of this article is obviously very concerned about the welfare of all pet rabbits and her opinions are based upon current scientific fact, research and advice given by top welfare charities such as the RWAF.

    I cannot believe the aggression, spite and venom expressed in some of the above comments. The people responding obviously feel threatened as they slowly come to realise their views and practices are wholly out of date and in effect cruel.

    • Dr J Carey says:

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion and we thankfully our laws allow freedom of speech. What has been posted is a collection of inaccurate statements from someone who was not actually at the Harrogate Show on 30/31st January and has caused considerable damage through disseminating inaccurate and misleading information. This is why there has been such a heated response. The BRC, rabbit fanciers and Bradford Small Livestock Society have established a level of animal welfare that is the best in the world, we can always improve but this article severs to discredit us all. The hypnosis statement is incorrect, the statements regarding feeding is incorrect, the statements regarding handling is incorrect. There is ongoing debate about penning but the fact is that larger rabbits have larger or double pens, there is debate about self penning that may address this issue. We show our rabbits as part of our family hobby and would not tolerate any ill treatment.

  18. M. Masters says:

    Burgess can pull out and no one will care. Why? Because their food is junk – particularly the guinea pig food, which has alfalfa pellets. The proper calcium phosphorous ratio for a guinea pig should never exceed 2:1. That’s why guinea pig owners prefer grass or meadow hay – the calcium phosophorous ratio is 1:1. Alfalfa is not grass – it’s a legume. The calcium phosphorous ratio ranges from 4:1 to 6:1. The reason feed companies use alfalfa is because it’s dirt cheap. Per acres, alfalfa yields several times the tonnage of pure grass. It is also high in protein. Alfalfa is an ideal feed for horses, cattle, goats and sheep. It is lousy for guinea pigs and a leading cause of urinary calculi (bladder stones). Burgess would be better off not allowing the sale of their products at stores which feature live animals for pets and frozen animals for snake food. These animals come from pet mills, who raise thousands of animals in horrible conditions and the animals killed for snake food are not humanely euthanized. Every single undercover investigation of a pet mill has resulted in exposing extreme mistreatment and torture of small animals. So, if Burgess actually wants to care about animals, it can stop misrepresenting the shows and take long hard look at pet shops. Finally, instead of criticizing balanced high quality pet foods – some of which are museli – it should get rid of alfalfa in guinea pig food and come out with a quality formula. One of my acquaintances in the top guinea pig nutrition researcher in the EU. Maybe Burgess should fork over some serious cash and hire him to formulate their guinea pig and rabbit food. In closing, the author who wrote this article is totally misinformed about how show animals are treated. That the article appeared in The Guardian tells me not to waste any time reading anything in the Guardian.

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