MURRAY, Utah (ABC4) — The Humane Society of Utah says it is seeing an increase in rabbit hoarding in the community this year. The animal shelter reports that the average family surrenders around 4 rabbits at a time, but some are surrendering up to 20 animals.

Animal hoarding is a variation of psychological hoarding disorders, according to the Humane Society of Utah, which is the largest private animal resource center in the state. Hoarders cannot adequately care for the animals they own and have a hard time recognizing the effects hoarding has on the welfare of their pets and households. Most people do not intend to hoard animals, but with rabbits, the Utah animal shelter says intentional and unintentional breeding can lead to hoarding conditions.

While cats and dogs are the most common victims of animal hoarding cases, staff members at the animal shelter are seeing an increase in rabbit hoarding this year. Hoarding begins when unsterilized animals are kept in close quarters and not separated by their sex. Rabbits can start producing as young as four or five months of age and have anywhere between one to 12 offspring.

Some families told the animal shelter that they bought rabbits because they wanted them to “experience the joys of raising baby animals.” Unfortunately, the breeding later got out of hand.

In this case, the HSU suggests parents to consider fostering instead of buying them from pet stores.

“Rabbits in pet stores are often separated too young from their mother, which puts them at a greater risk for health issues,” said Juli Ulvestad, Pet Resource Center Director at HSU.

In terms of how to spot a hoarder, the HSU separated them into three types: the overwhelmed caregiver, the rescuer and the exploiter. The overwhelmed caregiver is an owner who is taking excellent care of their large number of animals up until a significant change in their life circumstances, which could be the death of a loved one, diagnosis of a serious issue and such.

The rescuer, on the other hand, is usually mission-driven and poses as an individual from a nonprofit. They want to save as many animals as possible from a potential threat, the animal shelter says. This type of hoarder may go to great lengths to avoid intervention from authorities.

The exploiters tend to acquire animals for their own needs with little or no attachment to them. While they may have charming personalities, these hoarders often are indifferent to the animals and only care about what they can gain out of them. An example provided by the HSU is a puppy mill operator or backyard breeder.

“They are frequently not sexed accurately and do not come spayed, neutered, microchipped, or vaccinated like the adoptable rabbits at HSU,” Ulvestad said. “We have even had members of the public unknowingly purchase single pregnant rabbits from pet stores.”  

The HSU currently has 9 rabbit kennels, and rabbits stay an average of 18 days at the shelter.