The practice was popularised by the 18th-century poet William Cowper, who kept two hares in his house. But his example had rarely been followed until two years ago, when a British House Rabbit Association was set up. Now its membership has grown to 1,500 - with 25 newcomers signing up weekly.
The association attacks the traditional hutch-bound life of pet rabbits as "a life of lonely misery in the back garden, with no social contact and no exercise." It also promotes rabbits as a pet for adults, rather than children, who often lose interest.
"Rabbits are social creatures and need the chance to interact with a companion, either rabbit or human, and need daily exercise," said the association's chairperson, Helen Flack. "Adults are more likely to understand that as a prey animal, the rabbit needs special treatment to gain its trust."
An airline pilot, she employs an "animal nanny" to look after her two rabbits, Biter and Cleo, when she is on overnight stops. "My two love each other a lot and are usually snuggled up together on my bed when I get home from work," she said.
Such devotion is not uncommon, according to Rosie Alexander of Pet Business World, which has carried stories of house rabbit fanciers walking their charges in a harness. She said the trend was part of a long-term move away from keeping large pets, like dogs, that require a lot of maintenance.
According to Miss Flack, rabbits roaming free on the carpet can be taught to use a litter tray, play with toys, beg for food, be stroked sitting on the lap, be summoned by name and respond to a "No" command.Reuse content