Concerns been raised about ‘the damage children can do’ when they visit new interactive pet villages at Pets at Home stores.
The retailer has launched the new-format stores at Stockport and Chesterfield, and intends to roll the format out to other stores next year.
The animal enclosures are placed at low level so children can visually engage with the animals. They also include tunnels that children can crawl through and come face to face with the small animals.
A Pets at Home spokesman said the company ‘cared deeply’ about animals in its care.
He said: “We do not allow children to bang on the glass or make excessive noise around our pets and should this ever happen, our colleagues will always react swiftly in the best interests of pet welfare.”
Isobel Hutchinson, director of animal rights group Animal Aid, said: “This cynical marketing ploy will result in vulnerable animals being subjected to yet more stress. It is bad enough that the pet trade sells living creatures for profit, leading to more animals being bred than homes can be found for, and encouraging people to think of them as commodities rather than living, feeling beings with complex needs.
“It is all the more shocking that these animals are now being exploited as a form of living entertainment, in order to draw more people into the stores.”
The RSPCA said that young animals like rabbits and guinea pigs ‘need positive experiences around people’ to learn that such contact is rewarding. A spokesman said: “The pet village has the potential to encourage very close contact between people and rabbits which, if not closely monitored, risks fear and distress.
“As prey species, rabbits and guinea pigs need to have both plenty of space and plenty of areas in which they can escape and hide away from what they find frightening if they feel scared.
“We have raised this issue with Pets at Home and will continue to liaise with them.”