A couple who allowed their 26 rabbits to live in such poor conditions that two of them died admitted that they had more pets than they could cope with.

Mark Bustard, 50, and his 52-year-old wife Carolynne - who also had 20 cats and some fish - pleaded guilty to three animal cruelty charges.

The rabbits, including a bunny named Peter, were left in filthy hutches at their home in Westfield Road, Heckmondwike, with little food and water.

The pair were visited numerous times by RSPCA inspectors but refused their offers to rehome them.

They argued that they cared deeply for the pets, all of which were rescue animals, and had their best interests at heart.

Peter Davidson, prosecuting on behalf of the animal welfare charity, told Kirklees magistrates that the couple were first visited by an RSPCA inspector on October 24 last year.

She visited to give advice about a kitten that needed veterinary treatment but found a significant number of rabbits in dirty hutches with only a few of the pets being given food and water.

The inspector gave advice to improve the living conditions for the rabbits and even offered to rehome them but this was rejected by the couple.

She revisited on November 24 and found that most of the rabbits still didn’t have access to food or water.

Some of the hutches were recently cleaned out but the others were still dirty.

Then on December 9 another visit was carried out and two rabbits were found in an extremely poor condition.

Mr Davidson said: “One was in an emaciated condition and lethargic and the other rabbit had died, that rabbit also described as being in an emaciated condition.

“Police attended and the two rabbits were seized. The living rabbit was examined by a vet who advised euthanasia due to its poor condition. However, the rabbit died before authority could be obtained for that.”

A follow-up visit on December 15 showed that the hutches had been cleaned, magistrates were told.

The RSPCA has since seized all of the rabbits except 14 and they have been successfully rehomed by the charity.

Carolynne Bustard at Kirklees Magistrates' Court

One of the rabbits, named Peter, was examined by a vet and suffered significant dental problems because of his neglect with “it’s teeth digging into its tongue”, Mr Davidson said.

He added: “The two rabbits that died both suffered due to their poor body conditions for two weeks.”

Mark Bustard at Kirklees Magistrates' Court

The couple pleaded guilty to two charges of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal and one charge of failing to ensure a suitable environment was provided.

Andy Day, mitigating, said that all of the rabbits had been rescued by the couple after either being left at their house or abandoned at a local pet shop.

He said: “They haven’t been able to say ‘no’ and have become overwhelmed with the number of animals that have gradually built up.

“They are not callous or cruel people and have taken care of these animals as best they could.

“They’re very upset and sorry that this situation has arisen and they now realise that they had far too many animals.”

Mrs Bustard broke down and wept as magistrates banned her and her husband from keeping rabbits from two years and made an order seizing the remaining rabbits they have in their care.

The couple were fined £140 each were ordered to pay £150 towards prosecution costs and £30 victim surcharge.